Beyond Crazy

By James Kwak

Daniel Hamermesh points out a Wall Street Journal article on how colleges and universities are trying to increase accountability and productivity by measuring costs and benefits quantitatively. The “star” example is Texas A&M, which created a report showing a profit-and-loss summary for each professor or lecturer, where revenues are defined as external grants plus a share of tuition (if you teach one hundred students, you are credited with ten times as much revenues as someone who teaches ten students).

Let’s not argue about whether our colleges and universities are doing a good job. Let’s not even argue about whether we need more transparency and accountability in higher education. Assuming we do, this is just about the most idiotic way of doing it that I could imagine. No, wait; there’s no way I could have imagined something this stupid.

The “professor P&L” is an attempt to bring private-sector “efficiency” into higher education, but I can’t believe anyone who actually worked in the private sector could think this could work. At my company, we* thought a lot about the problem of software productivity and how to measure it. And the problem is, there really is no way to do it on an individual level. Measuring lines of code is crazy, because ideally you want to solve a given problem in as few lines of code as possible. Measuring classes or methods is equally crazy. Measuring what some people call “function points” is crazy, because they depend on what you call a function point. Most fundamentally, measuring quantity of output is crazy, because quality is much, much, much more important than quantity. It’s better to write a little bit of software well, in a way that doesn’t break anything else, can be tested reliably, and can be expanded on in the future, than to write a lot of software badly. So instead, we look at whether the software does what it is supposed to do, whether it can be tested, and whether it does what our customers want it to do. That’s how the private sector works.

And if you can’t measure software productivity, how are you going to measure educational productivity, which is much more complicated? What is the unit of output you are going to measure? More fundamentally, what is the output you are trying to produce?

What is Texas A&M measuring? The fact that you are teaching someone–not what you are teaching, or how well. In some fantasyland, you might think that the “free market” for college classes will make students flow toward the professors who teach useful things well. As anyone who has ever gone to a university knows, however, students flow toward (a) required courses and (b) professors who give easy grades. And they are measuring the grant dollars you bring in, not what you do with those grant dollars. So, for example, computer science will do worse than mechanical engineering, simply because it is less capital-intensive.

If you’re going to measure outputs, the places to look are whether students graduate from college knowing things, whether they are satisfied with their educations, and whether they are able to do the jobs employers need them to do. We could have a reasonable debate about whether those things can be measured, and whether they are worthwhile to measure. There is a lot of evidence that this kind of testing has harmful unintended consequences at lower levels, and it seems even more inappropriate for college, but that’s something that could be debated and tested.

So where did this idea come from? The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. Apparently they didn’t even finish first-semester economics. They got the bit about how market forces are driven by profits and losses. But they missed the bit about why markets work: markets only increase social welfare if the prices of things reflect their value, not if they are completely artificial.

* By “we,” I mainly mean other people at the company.

69 responses to “Beyond Crazy

  1. Great post.

    It really is so difficult to quantify what it is that makes a good teacher. My father was not only the first person in his family to get a University degree, but also went on to get his Master’s. He then worked in Public education for over 20 years. So this is one thing he drilled into us growing up (frankly over-killed to the point I almost grew to hate institutional education because of his incessant harping on it).

    Later on I performed the duties of a teacher for some relatively lengthy period of time, although I never really considered myself a “real” teacher because I wasn’t certified. The exact details aren’t important to this particular point, so you’ll just have to take my word on it. I nonetheless took it as an almost sacred thing because of my father’s influence. I spent many a day pondering what made a good teacher. I basically came up with 2 answers:

    1) Your students should know that you genuinely and sincerely care for them and their lives. The feeling that you care for them should “emit” from you in some form or fashion (of course depends on your personality, but they should somehow know this. And that you are available for them, within reason, when they need you.

    2) To give them the maximum amount of useful knowledge in the time allowed. “Useful” here being defined as something they didn’t know before they entered your class, and would be most probable to use in their life after they left your class.

    I spent many hours literally thinking about in my off duty hours during the time I was teaching. To this day I have no idea if those were the proper goals, and even if they were the appropriate goals, how close I came to achieving them with my methods. I know I did some very good things in individual circumstances, but how much better I could have done generally, I have no idea.

    When I read this story in the LA Times it touched me very very deeply.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-south-gate-teacher-20100928,0,1261367.story

    Are we to think this guy would have performed better with “Incentives” and bonuses for students’ performance or bonuses for meeting other benchmarks this guy would have been a better teacher??? I don’t think so.

  2. In the federal government we are infected with the same thinking, and it was codified into law under President Clinton as the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Every quarter, federal agencies have to report on their “Progress” under numerous GPRA measures, all of which are supposed to somehow measure the societal outcomes of the things government does nationally. For those of us who do GPRA work, its our biggest challenge. Why, because counting widgets – benefit checks delivered, Endangered Species Act consultations completed, students reached by curriculum innovations – is easy. But measuring outcomes can be nearly impossible because many of the outcomes take decades to become apparent.

    And none of this is used to actually decide where and how money flow sin the government, nor does it have any connection with personnel practices, etc.

  3. I believe professors are too big to fail – in which case their P&L’s are irrelevant.

    Just like the banks.

  4. I believe professors are too big to fail. In which case their P&L’s are irrelevant.

    Just like the banks.

  5. Ritholtz has an interesting link about how we think of education: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/10/changing-education-paradigms/ . Colleges and universities are essentially diploma and research mills. Their structure hasn’t really changed since the Enlightenment. The age grouping of primary education is gone, but much else is the same. Agreed that this is stupid. It’s a shame that Aggies are living down to their stereotype. The Aggies I’ve met are usually a notch above the average college graduate in intellect. They sure are a confident bunch.

  6. Excellent post & comments by Ted K & Phillip H. The L.A. Times reference was heartbreaking.

    Can anyone explain this tendency (verging on compulsion) in our culture to reduce complex tasks like teaching, governing, and even writing software to crude pseudo-economic numbers? It only seems possible to carry out — and to believe that the results have any meaning whatsoever — by virtue of utter & willful cluelessness as to what people actually do and how they really live.

    I wonder if there’s a connection with the decline in the prestige and study of the humanities, which are all about complexity, perspective, and breadth of vision. I also sense in our culture a panicky clutching at straws of quantitative certainty amidst a deep & omnipresent fear of falling.

    Whatever the reason, the dogmatic economism behind Texas A&M’s “professor P&L,” the teacher value-added model, the Feds’ GPRA, and so many other perversions of our work & life is a real bane.

  7. Rebecca Burlingame

    Okay, I’m going to look like a real idiot here and come to Texas A & M’s defense. Is someone honestly ready to start measuring education satisfaction and job readiness? And are we going to totally diss the role of human capital in generating wealth? Granted, we are talking about college campuses here. But just the same…let’s imagine for a moment a market driven education system where teachers count (www.TheGreatCourses.com anyone?), I would be inclined to think that teachers who keep their students wide awake and interested would be a bonus to any economic environment.

    When I was still hoping to be able to go back to school for a degree in economics, I caught up with some of the professors at Texas A & M who obliged, even though I had no appointment. And I certainly was not seeking out the “easiest teachers” or “class requirements” only. I was seeking out the areas of economics that intrigued me, as well as the professors who intrigued me, as well.

    It’s hard to say what formal education will look like in the future. But I’d be willing to bet that certain aspects of human capital will play a greater role in education than they do now.

  8. Sure, we need to describe the relationship between higher education, and human contributions to the economy. But even your term “Human capitol” removes the complexity and the nuance from what humans actually do within the economic system. Money is also capitol, as ar ethe resources needed to produce things, market things, and service things.

    But humans aren’t water, or lumber, or plastic pellets – all of which can be graded, made uniform, and quality controlled. HUmans are messy, unpredictable, and bring all sorts of stuff to their economic activity that has nothing to do with making things or producing/accumulating wealth. Thus, to reduce human activity to a series of supposedly quantitative preformanc measures is, frankly, to insult those humans.

    Doubly so when the product they “produce” – in this case other educated humans – can take years or decades tro reach “full” economic “productivity.”

  9. Does the report include how much the bloated parasite football team leeches off the body of the university? For some reason college administration yahoos always leave that off these CBA-type things.

  10. CBS from the West

    This thread raises a host of questions. I’m most intrigued by a parallel to the other day’s post about the food industry.

    The “green revolution” begin with the application of productivity measurements and scientific experimentation to maximize production. One might think measuring crop output is straightforward–but it, too, raises questions of quality vs quantity.

    Be that as it may, ultimately this led us down a path where we developed an agricultural technology that (though possibly unsustainable) was capable of eradicating human hunger. If I am not mistaken, the US alone, using only a minuscule fraction of its workforce and land has the capacity to feed the entire world’s human population and eradicate hunger and malnutrition.

    But what did we do with that technology? We chose not to eradicate hunger but to overfeed the already well-off so they became obese and diabetic.

    Makes you wonder where measuring educational productivity might lead us. I have this vision of developing the capacity to enlighten the world and then seeing it subverted to induce mass psychosis.

  11. If the school administrators synthesized a demand curve from my poor attention span during econ lectures, they would have been forced to close down the department.

    That being said, it is tough to develop a credable measure of what a prof brings to a department. Some profs are great at teaching and are poor at producing quality research papers. Other profs couldn’t give a damn about the students as they are primarily researchers. The latter gives the school a better reputation within academia, while the former is far more respected by the “true” consumers, the students.

  12. Makes me think of the move to move business metrics more generally into the nonprofit system. Sometimes it can make sense, but often it misidentifies a problem and proposes a solution that doesn’t help address what nonprofits are doing.

  13. Great thoughts!

    I think a lot about risk, and that’s only because a professor of mine told us students that all students want to talk to her about returns but not one brings up risk. To me that was like a eureka moment and has been really useful in real life because it has helped me avoid make decisions that would have cost me money as I thought about risk first and return later.

    Difficult to measure such a thing.

  14. Appreciate all of the insight Baseline Scenario offers to the public free of charge. This article of TAMU is particularly interesting since it is my alma mater and I have friends who are on staff there.

  15. Ironically, that is probably the one area of the university where objective and quantitative measures of output and results probably make sense.

  16. Ugh, this is so retarded. A part of the bigger debate on education in the U.S., which, thank God at least is starting to happen. All this crap talk about quantifying the work of teachers. Haven’t any of these people ever worked for a normal company? Your boss gives you a performance review every year. There are quantitative factors and subjective factors. Do people complain about performance reviews? Sure, all the time, but you have them. What else are you going to do? Not have them and base your salary on time served? Ugh. You just hope your company is smart enough to have a decent performance review system. Many are not. But I digress. . . Most of this crap talk about education is just the old trick of people trying to remove themselves from the chain of responsibility. God forbid a teacher’s boss (Principal, Head of Dept.) gives them a performance review and that performance review influences the raise and bonus they get. What’s wrong with these people in our educational system?
    Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. We know what’s wrong – it’s basic competence. You get someone competent in charge (eg, Michelle Rhee) in DC and you see what happens. Same thing happens at really bad companies in the private sector – in the rare case that a competent person gets to be in charge they usually don’t last long. But most companies that have to answer to shareholders don’t have this problem. Wow, Michelle Rhee was such a revolutionary – a tough, demanding boss that tried to hold people accountable. But hey, you can’t complain about the incumbents. If I were a mediocre teacher (and by definition, most people in any profession are mediocre and below) I’d fight tooth and nail against meritocracizing (yeah, I just made that up) the profession.

    And for full disclosure, I am teacher part time. Do it ’cause I love it; certainly not for the meager pay.

  17. Ted – Great post. I’d add. To augment your “useful” point, I’d add that you want to make your students think. And I mean that in the very general sense of the word. A bit of the opposite of “useful” but I think practical knowledge AND theory (ie, thinking) are a necessary part of education. Of course the dosage of each depends on the age, degree, etc.

  18. Actually it is conservative think tanks that are too big to fail – no matter how stupid and damaging their actions, someone with an agenda always stands ready to bankroll them.

  19. James, bravo post!! Measure everything and value nothing. Business economic/financial metrics do not easily apply, if at all, to non-profits and government.
    Ideology is at work in the Texas case for sure. How in the hell can Americans not get it that Wall St chaos was caused in great part by letting capitalists be capitalists ! The market is your Deity.

  20. Well written. Reminds me of the old quote from Albert Einstein:
    “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

  21. I also worked in software where we were constantly urged to be more ‘productive’. The results were somewhat predictable – I had to constantly rewrite code that the ‘productive’ people wrote to get it to work correctly but when I pointed out that using constructs that were 20 years out of date wasn’t ‘productive’ I was basically told to get lost. There was one number however that measured management’s productivity and that was ’0′.

  22. Having recently left a university where the square academic peg was jammed, hard, into the round hole of responsibility-centered management (RCM), which attempted to put a price on every task carried out by everybody, from IT, to grounds, to research, to teaching.

    I learned that:

    (1) Running a school like a business fails to value (in the first few incarnations, anyways) many activities properly: i.e., in accordance with what a reasonable person would perceive as their true worth (highly subjective, therefore difficult to measure).

    (2) Switching to this business model requires a second and largely redundant bureaucracy be added to track all these internal transactions. But switching to RCM is the sheik Kool-aid that many academics at the senior levels seem to be drinking these days.

    Those that argue that RCM metrics can be better developed to measure true worth fail to understand the limiting marginal utility that goes with the collection of more complex data sets to go into models of greater complexity. Yes, you could include cost terms based on polling students after they have left to get their reflections on what courses served them best, for example.

    The limit as the model complexity goes to infinity is that all resources are devoted to the measurement and assessment process. While this gives a beautiful and internally consistent result that might play well to a panel of trustees firmly steeped in capitalist tradition, those looking for public service might be left with a vague empty feeling that their interests are not fully served by RCM.

  23. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. It’s hardly surprising that a think tank that belongs in intellectural bankruptcy would inflict such a scheme on a poor bunch of Aggie innocents. Some day the kids will come to their senses and Gig’em.

  24. Mr. Kwak wrote:

    “Beyond Crazy”

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    Albert Einstein, (attributed) US (German-born) physicist (1879 – 1955) …”

  25. 1. Texas A&M has an annual budget of $1.3 billion.
    2. The university has to submit a plan to reduce the budget by 5% in 2012.
    3. The university has to submit a plan to reduce the budget another 5% in 2013.
    4. About 1/3 of the $1.3 billion comes from the state.
    5. About 2/3 of the $1.3 billion comes from other sources.
    http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/95924639.html

    As part of the planning process, wouldn’t it be nice to know where that “other” 2/3 is coming from so the necessary cuts don’t reduce “other” revenue? So that they don’t “rif” a $100,000 prof. who is bringing in $500,000 in grant money — much of it paying salaries and overhead.

    And big name profs bring in high paying students and donations.

    Maybe they could cancel football …

  26. Why would you expect anything intelligent from Texas A&M? Foolish expectation.

  27. Rebecca Burlingame

    This discussion proceeded pretty much as expected. So here’s a thought: what if human capital and its associated time/action base does not really belong in the category of production, at all? After all, being chained to production specs is what has chained people to technology, instead of being freed by it.

    Say we were all in a community and wanted to teach one another. How might we go about it, without the usual monetary nonsense and incentives? Would we agree that the time involved for us was pretty much equal, or would we want to clarify things further?

  28. I think this is directly related to the mentality that gives us pervasive primary-education testing a la No Child Left Behind — people, especially profit-driven, market-driven, predominantly conservative (though the other end of the spectrum is certainly not immune) people — desperately want everything to be quantifiable, so that we can pick the “best.”

    That drive to measure and quantify is often so strong that it becomes the primary imperative, not the improvements that could be made by measuring. That force has enough weight that, in the absence of a good way to measure, you’ll just use whatever metric is available. You go to data-driven decisions with the metrics you have, not the metrics you wish you had . . . but in reality, a bad metric is far worse than no metric whatsoever (or the subjective, poorly quantified judgments of experts in the field, say.)

    In the endless debates about the value of a liberal-arts education which I’ve endured, I seem to recall someone making the point that one of the biggest values is comfort with and tolerance of ambiguity. That is actually a very valuable skill which I fear is being lost in today’s inforexic society.

  29. Hey now — football’s actually a profit center at most of the major-college-athletics schools. Student athletes get very little compensation compared to the money they bring to the school.

  30. Oct. 27, 2010 4:18PM EDT

    “Now, however, with growth in doubt, it seems that the Fed has taken Charles Ponzi one step further.”

    http://tinyurl.com/2dokxmk

  31. Contrary to some other comments, I don’t think the author is saying measurement is bad, but that this particular problem resists good measurement, because it’s hard to agree on the objective function, and harder to measure performance in a logical way.

    Obviously the general instinct to hypothesize/measure/verify is admirable. More than admirable: it is the foundation of the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and life as you know it. If you are over 40, odds are better than 50/50 that you are still alive only because of the scientific method.

    The author explicitly set aside the question of whether colleges need to change. I’ll weigh in there. Obviously something must change, because private college now delivers negative lifetime return on investment:

    http://nostradoofus.com/2009/10/19/has-college-become-a-bad-investment/

    One cannot expect individuals and governments to continue pursuing a negative-ROI investment indefinitely. In the limit case, you simply run out of resources. So we could just let this play out, in which case many private colleges would fail, or we could try to fix it. To fix it, you would generate hypotheses and you would test them — by measuring something.

    And no, I’m not affiliated with any school, measurement effort or wacky political agenda. Just a disinterested observer of reality.

  32. @Ted great post and the cross post of the LA Times article on the teacher’s suicide is a reminder to us all that “success” as a teacher is not something that one can measure accurately.

    @Ben I agree wholeheartedly on the thinking part. In this election cycle one see how rhetorical flourish has trumped analytical thinking. I was wondering how many teachers add rhetoric (use and misuse) to their teaching.

    Also one thing I tell my children a LOT is that “motivation comes from within” That being said some teachers and some parents know how to wake up that motivation when it is dormant.

  33. prostratedragon

    Thank you for helping me see why I was annoyed back when the name of the GAO was changed from “Government Accounting Office” to “Government Accountability Office.”

    Aside from sounding a bit pretentious, the newer name reflects the misconceptions you describe.

  34. Seemingly it is believed—erroneously I might add—that popular business practices are effective. For example, Arne Duncan’s (Secretary of Education) The Race to the Top is fashioned after what leaders of business organizations often do—create competition, manage by results, incentivize and devise pay-for-performance schemes. However the popularity of these practices is not sufficient evidence to support their effectiveness. Yes they get people to do something, but getting movement is not quite the same as realizing lasting systemic improvement. These tactics have never proved to be lastingly effective even in business.

    The educational system is not performing as desired and it appears consistent in this regard. It seems reasonable to conclude that the system is designed and managed to produce what it is delivering. What it produces are people who (for the most part) enter the system eager to learn and exit the system not knowing how to learn and not finding learning joyful.

    The issue should not be whether the learning experience provided returns a profit or whether it is materially productive, but rather whether it is a meaningful and humanly productive experience. This is why throwing money at the educational problem we face or treating it as if it is a mechanical process is just misguided.

    In education we shouldn’t spend anything, yet we must invest everything—hearts, minds and money. You don’t get proper investment by treating people—teachers and students—like cogs in the education machine. You don’t get it by seeking efficiencies at all costs—learning, like creativity, is not a efficient activity. This is not to suggest that we ought to be carefree and careless in employing the resources we have.

    We must seek to make the learning experience a value-added human experience—materially and humanly productive—and one that engenders joy in learning.

    Learning is foundational to our viability as a society (and as a species). We must learn to embrace it. The better we are at learning the better we are poised to sustain our viability.

  35. This is dumb and justifies our Aggie reputation.

    I wonder if they will apply this to their football program. All the hoopla and nothing to show for it. Others schools like UT and Sooners have one bad year out of many. Here we have problems having one good year out of many.

    Just sad.

    Unhappy Aggie

  36. As with the deficit questions, the mistake is assuming that there is any real concern for the outcome or the validity of the argument.

    The purpose of the people who push these kinds of policies everywhere they can is to destroy any standard of value other than “good business”, which in itself has no strict meaning beyond “it makes money for me and my friends”.

    If everything is run like a business, business will run everything. Most everything is apparently not enough.

  37. request from earle.florida :)

    Here is the air cadet version of— Crazy — the Gnarls Barkley’s Grammy-awarding song. In 2009, it was voted the best song of the decade by Rolling Stone Magazine. Maybe the administrators at Texas A&M could lighten up a bit. Same for the folks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

  38. It was refreshing to find the philosopher Michael Sandel arguing that it is — improper — for free markets to be the exclusive arbiter of the common good.

    Check this out: Michael Sandel, Harvard Professor of Government, delivers four lectures about the prospects of a new politics of the common good.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kt7sh

  39. According to every article I ever read on the subject, the truth is the exact opposite. Each year maybe one or two teams “turn a profit” (which either stays with the team or is gobbled up by the athletic department). The rest are all leeches on the school.

    Nobody asked about the fraudulent “student” football players. Sure the team exploits them. They’re unpaid professional athletes. But the team exploits the school, which is the point here.

    Quite a little scam the two pro leagues have going there. Professional football, at the NFL and college levels, is nothing but massive corporate welfare, paid for by society at large.

    I’d sure make football fans stop leeching and pay the full cost of their fandom. Both leagues would cease to exist immediately.

    I suppose if sports fans had to pay their own way, we wouldn’t have anything more massive than minor league baseball, i.e. the way pro baseball used to be.

    Pro sports as we know it is really the creation of the corporate media, and of course massive government subsidies, which continue to this day.

  40. I work in big business as well…

    Those who can do, those who can’t ask those who can for reports…

  41. A big sports program helps generate additional revenue from alumni in addition to the tv coverage revenue, the ticket revenue, the sneaker contract, the authentic team apparel, etc. At my RCM-school, hockey was sacred — a veritable lightning rod for the administration if they chose to mess with it.

  42. Re: @ tippygolden____I will sleep well tonight, my northern friend. :-))

    merci
    danke
    gracias
    obriga
    grazie tanto
    etv
    takk skal du ha
    danke schoen
    kea leboga
    betam
    shukran
    spasibo
    asante
    shukran
    misaotra
    naa ggoee
    doh je
    toa chie

    Many Thankyous!

  43. On top of Jeff Simpson’s comments below about additional revenue streams, you may be interested to check out the Federal Gov’t’s reported data on college athletics at http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/SelectCategory.aspx . I obviously didn’t have time to hunt through schools individually, but considering large (I think I did 10k+) public and private nonprofit 4-year programs, football revenues were about $2.2 billion. Expenses for the football programs were about $1.3 billion (inclusive of operating and recruiting expenses), making football programs in the data set profit centers to the tune of around $900 million; football alone paid for virtually all of the expenses of men’s collegiate athletics (ex coed sports like riflery).

    Athletics as a whole don’t make money (it’s a marketing expense), but football itself is huge business.

  44. Thanks James – next they’ll try and calculate ROI’s for parents on a child-by-child basis !! Go figure.

  45. I think the root cause is scientism, or faith-in-science functioning like a religion — and the economic focus might arise because we believe science enables us to exploit the world for economic gain.

  46. Thank you for the post. I can see why Humanities is dead and why so few are teaching my dead languages, which I use (Old English and Old Norse). You can not place a value on these classes as they are not high volume classes for the masses, but you can not get a sense of a people unless you can read their works in their own language — not translations. The real sadness is that without many professors in various universities teaching, you lose peers for review of work in less popular fields.

  47. You’re right. The data they use are worse than worthless. But maybe they are trying to offset the natural tendency for faculty to try to get out of teaching loads by various means (rules that reduce teaching loads for articles published in peer-reviewed journals, or for faculty chores … these things tend to grow, just as ‘administrative’ positions tend to grow relative to teaching positions.

  48. I do admire Texas A&M’s going for a General Westmoreland-style body count management system, old school.

    The General Giap of college productivity reform is a sailor (thankfully in our Navy) named Joshua Graham. Graham set up a website explaining (and documenting) how he tested out on enough CLEP and other subject matter exams to to receive a Bachelors degree in 6 months (there are three accredited college, two of which are state schools, which allow to test out of every single class).
    http://123collegedegree.com/

    Graham notes that the Navy paid for all his testing fees (civilians would pay $100 or so a test). Beyond selling ads, which I suppose most sites do, Graham’s site and suggested path looks legit, when I checked whois, the webmaster mailing address was at NAS Jacksonville, so he really is (or was at that time) a bluejacket.

  49. Bayard Waterbury

    James, I am stunned that a university would actually do this. Talk about mismanagement. The best way to determine if a professor is teaching well would be to have an independent expert in his area of taaching conduct oral spot exams on randomly selected students at various times during his tenure to determine if students are learning the material effectively. Standardized testing doesn’t work for obvious reasons. However, this method would be so expensive that it would only serve the professor and not the school. Schools might want to do this to help professors understand their weak areas, but for no other reason. Not to mention the fact that only required courses must be taken, but, since the entire college educational experience is voluntary, it should not be subject to scrutiny except to determine if the students are getting their money’s worth, and that is something that an objective third party would do, in order to assist students in determining the best place in which to spend their money, and, in fact this actually happens now.

    Actually, the same logic applies to all education, except that the public education yardsicks are and should be much simpler. Sadly, though, the success of our education system is largely reliant on student motivation. Unless schools and teachers in public education can motivate and inspire successfully their success will be limited. In the case of higher education, there actually should be classes on appropriate motivation (like picking fields based on interest and talent, as opposed to earning potential).

  50. Bayard Waterbury

    Oh, that is funny, AND SCARY:)

  51. Bayard Waterbury

    Also, ironically, that is probably the only area of the university which serves as a consistant profit center.

  52. David, you need to learn some things about rhetoric if you think that “rhetorical flourish” is inconsistent with analytical thinking. Without rhetorical flourish, there would be no communication of “analytical thinking.”

    In the spirit of economic efficiency, start with this book: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO RHETORIC. $6.25 from Amazon. Or in your own field of economics, read the works of Deirdre (neé Donald) McCloskey.

  53. Ted, rather serendipitous words from you. I plan to write a piece in LfD soon about my late Uncle, Louis Christian Schiller – see here http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cgi-bin/frames/fulldesc?inst_id=5&coll_id=2333
    and here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Schiller

    Would love to use your above comment or, better still, have a contribution from you. Can you email me? full name AT gmail dot com (Can’t find an email address for you)

    Apologies to the viewers for taking up space in this manner.

  54. so why do those who ask for reports also get the bigger salary?

  55. Bruce E. Woych

    so next step = censoring?

    Supermarket classrooms that herd information into market efficient money mills for the academic service sector. The factory corporate model of mass production becomes a threat to the sensitivities of the established academic fortress? Does anyone remember that the 50s revolt was agains the financing of colleges by big business to create product? Does anyone remember that the revolt of the anti-intellectual establishment was essentially not anti-intellectual at all…that it was against the strait jacket shirt and tie business cloning of american individualism into individuated market zombies in black and blue suits of conformity?

    The issues are clouded and the questions are rigged. You raise concerns about the mass production of students because the student to Professor ratio is now hitting a leveraged proposition against the quality of the teachers’ lifestyle…NOT the quality of this mass profiteering business model of brokered exploitation? The bias is insidiously and the priorities are skewed towards vested interests and the dumbing down of America. So censure all you want!

  56. Quality considerations indeed belie the Texas P&L balderdash. An earnest of the quality that they appreciate is furnished by (if memory serves) our current secretary of “defense,” an imperialist hack of an altogether unremarkable sort, fetched from the presidency of Texas A&M. Using “business methods” to rate our professors of culture is ludicrous, given the mass culture otherwise inculcated by business society in this twilight period of US capitalism. Texas, like the South generally, is a leader of the race to the bottom–witness their recent right-wing mugging of textbooks to provide a nicer image for greed, racism, etc. –They used to be called the Ugly American. They’re still ugly (and fat), but now add Stupid American. Unfortunately, the rest of the world must pay for American stupidity, given the lethality of same (from nuclear weapons to environmental destruction to a culture of mendacious greed).

  57. No,it’s called the Taylor System–capitalism’s universal template for the division of labor. The Many are degraded to cheerful robots so that the few can rake in the maximum loot.

  58. Bruce E. Woych

    AAUP: AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Association_of_University_Professors
    Contingent Faculty

    In recent decades, the AAUP has added a focus on addressing the dramatic increase in faculty positions off the tenure track. An increasing percentage of faculty has become “contingent,” or non-tenure track. Many are hired into part-time positions, often multiple part-time positions which together equal a full-time load or more, but with dramatically lower pay, little job security, and few or no fringe benefits. As of 2005, 48 percent of all faculty served in part-time appointments, and non-tenure-track positions of all types accounted for 68 percent of all faculty appointments in American higher education [12].

    The AAUP has released a number of reports on contingent faculty: in 2008 a report on accreditors’ guidelines pertaining to part-time faculty and a report of an investigation involving alleged violations of the academic freedom and due process rights of a full-time contingent faculty member; and in 2006 an index providing data on the number of contingent faculty at various colleges. also in 2006, the AAUP adopted a new policy dealing with the job protections that should be afforded to part-time faculty members. in 2003, it released its major policy statement Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession. The statement makes new recommendations in two areas: increasing the proportion of faculty appointments that are on the tenure line, and improving job security and due process protections for those with contingent appointments.

  59. Bruce E. Woych

    More than 20 years ago the Deans and Presidents and “apparatik” of credentia-academia (brokers of career licensing) began to run Universities as Corporate Profit mills. The claim at that time was, of course, survival and market efficiency.
    The first thing I witnessed was restructuring towards markets, then downsizing cut department funding for the less than profitable disciplines(forget about network news going commercial entertainment, the University became a career supermarket).

    The next thing you know (just as hospitals today incidentally) the central administration was the “determining apparatus” for survival and the core business mission became the vision of the University system. Next, of course, became the (progressively comparative) upward rewards and perks, salaries and overpaid egos of the college presidents and corporate ideology dipped into the till of knowledge…ultimately draining it into the red while the milk and honey of contingent expansion promised prosperity through education. Next came the dilution of student priorities and the heavy debt load they acquired to both enable them to pay their thinly cloaked broker the large fees required to accept their indentured career choice. And choose wisely, because if your business choice of life was not able to pay the debt, than you owed the next 20 years to SallyMae and the consort of transitional owners of your indentured servant life.
    Chances are you were working outside of your chosen field for much less than seemed possible to justify for the debt load incurred. Of course if you did choose financially (or be lucky enough to have a career path coordinated by lineage privilege) you now had the right to claim whatever the market would bare in exchange for those services. Now your on the other side of survival-ism; rationalization devours reality. (Let’s make sure that that very expensive market is protected by financial constraints and entry gates fees and broker accountability and demographic controls…guilds…but not unions…so the “lifestyle” of this establishment warrants the price for this gateway and highway to Eden!) But I digress…

    Give it up for the adjunct professors now who bravely worked out their fantasy of commitment to integrity and dignity and struggled for 10% of the average teaching fee per course. Give it up for the adjunct professor that stretch the credibility of the university system as one of true learning and critical thinking so that the administration could grow fatter on their backs. Let’s not look at the debt loaded on the new students (often thought of as so much capital market to fuel the system). And give it up for the bankers who financed the collusion.

    But please….now that the tenured education system is fading…let’s not hear the sudden drama and trauma of over work on the campus. The professorial position was reduced long ago to a peg in the system and individuated to a market measure. The students complained but they were powerless. The adjuncts complained as they faded into oblivion and debt; but they were faceless, individuated and carried no particular financial clout. And the tenured professors all stood by, like most of the established class of financially secured middle class Americans do today with the economy. They all stood by and shook their heads knowingly and perhaps occasionally and in sympathy or more shallow empathy…may have muttered under their breath…’OH: what a Shame..!” but the rhetoric was just an echo in the halls of a system that had been gutted.

    So now please…the beast is in the room of the servant leaders and the middle aged classroom . Now…all of a sudden…we will recognize another shallow dimension of this academic crisis and we will all huff and puff…and sigh “…oh what a shame…” but the fact is…it is merely a whimper that will be all but forgotten tomorrow when it becomes the new norm.

    Most of all, what about the next generation? What are we handing them? Shit on a platter! And it’s not even a “Silver” platter anymore! That’s real! That’s the reality.

    And don’t think it is only happening in the Universities and Colleges to the status seeker classroom environs…CONTINGENCY WORKERS are the blueprint of the future. And it is coming to a family near You!

  60. It’s bigger than that, solo. why try to quantify the unquantifiable ?–why go to such crazy, unworkable extremes?

  61. Paul,
    It’s very flattering. I appreciate it very much. Of course you’re welcome to use the comments.

    I’m not sure I could give the topic of education true justice (or its proper due). Let me kick around some ideas, and I’ll try to e-mail you sometime.

    I also appreciate Manshu’s comments. I wish I could come up with as much original material as you do on your blog Manshu. I like your reader surveys. I pop over to your site to check investing ideas and what is going on in India. I don’t invest overseas much, but I would definitely touch base with your site if I bought some stocks there. An Indian Steel company looked attractive a few months ago. Some operation run by a couple Indian brothers. I’m pretty reticent on overseas stocks.

  62. Reminds me of McNamara in Vietnam measuring body counts of dead Viet Cong as a way to tell if we were winning the war. The body counts kept going up and then we lost the war. Nobody was measuring what actually mattered, their desire for independence and determination to win.
    And,of course, the body counts were faked anyway.

  63. the manufacturing of the smartest people on the planet?

  64. Because profit, the summum bonum under capitalism, is quantifiable, that’s why. And the unworkability of capitalist schemes–which bring economic crises, wars, environmental destruction and, of course, a politically stupid citizenry–never stopped the capitalists.

  65. Bruce E. Woych

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_cage

    worth reviewing the profile depicted in the Iron Cage entrapment syndrome and paradox of dehumaniztion.

  66. @Scott

    You said, “Can anyone explain this tendency (verging on compulsion) in our culture to reduce complex tasks like teaching, governing, and even writing software to crude pseudo-economic numbers?”

    There are good reasons for this.

    1. We should pay teachers (government workers) better;
    2. But teachers that perform well should be the one we pay more;
    3. How do we know which teachers actually deserve this higher pay? How can we communicate this in a fair, accurate and easy to understand way?

    I’m not saying there is a good way to effectively evaluate teachers (that is not cost prohibitive), and I’m even less sure about turning this evaluation into a quantifiable form. However, I do understand the reason for wanting to do this, and it’s a valid reason, imo

  67. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
    ===

    but ends up being a thumb

  68. Ted, many thanks. It will have to wait until I surface back in AZ. Leaving London tomorrow for a wonderful new start in life with a beautiful woman – not bad for a 66 yr old!

  69. Sorry – now read your reply more carefully! Just let me have your email address and I will communicate more fully about a couple of ideas.