Bad Business

Five years ago, in the midst of the global economic crisis, our university made the brilliant decision to hire dozens of talented young PhDs who suddenly (and temporarily) were not wanted anywhere. The goal was to give employment to people who will publish a lot and raise the university’s profile dramatically. In short, the university used the crisis to its advantage.

The strategy worked. Within 5 years, we started attracting bright students from places where nobody had heard we existed before, getting a lot of positive coverage in the national press, and topping the charts of the most promising young universities. Reputation is a precious thing that takes forever to build and a very short time to destroy. We were on our way to building a really strong, respectable reputation.

And then a bunch of brainless bureaucrats in the state’s legislature has failed to pay its bills yet again. Now we are being threatened with severe budget cuts. There are rumors that the university will get rid of its part-time staff and give professors a 4 courses per semester teaching load. Not only does such teaching load at a university constitute fraud against students, it also makes it impossible for scholars to engage in any research. The administration understands that and will subvert its labor-intensive process of raising research requirements (that we all have been engaged in for the past 5 years) in order to remove research expectations altogether.

The amount of money that will be saved in a semester by making me teach an extra 100-level course is $2,700. The actual cost of this pathetic pretense at saving is the end of all scholarly life at the university, the loss of reputation, and a prompt transformation of a promising university into a diploma mill.

We keep hearing that universities are being run like businesses. This is a stupid lie. I cannot imagine a business that hires PhDs and pays them PhD salaries and then prevents them from doing what they were hired to do so that they can perform menial, minimum-wage tasks. I cannot imagine a business that would sacrifice its hard-won reputation to solve some petty, momentary cash-flow issue that everybody will forget about three months from now*.

The problem here is not some completely imaginary “business model” but the irredeemable idiocy of people we keep electing to represent us at the state and federal level. It begins to look to me like only the most inept, useless, dense and idiotic people end up getting elected.

* This is not just a figure of speech. Senior colleagues tell me that they remember half a dozen of such invented crises, and today nobody can even remember what they were all about. The problem is that idiots in the state legislature who are incapable of a long-term vision, take drastic measures to address these silly little crises and then have no idea how to dig themselves from under the consequences. They have probably never heard that a cure should never cause more damage than the disease it purports to treat.

4 thoughts on “Bad Business

  1. One way out of this situation may be for you to buy out one class each semester. Usually this is not too costly for the first buy-out and, in a two-income household, you should be able to afford it.

    The reason why legislatures get into this mess is that they pander to voters by spending more than they tax, usually on wasteful transfers. So what happens is that profligate states like your’s end up damaging education for the sake of often undeserving welfare recipients. That is a bad road to travel, and one reason why I am happy to live in Virginia.

    Put another way, the progressive movement takes states to positions that you now find offensive. And that is one reason why I am not a progressive..


    1. Are you sure welfare recipients cause this situation? Why them and not wars abroad, unefficient medical system with rising costs, economic crisis, more elderly population, etc? Compared to many other budget spendings, the sum on welfare isn’t big.


      1. Our state doesn’t wage any wars abroad. 🙂 In Illinois, this has been a matter of incredible statewide corruption and ineptitude by these stupid bureaucrats. We are not as bad as California but we are getting there. 😦


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