Archive for Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heard on the Hill: Article examines how faculty members spend their time; KU Monarch Watch director quoted in New York Times; KU grad student earns Department of Defense scholarship

July 13, 2011


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Here’s an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that touches on a topic that’s generated a fair amount of discussion on this blog: faculty productivity.

It uses the job of Carlos L. Aiken, a geosciences professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, as an example.

“Some people might consider Carlos L. Aiken's job pretty cushy,” the article said. “At a glance, anyone can see that he taught a total of 45 students at the University of Texas at Dallas in a recent academic year, while earning a six-figure salary.”

But he’s really done a lot more than just teach.

“He supervises graduate students, writes grants to keep his research afloat, and recently he gave a presentation on "3D virtual geology" to a local chapter of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. He's working on and off throughout the summer, even though the time he puts in is not factored into his pay,” the article said.

The Chronicle looked at a professor in Texas because the University of Texas system is looking at his output as a series of data points — number of classes and students taught, grant money awarded and average student evaluation scores.

There’s other stuff, too, that doesn’t get measured a lot beyond teaching and research, the article says, like directing doctoral dissertations, advising students, serving on committees, writing grants and mentoring students and junior faculty.

I mention all of this not to suggest that universities (yes, even including KU) don’t have a few “deadwood” faculty members, as the article calls them, but more that it’s difficult to communicate what exactly occupies a professor’s time during the week, even the ones who are doing a good job.

• KU’s Chip Taylor, director of KU’s Monarch Watch, got a mention in the New York Times this week.

The paper wrote about the ongoing issue of dwindling monarch butterfly populations in the Midwest.

Taylor, an insect ecologist who has frequently discussed the issue before, pointed out that genetically modified crops may be having an effect on milkweed populations.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, and their larvae eat the plant for food.

“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 100 million acres of these row crops,” Taylor told the newspaper. “Your milkweed is virtually gone.”

• KU graduate student Evan Austin of Shawnee, has earned a pretty sweet award from the Department of Defense.

He will get a $38,000 annual stipend, full tuition and fees, book allowance and health insurances through the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship for Service Program.

He also will receive paid summer internships and postgraduate employment at the Department of Defense. He conducts research at KU's Information and Telecommunication Technology Center.

He earned an undergraduate degree in the department of electrical engineering and computer science, and will earn a master’s degree in computer science in August, and will begin his doctoral studies this fall.

• I wonder if some nice KU donor would set up a scholarship for the best tip for Heard on the Hill. We don’t have one set up yet, but you’d better submit one at just in case.


devobrun 6 years, 7 months ago

While individual professors are difficult to judge regarding their productivity, the collection of them are not. Top level professors are supposed to develop ideas and students who go forth and spread around the world. New ideas and new people of action are supposed to come from the halls of higher learning.

We're broke. Business is at it's lowest point in terms of jobs and ethics. Alternative thought and spirit....those really new ways of viewing the world.....are stuck in a few pet subjects. A science professor cannot get a grant unless he somehow relates his work to global climate change. Biology is the study of "OMG, yet another endangered species". And humanities is now the study of women's woes, minority woes, disabled woes, woe to me woe to you woe to everything.

Except woe to the university professor who draws six figures to teach young folks that the world is just one big created reality and their job when they leave school is to engage the world politically. So everything from insect research to teaching math is a political battle. We are stuck in the 60s. The hippies got old and crotchety just like their dads.

And we are going broke because it is all so trite and trivial and just old.

notanota 6 years, 7 months ago

Nope, you don't come off as a bitter ex-adjunct with an axe to grind. Not at all.

parrothead8 6 years, 7 months ago

It's easy to judge any collective, but also shortsighted and inaccurate. If I applied your philosophy to the 2009 Kansas City Royals, then I would have to say that American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke was no good that year because of the results posted by his team.

Funny that business got to its (not "it's") lowest point in terms of jobs and ethics so quickly after we started trying to quantify everything in higher education. We teach students that everything should be tracked and measured, and must provide a certain financial return. Then we wonder why businesses cut jobs while executive salaries are going up.

Higher education should be more about critical thinking and learning a wide range of skills. Thanks to the "let's quantify productivity" model, universities are becoming trade schools where students learn one set of skills that leaves them ill-prepared for a changing world.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 7 months ago

Why is it so had to quantitate a professor's activity. All of those factors listed are quantifiable measures (grad students mentored, committees, presentations, etc.).

It is shortsighted to base all on tree measures of research grants, teaching, and teaching, scores, although those are likely the most important. There are about 10-12 other quantifiable measures that give a pretty good picture of the activity of a professor. Why not use them?

Why hide behind the silly assertion that what professors do is too ephemeral to quantify?

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 7 months ago

You learned a new word today! Good for you.

My contribution to you learning this new word cannot be quantitated.

question4u 6 years, 7 months ago

"Why hide behind the silly assertion that what professors do is too ephemeral to quantify?"

That's a very odd question. Multiple criteria are used to evaluate all faculty at universities in Kansas every year, as is required by the state.

Under the headings of teaching, research and service, faculty are required to list activities including but not limited to new course development, revision of existing courses, independent study supervision, supervision of student organizations, attendance at teaching workshops, presentations on teaching strategies, results of student course evaluations, supervision of teaching assistants, supervision of masters theses, supervision of doctoral dissertations, books and articles published, presentations at professional conferences, research grants received, awards received, and service on departmental, university and professional committees.

Since all salary increases for faculty at universities in Kansas are merit based, the ways in which faculty use their time are minutely documented. Department chairs write evaluations of every faculty member, both tenured and untenured, every year, and these annual reports are kept on file in the dean's office. Nobody gets promoted or receives tenure without building an extensive record in teaching, research and service, but even full professors are subject to annual review.

Exactly who is it that is hiding "behind the silly assertion that what professors do is too ephemeral to quantify?" It certainly can't be professors. They take it for granted that everything they do will be measured. Even more important, what professor would ever want to argue that what he or she does is "ephemeral"?

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 7 months ago

I suspect you are correct that faculty are internally evaluated ad minutiae. I also suspect you are correct that these are used to determine merit salary increases, which KU has not had for what, three years. Much ado about nothing.

My point is that there is a fear that these evaluations might be used for something actually meaningful beyond merit increases, such as allocation of university resources or dismissal despite tenure due to underperformance.

Instead, the waters are muddied by the "what we do is too special to be objectively quantified" argument. Read any story about what is going on in Texas right now and you will hear the argument.

I strongly oppose the "reforms" proposed for the UT system, but I would argue that the universities have allowed this to happen by failing to adequately police themselves in terms of quality (allowing tenured professors to slide) and failing to adequately measure their real contributions because of this fear of evaluation by faculty.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 7 months ago

Oh, and don't get hung up on my use of the word "ephemeral". What I meant is "unquantifiable", in part because of the transitory and elusive nature of some activity such as "touching minds".

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