August 1, 2007

The celebrity-faculty fallacy

As noted in The Gradebook, Stanley Fish has now waded into ($) the Florida higher-ed funding battle.  Like many of our fellow Florida faculty, Fish says we can't simultaneously have great, universal, and really cheap higher education. Yet Kevin Carey has a point: Fish's proposed solution is a search for celebrity faculty:

Five straight years of steadily increased funding, tuition raises and high-profile faculty hires would send a message that something really serious is happening. Ten more years of the same, and it might actually happen.

Fish followed the same formula when Arts and Sciences Dean at UIC. A large part of his modus operandi was symbolic and cultural, but a substantial chunk was trying to snag Big Fish. Fish's fishing spent resources that could have been used to hire and reward wonderful and less-famous faculty.

Florida has tried the Famous Faculty Fishing expedition before, among other things with FSU hiring Nobel Prize winner John Robert Schrieffer, who later killed people while driving. His shenanigans are proof that neither universities nor famous faculty are idiot-proof. There is a point in recruiting famous people, so long as the resources devoted to such efforts do not drain the ability of an institution to reward and retain the vast majority of faculty who neither win Nobel prizes nor write best-sellers.

Florida loses 15% of its faculty every year, essentially serving as a farm league for other regions. Hiring a few famous faculty will not stop that attrition, and if it absorbs too much of the university system's resources, such a concentration of resources will prevent us from holding onto the hundreds of darned good faculty we already have.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on August 1, 2007 5:49 PM |