Texas A&M's Bottom-Line Ratings of Professors Find That Most Are Cost-Effective

September 15, 2010

Faculty members at Texas A&M University are, by and large, generating more money than they are costing the university, although some of the most prestigious professors would appear to be operating in the red, according to a controversial report prepared by the university system as a move toward greater accountability.

The report, which The Chronicle obtained through an open-records request, lists how much each faculty member in the 11-campus system generated by teaching during the 2008-9 academic year. The faculty member's salary and estimated cost of benefits are subtracted from that amount.

The teaching revenue is calculated by adding tuition paid by students—larger classes generate more tuition dollars—and factors in the weighted value for semester credit hours of different types and levels of courses. Those weighted values are used to determine state financial support (for instance, hours spent teaching graduate courses are generally weighted more heavily than those spent teaching undergraduates).

Another column in the report shows how much faculty members generated in research grants, but that figure is not factored into the bottom-line total for each person.

The university system's chancellor, Michael D. McKinney, wrote in a memorandum accompanying the report to the Board of Regents that the system's campuses are generally efficient. "The reports show that the faculty at each university generate revenue in excess of their payroll costs," he wrote.

'Potentially Very Dangerous'

Critics say the measure is simplistic and doesn't take into account much of the work faculty members do, including advising students, grading papers, and serving on committees. They also worry it could be used against professors who do not appear to be pulling their weight, although system officials say that won't happen. The report's introduction says it is "for management information only," but it's unclear what that means.

"This report is based on several currently available measures that have been reported to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by A&M System universities for many years," the system said this week in a written statement. "Our goal is not to grade our hard-working faculty, but to provide the best analytical evaluation tools we can to ensure we maximize our mission and provide the highest quality education possible. We are especially aware that no collection of data, no matter how extensive, can truly capture the value and input, and the long hours, of faculty who devote their careers and their lives to the teaching of generations of Texans."

John W. Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors, said that in tight budget times, more universities are taking a closer look at employee productivity.

"There do seem to be more calls for accountability in various forms, but this one seems more specific and oriented toward a balancing of revenues and costs that seems very simplistic and potentially very dangerous," he said. "It's almost like a cost/benefit analysis of individual faculty members. It tends to reduce the whole process of education to how many people can you cram into a classroom and how much tuition can you charge them, or how much research funding can you bring in from the outside regardless of whether it fits the mission of the institution."

Antonio Cepeda-Benito, dean of faculties at Texas A&M's flagship campus at College Station, said some of the university's most prestigious faculty members, who command high salaries but don't always teach large classes, would appear to be costing more than they bring in, according to the system's analysis.

"This is a simplistic and misleading way to measure faculty," he said. "I worry about the impact that having this information out there, without the appropriate context, could have on morale."

Karan L. Watson, interim provost at College Station, said the report does not take into account the fact that many faculty members raise a portion of their salaries through research grants, and that that portion doesn’t cost the university anything.