Unproductive academics II

My post on unproductive academics raised a lot of issues in the thread. A common argument was to blame university management for all the woes of the Australian university system. I have a lot of sympathy for that argument but two problems arise. One I’m not happy to blame management for the fact that a large number of academic staff cannot publish four articles in three years. Second bad management is a symptom of a deeper problem.

The governance of Australian universities is poor. University councils are not elected by alumni. Nor are council members usually financial donors. Why would we expect them to be any good at monitoring university management. They simply have no skin in the game. Please note I am not saying that these individuals aren’t well-meaning pillars of the community.

Tyler Cowen points to this presentation that identifies alumni control as the reason why Harvard University is so great a university.

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14 Responses to Unproductive academics II

  1. Amfortas

    The unproductive are only a part of the problem. The productive who turn out mendacious paper after imaginative paper, after completely bullmanure paper also reduce the viability of our Universities.

    The number of quite alien-to-independant-thought academics who have been promoted to fill some ‘equal opportunity’ slot or ‘ethnic’ slot in the pursuit of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’, and who gain kudos from Feminist and Marxist drivel pumped out by the kilo, is so large and dominant that truely objective teaching and research has all but disappeared.

  2. daddy dave

    Australian universities are bloated with vast bureaucracies. That is a separate problem to the issue of research productivity.

  3. conrad

    Sinclair, this 4 articles in 3 years shows how stupid management is at Sydney of all places. This is basically DEST points, and we know exactly the effect that had, which you can summarize as: less trees and more bad science. Many top universities in the US are quite happy for you to publish an article or so a year as long as it is good. The main problem is finding someone to evaluate good and bad, and the problem with Aus universities is that they employ people who are clueless on this. Even the Aus government basically had to admit what a stupid strategy it was, which is why poor articles got (and apparently are still going to get) a negative rating in ERA II.

    I’m not saying here that universities shouldn’t be able to get rid of people, I’m just saying it’s pretty clear that at least at Sydney, the people assigned to do it are not competent, and hence might like to get rid of themselves first.

  4. Lazlo

    Heiss is coming the complete victim on Abc. What a wanker. So inform us of the racist comments on Amazon, please.

  5. Lazlo

    Umm I didn’t post this on this thread, I beleive.

    Anyway Sinclair, take on an academic management job and man up! I know I have.

  6. Lazlo

    Many top universities in the US are quite happy for you to publish an article or so a year as long as it is good.

    No they are not. US universities are ruthless.

    ..it’s pretty clear that at least at Sydney, the people assigned to do it are not competent, and hence might like to get rid of themselves first.

    Your evidence for this is?

  7. conrad

    “No they are not. US universities are ruthless.”

    Through the tenure process, yes. But they still don’t use DEST points, and they still care about quality over quantity.

    “Your evidence for this is?”

    As already noted.

  8. Sinclair Davidson

    Many top universities in the US are quite happy for you to publish an article or so a year as long as it is good.

    Conrad – I’m sure every university would be happy with this. This sort of comment reminds me of Paul Samuelson describing good PhDs. He said there were two types of good PhD. One that took a little longer and the student did noble prize winning work and one that took minimum time, fell over the line and the student then did what they wanted. Unfortunately most took a little longer and then fell over the line. (That is a paraphrase, but you get the idea).

    I hear the argument that good research takes long all the time – and it is true. Yet I am not convinced that most people who after some time have no output to show are doing good research. Most of them are doing nothing.

  9. Sinclair Davidson

    Lazlo – I have been in university management in the past. Probably best my views on that experience be reserved for private conversation and/or memoirs long after retirement.

  10. Jim Rose

    sinclair, do private univerities in the US and oz have the same bad governance and academic poor performance?

  11. Sinclair Davidson

    Jim – Harvard is a private uni. There is only one private Oz uni and I don’t know what they do. Buckingham in the UK is private only only alumni and donors can be on their council.

  12. conrad

    “academic poor performance”

    Depending on how you want to measure it, Australia has quite reasonable performance (and the UK even better), so “poor” is a rather unfair characterization. I think if you look dollar for dollar and at impact metrics, for example, then Cambridge and Oxford, which have nothing on Harvard in terms of cash (I believe Harvard has around 30 billion in their kitty), perform very well (although they start getting many problems because of this lack of cash, so it will be interesting to see what happens in 20 years). I’m sure there are comparisons with Aus universities also, which are seriously poorly funded compared to the great US ones, and they’re not too bad (UWA is the richest of the Aus universities and Melbourne second depending on how you want to measure it).

    Of course, if you’re interested in the best of the best, which is rather unquantifiable and probably the best marker of ace universities and science in general, then MIT is the real killer, with 63 Nobel prize winners (61 if you delete the two Peace prize). It would be good to look at spin-off compaines also, although I know of no data on this.

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