Essay’s Claims About Research Universities Inaccurate

To the Editor:

As professors who have taught at several major research-driven business schools in Europe and the United States with almost five decades of experience between the two of us, we read the recent article by Carl Cederström and Michael Marinetto (“How to Live Less Anxiously in Academe,The Chronicle, September 28) with surprise, even astonishment. The milieu they describe bears little resemblance to today’s research-oriented universities.

Their first claim is that major research-driven universities do not value good teaching: “Being a disengaged teacher is nothing to be ashamed of at a research university.” In all the schools we have taught at, great teachers are prized by the administration and highly respected by their peers. Our own schools reward excellent teaching, symbolically and financially.

The second claim is that academic writing is “unreadable as well as unread, neither of which is a disadvantage … .” Well, read the work of influential academics in, for example, economics, like Akerlof, Hayek, Demsetz, Stigler, and Shleifer, to name a few, and you will find clear, lucid prose. The most widely read and highly cited articles contain innovative ideas communicated clearly. While unreadable articles do get published in top journals, they remain unread and this is a disadvantage. One of the key aspects of a scholar’s achievements is academic influence, that is, the extent to which the scholar’s work is read by peers. Generally speaking, scholars who write unreadable work don’t last long.  Another aspect is influence on practitioners, and certainly in the business schools we are familiar with, this is seen as a major component of successful scholarship.

The third claim is that one can have a good life by doing just enough. Sure, we all have mediocre, anti-social colleagues. But leaders of top academic institutions know that mediocrity and lack of institutional loyalty is contagious, and therefore seek to fight this. Successful faculty, by and large, thrive by doing influential work that builds their careers as well as the prestige of their schools.

Nicolai Foss, Bocconi University
Ram Mudambi, Temple University

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