Monday, June 22, 2015

Professor Heal Thyself

Hardly a week goes by without us hearing about the downtrodden professor at some college or university. The story starts with "we haven't had a cost of living raise in XX years" and degenerates into "look at the pay (increase) disparity between class-teaching professors and college administrators." For those outside the ivory towers of academia a "cost of living raise" is an automatic pay rise totally detached from an employee's increased (or decreased) responsibility or productivity. These are raises "just for hanging around" and are always a positive bump in pay even in times of deflation. In the real world it is just another entitlement that most do not receive.

As for the pay disparity we are being told that there just are not enough qualified or top-tier administrators being produced to meet the demand which drives up the price. No reliable data on the trends in that demand are available but many, mostly outside the administration, clearly feel it is growing at too fast a pace for the inherent need. That's one side of the equation.

The other side of the equation is more on point. Academia is producing an enormous excess of qualified candidates for the limited positions available in academia. In some cases the excess is between one and two orders of magnitude. We hear of one veteran professor who whines "they are treating us like interchangeable parts." Well, that's because you are. And every year you push out new, improved versions of equally interchangeable parts that can be had for year-over-year decreasing prices. Many of those complaining luxuriate in the guild socialism of "tenure" something else unheard of in the real world and increasingly rare in academia. The gradual elimination of tenure should surprise no one since tenure reduces Administration's flexibility in replacing old, worn out parts with newer and better ones.

It comes down to Econ 101: supply and demand. Colleges and Universities generate revenue enrolling and graduating students. Creating more graduates than academia's employment market demands naturally drives down compensation and other benefits. No surprise there. But when you are creating an enormous surplus of candidates for your own job you should not be too surprised when these same economic pressures directly impact your personal circumstances. Apparently this leaves no sympathy from tenured professors for their PhD students who face a certain barrage of rejection letters that start with "Unfortunately you were not selected for position XYZ but you were amongst our twenty finalists from a candidate pool of over six hundred..." and this was reported by a Math major who recently earned a PhD from an R1.

The solution is obvious. Stop enrolling and graduating students who upon graduation will find themselves,  along with hundreds of others, vying for a limited pool of jobs that may very well include your own. Obvious, but it will never happen. Decreasing the student population in a given field will incur a loss of revenue demanding a reduction in force which immediately converts the I-Me-Mine "I'm paid too little" whiners into "I've been fired" whiners. For tenured faculty it appears far better to complain about salary compression while pumping out graduates well suited for jobs that do not exist than to right-size their own operation because of the chance they might lose their own job in the process. They should not act so indignant when Administrators treat them as disposable as they do the very same with their students.