Faculty Productivity Is Coming

Readers of Brainstorm may have seen the survey of Chief Financial Officers whose results the Chronicle summarized here and here and here and, most importantly, here.

The latter chart pinpoints where CFO’s see the greatest cost-savings is to be found: faculty labor.  When asked what strategy they would follow to improve financial conditions if they didn’t have to worry about the constituents, 38 percent answered, “Raise teaching loads.”  That figure doubles the results for strategy #2, “Raise tuition” (19 percent).

That’s not all.  The next three strategies also target faculty labor: “Eliminate tenure” (17 percent), “Hire more adjuncts” (11 percent), and “Add mandatory retirement age” (7 percent).

Clearly, CFO’s see the faculty as preventing a leaner budget, and as the economy continues to sputter, I see no way that faculty productivity will not be a central issue in both public and backroom discussions in the coming years.  We will see more reports like this one by Richard F. O’Donnell and this one by Richard Vedder et al.

Professors in non-scientific fields such as English are going to have to answer questions about the costs and benefits of their research, and they are going to find that the old answers about “discovering new knowledge” aren’t going to pass unless they have empirical proof of impact to back them up.  I just saw a notice that two of the leading journals in my field, ESQ and Poe Studies, are threatened with closure by their host institution, Washington State University.  The Society of 19th Century Americanists has drafted a letter that scholars can sign here.  The authors correctly note that “These journals are not only essential to the broad academic fields in which they have played and will continue to play so central a role, they bring wide recognition to the English Department at WSU and, indeed, to the university itself.”  True, but we may have reached the point that recognition and prestige in certain fields don’t mean that much any more, not in the face of budget shortfalls.

Leaders in humanities fields need other demonstrations of productivity, the obvious measures being number of undergraduates in humanities courses and outside money drawn in.  The standard working conditions of research professors–a 2-2 load, small undergrad classes and one or two graduate seminars, frequent sabbaticals, etc.–aren’t going to last.

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