Wrong. So Wrong…

Ranty Rant Alert.

This is just so wrong.

So wrong, I hardly know where to begin.

In case you don’t want to follow the link, I’ll just give you all a quote from an article that appears in today’s Huffington Post by Amanda Fairbanks on the recent debacle that occurred when Texas A&M administrators made the mistake of thinking it would be a good idea to treat higher education… scholarship essentially… as a business and calculate the worth of their faculty based only on what they bring in by teaching.From HuffPo:

The study calculated an individual professor’s “revenue” based on the tuition he or she brought to the school — a product of the number of students taught — and the amount of research awards and grants he or she obtained, among other factors. The greater the number of classes and students taught, the greater the revenue. If a professor’s annual salary was lower than the amount of revenue generated, it was black. Otherwise, it was red.

The Huffington Post is equally misguided for putting out an article where they explain that the numbers in the report were inaccurate in many cases- then never-the-less using those ‘inaccurate’ numbers to make a conclusion:

Of the 50 highest compensated faculty members, only five appeared to be in the black and earning their keep. The rest were crimson.


The data revealed, for example, that while one faculty member at Texas A&M earned more than $500,000 each year, the average counterpart at its College Station campus made around $120,000.

WTF!!! This is what happens when people make ill fated decisions to undertake a given process, screw it up completely, and then have to release the results to the media by an open records request.  What they have put together ends up being put in the paper by a reporter that puts out a sensational conclusion on numbers they admit are flawed- based only on a conclusion they have ALREADY decided upon. This drivel  gets seen by a national audience, without respect to the (sometimes massive) mistakes made during the process… and viewed by an audience that doesn’t have an understanding of how the modern research university system in this country works. It seems the highest paid people at A&M are …you guessed it.. the athletic directors….

So- here is a shame on you all around.

SHAME ON YOU Texas A&M administrators for undertaking this nonsense analysis- which, BTW, you seem to have done completely wrong AND are now undertaking a second time. First- higher education and scholarship shouldn’t be run as businesses. Faculty in the English department, Philosophy department and Biology departments are equally important in the  mission of educating leaders of tomorrow… regardless of how much ‘revenue’ they bring in in tuition. I’m asking myself where this is all going-  what is the point? Is the point to cut faculty or departments you see as financially under performing with your flawed numbers? The absurdity of cutting salaries or eliminating, for example, an English department for being financially in the red, is just that, an absurdity. The currency of higher education should be in the quality of the students we put out into the world, and not on the number of students we are turning out per person. After all, what has a university accomplished when it puts out 10,000 mediocre students every year? For the love of God- get on board with your faculty and educate the citizens and businesses of your state on the value and importance a solid undergraduate, graduate and professional education.

Second- putting that report out in 1/2 baked form is a disaster. NUMBERS.ALL.WRONG.  I can’t imagine how A&M faculty can have faith in an administration that can’t get the most basic information, like the base salaries of your own faculty correct. Let me be the first to inform you that correct salaries for faculty (indeed for everyone) can be found in the university’s operating budget for state institutions- and this is freely available to you in any campus library. Next time you undertake such an analysis (I’ve just learned that you already have) remember that people will take your 1/2 baked report- not recognize its flaws and it will end up in the national media. You’ll end up contributing to the impression that university faculty are living high on the hog and doing nothing for it. This, pretty much as a rule, IS JUST WRONG.

AND, SHAME ON YOU Huffington Post for a case of terrible reporting. I’m not sure what I expected from you- but you seem to have taken the numbers in the survey itself, that you admit are flawed, and just run with them. The salaries of every member of Texas A&M are publicly available (just follow my link above), you should double check anything you get from a university administrator, or any source for that matter, before you broadcast a mistake it worldwide. And you should find out whether a reported salary is a base (state $$) salary or whether it is supplemented with federal grant dollars that the faculty member themselves brought into the university. Learn something about indirect cost returns… and then REFIGURE the bottom line. If you did that for just a few faculty members you’d appreciate the bad mistakes in this report and you would (hopefully) think twice about basing any conclusions on them.

Or, I suppose, you could have made an open records request for that second super sekrit report the A&M Administration supposedly just presented to its Board of Regents…

UUUUUgh. Demoralizing for faculty everywhere.

PS. Did you know that the salaries of TAMU System administrators are also publicly available? Here is your big chance John Q. Public to find out what they did  to earn these gigantic salaries…

PPS. Sorry for the confusion yesterday… I pushed publish before complete rumination of the article….

16 thoughts on “Wrong. So Wrong…

  1. Wow. What a freaking mess! The worst is that it is only a matter of time before you hear these numbers being used to back up some political a$$hole kvetching about what a disgrace tenure is. DFS.

  2. I disagree with your rant. I think these numbers should be made available. I think the numbers should be calculated accurately and people should be clear about what they’re calculating (i.e. state-funded v other revenue sources, how tuition dollars are allocated, accurate salaries, accurate numbers, . . .) Data is a good thing. Analysis is a good thing.

    And, the knowing the numbers should not prevent anyone from arguing that English departments are still a good thing (note that in fact, English departments don’t always do badly on these calculations, because they actually offer a lot of classes and teach a lot of students.). We can still argue that philosophy is a valuable addition to the intellectual climate of the university.

    But taxpayers have a right to know the numbers and decide for themselves whether they agree with our arguments. Hiding the information isn’t the *right* way of continuing funding for the activities we find important. It’s our job to advocate for them, not to “trick” people into supporting them because they don’t understand the numbers.

    I disagree with the quote:

    “He [Powers] worries that A&M’s calculations undermine a university’s dual mission of teaching and research, which, by its very nature, tends to not only be time consuming but expensive and difficult to quantify.”

    The calculations don’t undermine it — they’re just a way of looking at the data. It’s the ideology and philosophy that undermines it.

    (Mind you, the original spreadsheet seems to be sufficiently flawed as a analysis document that it can’t actually be used to support anything. But an accurate version of the spreadsheet, calculating the numbers isn’t a bad thing).

  3. Why is it that everything in society has to be measured by money? I realize money makes the world go round, we’re in a capitalist country, but is there nothing to be said for intrinsic value of something? Not dollars in, dollars out, right this very moment? There’s value in having an educated society-it leads to, um, a society. A civilized, ordered, productive society.

    But if we did ‘go by the numbers’, consider this scenario. Say a professor teaches some student who goes on to make millions of dollars or find a cure for some major disease. This alum then and turns around and contributes money and prestige back to the university years later. Does that ever get attributed back to the student’s original professor? Um…no. Sigh. Flawed up and down.

  4. zb- Reasonable people can disagree. I agree that the public should have access to the $$ figures on the things that they pay for. In fact, as I point out, these numbers on what faculty make are ALREADY available to the public- both as the system operating budget for state offices and on websites like the Texas Examiner. I have yet to hear someone explain to me why the analysis that was released by A&M is in any way superior to the numbers that are available in the operating budget.

    What I disagree with is the simplistic attempt to boil down a faculty member’s worth by how many students they teach. I think this is wrongheaded. The argument to the taxpayer shouldn’t be… see- you are getting your tax $$ worth from higher education in ABC state because we turn out XYZ NUMBER of students? No, the argument should be- you send us your tax $$ and your kids because we will can give them the highest quality education (as shown by metrics of achievement,perhaps?)…

    Finally- I think your position up there in regards to what may or may not be eliminated is somewhat naive… after all- in difficult budgetary times people LOOK for things to cut. See what happened at SUNY recently for case and point.

  5. Pingback: Yes…it is y(our) fault… « Funk Doctor X

  6. I think this is an interesting post concerning the dialogue (or lack thereof) between academics and the public. I completely agree with your analysis of the poor reporting of the article, but I think academics have to take some responsibility for the current overall climate in how the public understands research at the University level. Your post has inspired me to write a related blogpost:


    I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it on your blog.

  7. funkdoctorx- I don’t think that the lack of understanding among the public about how research in this country works is not solely the fault of members of the public. I quite agree with you that we can and should take opportunities to discuss and educate about these topics whenever possible. I know I do. In the end though- I think it would be nice if the public appreciated this- I don’t however, think it is necessary for them to understand this in order to understand two very basic concepts- the first is the concept of scholarship (creation of knowledge, and transmission of that knowledge), and the second is that they should want their dollars to pay for the very best of this for their children.

  8. While the athletic department was highly paid, there were more than 50 faculty in the business school, sciences, and engineering with salaries in excess of $350,000 per year. TAMU must feel these salaries are appropriate or they would not be paying them; however, when compared to the majority of the science faculty, and especially the liberal arts faculty, with salaries below $75,000, it seems quite out of proportion.

    There is a “higher education bubble” and it is poised to pop, especially with the proliferation of on-line, for-profit “universities” (e.g., Kaplan, Phoenix, etc.). Even traditional universities are entering the “distance learning” game and it only serves to devalue faculty and offer higher education as a commodity.

    As a faculty member, I find this frightening. If I were an administrator, why would I not outsource a course to the lowest bidder, few if any folks can evaluate the difference between the best and worst products.

  9. let us not forget, doubledoc and funkydoc, that we do have an entity who is supposed to be communicating real information instead of rightwing talking points. that would be the media. it is not entirely the fault of scientists when the supposed profession of journalism is more interested in a ‘story’ that sounds truthy (evul sinecure educators and pointyheaded intellectuals sucking the public teat) instead of the truth (hey, how about that corporate welfare, anyway? and wasn’t Ike right about the military industrial complex creating faked up wars of necessity when the “necessity” is their need to feed from the, all together now, public teat?)

  10. Maybe if the cost of a university education in the U.S. wasn’t increasing at the fastest rate in the world, and if an unbiased analysis of the quality of educators in undergraduate and graduate schools could be made, then such nonsense would not be undertaken.

    It used to be that a high school education was a goal of every U.S. citizen, now, with the enabling of Bill and Melinda Gates, it is now suggested that everyone should obtain an undergraduate degree. That, along with the proliferation of online ‘vocational’ programs like Master’s programs in bioinformatics, has led to the degradation of U.S. post-secondary education, IMHO.

    Why shouldn’t graduate faculty be judged like any other professional? BTW – That is the point of the tenure process in the U.S.

    I have served as an Assistant Professor/Professor in a medical school, a section chief at the NIH, VP of a pharmaceutical company, and owner of my own start-up company (among others). The job that imposed the least demands was serving as an educator in a medical school. I wish I would have stayed there with life-long tenure, and TIAA-CREF….

  11. I wish I would have stayed there with life-long tenure, and TIAA-CREF….

    Yeah, and we all wish that was available to our generation(s) of scientists too. too bad the Boomers f-ed that up…..

  12. Gerry- I know that I don’t have ‘TIAA-CREF’ – does that even exist anymore? And that life-long tenure thing, in case you have been paying attention, means almost nothing in medical schools where faculty pay a large portion of their own salaries (sometimes greater than 50% off of federal research dollars)…. this means that they are NOT getting paid off of state $$… this means grants are over translates into job is over, tenure notwithstanding.

    Dr. Manhattan- Quite.

    Drugmonkey- I am in total agreement with you that the media should start doing their damn job.

    Mike the mad- I don’t know why they are running this data now- its really old news.

  13. “First- higher education and scholarship shouldn’t be run as businesses.”

    An institution, public or private cannot operate for ever outside the means generated through its revenue (whether that comes from private and/or public sources).

    Public universities are not looking to cut costs because they have agitated profit-seeking investors to satisfy, they are looking to cut costs because a chief source of revenue has suddenly dried up on them and there are few stable alternative revenue sources to make up the shortfall (other than upping tuition fees).

    The fault lies largely with the state (local and federal), which is not acquitting itself in a fiscally sound manner. Spending insane amounts of money on defence-related issues, relying heavily on a historically volatile financial sector for a large fraction of tax revenue, failing to address and reform mandatory spending, and all that good stuff.

    Unless the state gets its shit together, publicly funded institutions will need to be sufficiently flexible to adapt to the rapid boom-bust revenue cycles that are currently the norm (i.e. have the ability to hire and fire accordingly).

  14. ‘TIAA-CREF’ – does that even exist anymore?

    Yes. I had it for my postdocs. I think the schools put in like 15%, and I put 8% of my salary and the choice of external funds was good (like one of my faves American Funds Europac RERFX). The costs are really low for the TIAACREF funds (around 0.5%). I kept my acct, but I rolled some over to a Roth. I know a lot of boomers who have it and love it. A good chunk of the TIAACREF funds aren’t that good (low Mstars) compared to what you find with the Fidelity and Vanguard groups (which also have a much larger selection). Index funds are low cost (0.1%) because they aren’t trying to beat the market like the actively managed more costly funds are.

    I do have a 13% return on my high-yield bond TIHRX over the past few years. Of course, my small caps went through the roof! so that *piddly* 13% bond might not have been the best choice. grrr. If there’s one thing you learn from me: BUY THE MOTHERFUCKING DIPS!

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