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Friday, September 16, 2005

Scholarship, Administration, and "The Faculty Salary Game"

Hello, a newbie here; thanks to Dan et al. for the invitation.

I want to draw people’s attention to at least part of a mildly interesting article on faculty salaries by John Lombardi, chancellor at U. Mass. Amherst (and, incidentally, former president of my employer, the University of Florida).  He attempts to rationalize what I experience as only a thinly rational process, arguing in favor of a system by which underpayment by a current employer is only corrected upon demonstration of market value through a competing offer from another school.  All well and good, and in the aggregate this may lead to a reasonably correct salary scale, if we accept what the market favors as best for individual institutions and for higher education generally.  But it leads to wide disparities within institutions, and forces faculty to seek external validation – and, as a result, solicitation and potential seduction – from outside, thereby perhaps leading to more faculty instability, bitterness, and defections within institutions.  This consequence deserves its own post, but it's not what I want to talk about.

Instead, check about two-thirds of the way through the article, when Lombardi briefly discusses the role of administration in this system.  Entering administration, he argues, is a rational, though second-best, choice by faculty who are stuck in a local market.  Choosing to enter university administration isn’t about loyalty to the institution, or about implementing a grand, Billy Beane-like vision, or even about providing a better place to work and study.  It’s just the only means within an institution by which an employee who finds no better external offers for her services (and more specifically for her research) can get a significant raise – because excellent teaching, of course, only very rarely leads to a significant hike in pay scale.

Let’s assume for a moment that this is at least partially true – that is, that it adequately describes the motivations of many who opt into an administrative position, or even an administrative “track” for their careers.  (Of course I’m interested in the fact that it’s not universally true – Harold Koh, for example, has other career options besides being dean, and as noted in the Caron & Gely piece that Dave Hoffman discussed, the head administrators at the most elite law schools are likely to have been productive scholars before entering administration.)  Lombardi’s story of university administration is that the people who enter it (a) don’t really want to do it, but are seeking refuge from a stalled scholarly career; (b) aren’t necessarily good at it – that is, they may be good at it, but that’s not a prerequisite for entry, and perhaps it’s not even essential for advancement; and (c) an entire class of employees who are successful scholars are discouraged from entering administration because it might throw off their career trajectories (since only productive scholars advance) and because it might be perceived as an abandonment of their scholarly careers.  Oh, and finally, don't forget that while academia trains and screens for scholarship and kinda maybe trains for teaching (except, of course, for legal academia, in which many, though a decreasing number, of entry level hires have little or no graduate school experience), it doesn't train or screen for management.

Now, good scholars may or may not make good administrators, so one doesn’t know in the abstract what we’re losing.  At the same time, non-productive faculty members may not make good administrators, so we don’t quite know what we’re gaining, either.  But in any case, the pool of potential administrators is diminished in part by virtue of a system that presents administration as a lesser, and losing, career option.  A regime that considers scholarship and administration as mutually exclusive (which they may be as a practical matter, but that’s not how Lombardi describes it) and that derogates management as a second-best alternative doesn’t seem like a particularly good means to build a functional, large-scale enterprise of any sort, much less one that is supposed to deliver, in addition to scholarship, a service like education.  This adversely affects not only the institutions themselves, but the scholars who otherwise benefit from them to the extent the scholars care about the operation and morale of the educational institutions they inhabit.

Of course as I noted above, Lombardi’s description isn’t entirely true. But it remains at least somewhat accurate as a description of law schools and universities outside of the very top tier.  And if one were to design a system of higher education from scratch, I don’t think this is how you’d start.

(Oh, final disclaimers:  I really like my dean (hi Bob!), I have not yet formed an opinion of my university’s still-relatively-new president, and none of what’s written above is in reaction to my present circumstances – promise! – but is instead a reaction to lotsa years spent as an undergraduate, graduate, and professional student, and as an untenured humanities and law professor.)

Posted by Mark Fenster on September 16, 2005 at 04:20 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Maybe schools should hire corporate managers? Actually, government-experienced (I'm thinking executive agencies here) managers might be even better because you wouldn't have to pay them as much and they would be used to managing an unwiedly, fractious, semi-scholarly workforce.

Posted by: Jeff V. | Sep 16, 2005 4:51:58 PM

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