Of Profit and Professors

Calling it “simplistic, crass and riddled with errors,” many faculty at Texas A&M are unhappy with the university’s approach to measuring professor value via a balance sheet. The faculty member is assessed by how many classes they teach, the tuition they bring in, and the research grants they generate.

But metrics can be misleading. James Joyner at OutsidetheBeltway puts it well. “Research grants obtained” might make sense in the hard sciences but not so much in philosophy departments. And how does a professor “generate tuition?”

The pressure to measure professor profitability comes from state legislatures and education consumers. In total states spent $78 billion in FY 2008 on universities (11% of budgets).The Wall Street Journal writes that tuition continues to climb yet, employers complain new hires with four-year degrees lack basic skills.

There’s alot going on here. What do individuals seek from a university education? Better jobs, workplace skills, or the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake? A professor who is training students for in-demand professions may bring in more “customers,” than one offering courses in Classical studies. Given economic, social and technological change what is the future of the university and of academia? Three things generating a lively debate: Tenure, technology, and the decades-long transformation of curricula.