I’ve been meaning to comment on this post by Female Science Professor. In her post she refers to a piece that she wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education in response to numerous articles that have appeared recently in the media, articles, and books, about the evils of tenure, the slacker work style of tenured faculty everywhere, and the cost of tenure in $$. Some of the fervor last year was generated by the publication of a book entitled Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, written by one Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Columbia University Department of Religion.
I too have been disturbed by the seemingly constant barrage in the media lately about the evils of tenure. Although I will say that some departments seem to have a member whose research interests have faded and that don’t participate to their full ability in the teaching mission of the department…. Sometimes called dead wood faculty, … I venture to say that these individuals are a VERY small minority in the ranks of tenured faculty in the biological sciences. It seems like those who think that all tenured faculty are slackers- just aren’t aware of the fact that we didn’t set out on our faculty careers just to get tenure, or primarily to get tenure or for huge paychecks… we set out on our faculty careers by and large because we find a particular subject fascinating, we want to contribute to the generation of new knowledge in subjects of interest to us …. That’s otherwise called research, and we want to pass our knowledge the current state of our field AND this new knowledge generated by our research to younger generations. Collectively, this whole business is called scholarship, and it is something you get when you have research (the generation of new knowledge), and teaching (the passing on of knowledge) happening together- and THIS is what takes place in R1 Universities.
We have institutions of higher education that simply do teaching without doing research- and these are called community colleges. I’m not denigrating community colleges by any means- I simply want to point out that their mission is primarily a teaching mission- not a scholarship mission- and that is what differentiates them from R1 institutions.
The particular statements that I hear in the media that drive me crazy are the following:
1. Tenured faculty don’t work as hard as junior faculty.
I beg to differ. Since I achieved tenure last year, my work hours have gone through the ceiling, my service responsibilities for my department, university, and profession have been tripled, and I’ve been asked to participate in teaching extra courses. That’s reality folks. Junior faculty in the sciences are (and should be protected) from heavy teaching and service responsibilities when possible- but the piper gets paid after tenure docs are signed…
2. Tenured faculty members earn huge salaries.
This is a doosey. I spent 10 years in graduate and professional school. My first job as a postdoctoral researcher paid 27K, and I had (and still have debt) from professional school. Show me another profession where members do as much education as I have done at top tier places, and then start their first ‘real’ position with a salary in the 60-70K range, and I’ll eat my laptop. Law? Nope. Medicine? Nope. And making tenure at less than 100K/ year… one can’t complain, but to me this isn’t a ‘mega’ salary.
3. Tenure costs universities huge amounts of money in salary.
This one makes me really mad. First of all- I’m not sure where we though faculty should be free. Every employee that is worth having costs money. So if you thought you were going to get someone to do some scholarship for free- well, you’ll probably get what you paid for.
But let’s just review all the $$ benefits to the institution of having tenured faculty in the biological sciences… and for a moment we’ll just base this argument on the fact that more experienced faculty …i.e. tenured… are those that are best at competing for grants…
Tenured faculty pay ½ of their own salaries. Yes, that’s right. Tenure track faculty at many (if not most) major research universities are expected to bring in research dollars to pay large portions of their own salaries. Much of the time this means that these faculty are paying 50% or more of their own salaries using grant money that they successfully competed for from federal grants. In case that is too obscure for some of you (Mark C. Taylor) to figure out… a tenured faculty member in the biological sciences that takes home 100K per year, IS ONLY BEING PAID 50K PER YEAR from the institution itself. Put another way- the institution is getting a tenure track or tenured productive researcher and teacher FOR HALF PRICE. … or about the price that it would cost to employ a lecturer. This very fact makes takes the meaning out of tenure- since tenured faculty who lose their grants for whatever reason, can generally not afford to stay and do the same amount of work, only to earn half a salary.
Starting to look like a pretty good deal for the institution… right? Read on.
Tenured faculty grants bring in indirect costs that are paid to the institution. Federal grants (in the biological sciences) are obtained at vastly higher rates by experienced faculty… and the institution benefits by collecting the indirect costs. These ‘indirect costs’ are usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of the direct costs of the grant. In plain English then, if a researcher is bringing in 250K in direct costs to run their lab in a year… the institution is generally receiving in the neighborhood of 125K per year in overhead (aka “indirect costs”)… that they spend
to keep the lights on…as they like. Wow, so -50K in salary… +125K in overhead… it kinda seems like the institution is making $$ on this deal.
But wait- who pays grad student tuition? Yes, that’s right- successful grant getting tenured faculty use federal grant $$ to pay the tuition of their graduate students at their institutions. And, I hear you cry- but those students take courses… and yes, well they do take courses … for something like 2 years out of a 5-6 year doctoral program… the rest of the time the tenured faculty member is paying tuition to the institution so that the grad student can do research in the PIs lab… and the tuition cost is in addition to paying stipend/health/fringe for the student… off… you guessed it, federal grant $$.
I don’t know… I’d love it if I could employ people for 50% salary, collect the substantial overhead on the money they bring in AND get them to pay me tuition for students that they educate in their labs… who I then award a degree too and take credit for having educated!
Great gig if you can get it.