Students at University of Minnesota might be getting access to official student evaluation data starting this fall, potentially ending dependence on the very popular, unofficial sites that professors deride.
Submitted by James Hoff on April 21, 2014 - 3:00am
Earlier this year the City University of New York Graduate Center’s interim president, Chase Robinson, pulled off what amounts to an academic coup by snatching world-renowned economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman from the ivy clutches of Princeton University, where he had been employed for the last 14 years. Krugman’s appointment as Distinguished Professor of Economics was a huge boon for the Luxembourg Inequality Study, which is housed at the Graduate Center, as well as the general reputation of the university at large. Though most members of the CUNY community were thrilled to hear of his employment, the recent release of Krugman’s appointment letter has caused controversy both within and outside CUNY, and raises some serious questions about academic competition and the role of the public university.
Thanks to the intrepid reporters at Gawker — which, shamefully, seems to be one of the only new media outlets that still knows how to successfully write a FOIA request — we now have the full timeline and details of Krugman’s negotiation and acceptance letter. The most controversial bit of information by far is the amount Krugman was offered. CUNY’s initial and final overture was a whopping $225,000 per year, to which Krugman responded with incredulity, declaring that the terms of the offer were “remarkably generous.” Krugman even said he had to read the letter “several times to be clear.” Indeed, the amount offered to Krugman was quite generous as it exceeds that of any other distinguished professor at the Graduate Center by at least $5,000, and in many cases upwards of $75,000.
Whether or not Krugman’s scholarship and teaching ability warrant such a superior salary is certainly worthy of debate, but the real issue for most commentators is not how much CUNY will pay Krugman, but how little they are asking him to do. CUNY is essentially offering him what used to be called a sinecure. Like ecclesiastical appointments “without the care of souls,” the terms of Krugman’s contract require him to do almost nothing his first year and then teach just one graduate seminar each year for as long as he would like to stay at CUNY. This required teaching in the second year is less than half of the usual course load for most distinguished professors at the Graduate Center, some of whom teach three classes per year and advise several dissertations at a time. Whether Krugman will advise or sit on any dissertation committees remains to be seen.
It is clear from his acceptance email however, that he is interested in doing as little work as possible: “My biggest concern is time, not money — and your description of the time commitment, one seminar per year plus public events and commitments to LIS [Luxembourg Inequality Study] (which I would want to do in any case) sounds as if it’s within the parameters I had in mind.”
So, in essence, for the first two years CUNY is paying Krugman $450,000 (plus $10,000 in travel and research costs each year, and a one-time relocations cost of $10,000) to teach one seminar and to participate in public events.
On the surface this seems like an outrageous expenditure, but there is an obvious market logic at work here. It is clear that CUNY and the Graduate Center are banking on the brand recognition that a figure like Krugman bestows upon a university. As a Facebook friend of mine succinctly put it, Krugman is essentially “stuntcasting for cash,” and one has to wonder how long before his name is plastered on subway ads promoting CUNY’s “best and brightest.”
Of course, such anger is only partially well-placed, since appointments like this are not unusual and there is a strong case to be made for the intellectual and social value of such positions. After all, the public should support scholars and research. Krugman’s presence will no doubt be of great benefit to the Luxembourg Inequality Study, and his talks are a valuable tool for educating the general public on questions of economic inequality, precarity, and privatization. But Krugman is not a young unaffiliated researcher and his work requires no special laboratories or equipment to perform. In other words, Krugman does not need a university affiliation to do the work he is already doing. In fact, Krugman, who has a current net worth of $2.5 million, whose books sell in the hundreds of thousands, and who is paid quite well by The New York Times, has no need for money to fund his continued research and public advocacy.
And herein lies the contradiction through which the problem is revealed. A longtime champion of public institutions as drivers of economic equality, Krugman is now essentially colluding with administrators to take on private academic institutions in what has become a vicious cycle of competition for academic prestige and the elusive donor dollars that may or may not come with it. The more that public institutions like CUNY try to keep up with the likes of Princeton and Harvard, the more they become victims of their own ambitions, forced as they are to keep throwing money away on projects that are designed almost exclusively to draw in more donors and tuition-paying students and that provide little in the way of value to university stakeholders.
Such wasteful and ill-conceived competition is a clear abandonment of CUNY’s founding mission to educate the children of the poor and working classes of New York City and represents a serious misapplication of priorities. At a time when tuition costs are skyrocketing and public higher education relies increasingly on underpaid adjuncts — teaching full course loads for near minimum wages without health insurance or job security — spending such huge amounts for celebrity appointments is not only fiscally unsound, but morally untenable.
Krugman is a remarkable intellect and an important voice for economic equality — and most of us at CUNY are glad to have him on board — but to take from a public institution on its knees when you already have so much is ungenerous and unkind. As he wrote about his appointment to CUNY in his New York Timesblog, “[I] like the idea of being associated with a great public university.” If this is true, I’d urge Krugman to quantify that esteem for CUNY by donating a significant portion of his earnings, say $100,000 a year, to a scholarship fund for students or the Professional Staff Congress welfare fund, which provides much-needed health care benefits and emergency assistance for CUNY adjuncts.
James Hoff teaches writing and literature in New York City. He received his Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate Center in 2012.
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend who is a faculty member here at Penn State. I’d been reflecting on a question that had recently arisen in my administration and governance class about tenure and decided to pose it to him.
“Who is your boss?” I asked. His response was, “No one.”
I had heard this answer before, and it again struck me as either egotistical or a coy reinforcement of the stereotypical faculty worldview. But neither of my assumptions was true. By the end of our conversation, not only did I understand his point of view, I agreed with it.
The subject of my “interview” has been at Penn State for over a decade with the title of distinguished professor. As his honorary status would suggest, he is a well-established researcher and respected teacher. His interest in higher education goes beyond his field, however; he is also deeply interested in effective administration. He applied for department head this year with the hope of capitalizing on the multiple opportunities he sees within his department.
Our conversation was engaging and enlightening due to in large part to the time he had spent considering the issue of effective governance long before I asked him to chat. Thus, his quick answer was far from an off-the-cuff response. His thoughts were grounded in his understanding of tenured faculty as “citizens” of the university. Because of his enduring citizenship in the organization of Penn State, this professor basically reports to no one.
His metaphor of tenure as citizenship is simple enough. All citizens of the United States are entitled to some basic rights and services from the government. Unless that citizen violates established laws, he or she cannot have his or her citizenship revoked. Citizens are accountable to these basic laws but otherwise report to no one.
Even an elected official -- someone with seemingly higher citizenship standing -- has little direct power over another citizen. Were a state senator to approach one of his or her constituents and demand compliance with some personal agenda, the constituent may feel pressure to acquiesce but would not be legally forced to act. The senator’s only true power would come through passing legislation that created new laws to which citizens would have to abide.
Such is life as a tenured professor in the academy. Unless a professor violates established laws of the institution -- refusing to teach courses, or committing gross misconduct, for instance -- he or she can never be fired. Although he has to officially report to his department head on an annual basis -- something akin to a citizen filing taxes -- this accountability is minimal. Even discussions with this individual about which classes to teach are just that -- discussions.
Although this is not the case within every department, it does seem to be typical at this university. If the professor was unresponsive to these polite requests and the department head wished to force the issue, one of the few ways the administrator could require compliance would be by passing new policies in the Faculty Senate -- in a sense, creating new laws for all citizens. As a citizen of Penn State, his freedoms and privileges endure perpetually until he chooses to terminate his association with this “nation.”
This model holds up exceptionally well from certain perspectives. When discussing the possible consequences of an attempt to abolish tenure, the professor likened the move to a repression of citizens’ rights by an invasive government. The riots, political upheaval, and media onslaught that would occur in such a national situation would closely mirror the strife that would accompany such a policy decision by university administrators.
Adjunct faculty also fit into this schema, closely aligning with migrant workers in this analogy. Although they serve an important purpose in the country, they are also underpaid laborers with no citizenship rights who could be deported without warning. Additionally, his distinguished chair title is akin to minor celebrity status, drawing attention to him and his points of view but bringing no formal benefits such as salary increases or negotiating powers.
And as already indicated, administrators are the elected officials, serving an important symbolic and political role but yielding very little direct power over their constituents.
Beyond serving as an entertaining thought experiment, this model has utility for understanding the day-to-day dynamics of the organization. A few takeaways strike me as particularly meaningful, each of which deserve further elaboration:
The discrepancy between citizens (tenured faculty) and non-citizens (adjunct faculty) is severe.
Office holders (administrators) within the government (university) have significant indirect influence on citizens through policy but little direct influence.
Revoking citizenship is virtually impossible if the citizen has not violated the law. Citizenship is perpetual.
First, citizenship is a highly valued commodity, taken for granted by those who have it and longed for by those who do not. Much of the debate around adjunct professors involves acquiring the basic rights of citizenship: fair pay, health insurance, and representation, to name a few. From this perspective, it seems that tenured professors are not the entitled ones; adjuncts are simply disadvantaged.
Yet even though companies are trafficking these workers into their country to meet a workforce need, they simultaneously abdicate responsibility for their disadvantaged status as aliens. This parallel between universities and profligate corporations is simply disturbing.
Second, the power of administration is diffuse. Politicians use multiple mediums of influence to shape their constituency, such as popular media, political appointments, and legislation. Likewise, a savvy college administrator rarely uses direct orders to elicit action but instead shapes the system toward his or her intended outcomes. Placing a like-minded faculty member as the head of an important committee dramatically increases the chances that the administrator’s agenda is carried out. Restructuring a research lab can radically change the level of production within the unit or even the focus of the work being done. Although the end results of system-shaping may not be apparent for some time, this work behind the scenes has the power to influence action broadly without drawing attention (and thus, without encountering organized resistance).
Lastly, a tenured professor is a tenured professor as long as he or she wants to be. Although this point immediately brings to mind the image of a radical, unproductive kook who simply will not retire, what may be more common is the immortal administrator.
If my interviewee, the tenured professor, transitions to administration but maintains his tenure during his appointment, he may return to the professoriate long after his administrative term is up. Although I cannot imagine becoming a CEO only to have my predecessor take up an office down the hall from me, in the academy, this is not completely out of the question. As a citizen, he or she has the right to do so. This is akin to a former president of the United States who still resides in the country and is still active in politics as a “normal” citizen.
So who does our professor, the citizen, actually report to? Well, formally, the department head… but practically? No one.
And herein lies the rub. As a free-thinking citizen, he now faces a terrific choice: Will he choose to embrace the responsibilities of citizenship and actively steward the university/democracy like only an engaged, educated citizen can?
Will he simply claim his rights as a citizen, fighting for his own freedoms while turning a blind eye to the marginalized peoples in his neighborhood who have none? Or thirdly, will he forsake both of these perspectives in favor of a citizenship that extends beyond his institutional borders -- the citizenship of his professional discipline?
Any choice he makes has significant implications for his own actions, the health of the university, and the advancement of his field of inquiry. Although I would advocate for the responsibility perspective, I cannot tell him what to do. After all, he reports to no one.
Josh Wymore is a research assistant in Pennsylvania State University's Center for the Study of Higher Education and a doctoral student in the university's higher education program.
I recently went with a friend to an event at Columbia University, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Ph.D. program in sustainable development. At the beginning of the event, the organizers screened a short clip with interviews of students and faculty in the program. One of the students said that one of the most amazing things about the program is that you read op-eds of great thinkers and practitioners, such as Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz, and then you see them in the halls and in class. I was completely in awe.
As a Hunter College student who came to this event with a copy of The Price of Inequality to have signed by Stiglitz (I already have a signed book by Jeffrey Sachs), I couldn’t grasp what it would be like to have such a well-known thinker as your professor. The next day, after finishing an econometrics exam, I saw that Paul Krugman has decided to move from Princeton University to the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. My first reaction, naturally on Facebook, was “This is epic!” It is epic, but not only for the students of CUNY. Paul Krugman’s decision should also start a discussion about inequality, prices of education, and the role of prominent scholars in this debate.
Krugman’s announcement came shortly after Cathy Davidson, a prominent English professor and expert on the digital humanities – and a scholar who frequently talks about the centrality of public higher education -- announced that she was moving from Duke University to CUNY’s Graduate Center.
Professor Krugman, is a New York Times columnist and a Nobel laureate in economics. He wrote in his New York Times blog that he is moving to work in CUNY’s Luxembourg Income Study Center because, “more and more of my work has focused on issues of income inequality, and nobody does more important work producing the hard data on which all of this work relies than the Luxembourg Income Study.” Professor Krugman sees CUNY and the Luxembourg Income Study as a natural continuation of his work. In addition, Krugman added, “I also, to be honest, like the idea of being associated with a great public university.”
Almost any intro-level economics class will start with the explanation that consumers and suppliers are both rational decision makers, working for their own self-interest. The assumption (or maybe the hope) is that when all actors work in their own-self interest, the “invisible hand” works so they are also serving the needs of the society at large. Krugman, in his self-interest, moved to CUNY, and in doing so bolsters a system of colleges and universities in which most of the students don’t have the resources to go to private universities where Nobel laureates roam the halls on a daily basis.
In his writings, Krugman has frequently discussed inequality and the importance of regulation on the market to reduce inequality. But what about the inequalities students face when they choose their university? I frequently hear great scholars praise public universities such as CUNY for allowing access to higher education to many New Yorkers who would not have otherwise been able to fund their education, but many of these scholars choose their intellectual homes to be the same private universities that cause most of their students to end their undergraduate education with huge levels of student debt. Elite private universities offer professors resources and name recognition, which can help them pursue their ambitions. Of course, private universities also on average pay much more than public universities, even top public universities.
This is a very mixed message. On one hand, these scholars say that the government should invest more in public institutions so more young people can get quality higher education. On the other hand, by choosing to work in private institutions they send the message that state universities are not good enough for them. Too many students at public universities, including those who are passionate about social equity and social good, dream about Ivy League graduate schools, or – for those seeking careers in academe – jobs at the kinds of places that Professors Krugman and Davidson are leaving. These universities are the homes of their intellectual heroes.
Those who wish to inspire will be much more effective if they also act as role models, like Krugman. Through his move to CUNY, Professor Krugman demonstrated he is willing to practice what he preaches, and is joining a university with top faculty and students.
As an international student from Israel who came to New York City with the hopes of earning a liberal arts education, I was extremely intimidated by the prices of many of the universities where I considered applying. Hunter College, as part of the CUNY system, offers affordable in-state and out-of-state tuition, which gave me the opportunity to pursue my academic ambitions. Before coming to Hunter, I completed national service in Israel as a medic, and I was sure that I wanted to be a doctor. However, at Hunter I was given the opportunity to explore other disciplines, and I discovered through inspirational professors that my true passion is economics and politics.
Currently, universities like CUNY are homes to amazing scholarship opportunities for both students and faculty, but the gap between the opportunities at public and private universities could be bridged if more distinguished scholars joined public institutions. I am not diminishing or dismissing the value of the amazing private institutions here in America, but just like minimizing the income gap would still leave some people wealthier than others, so too can this gap in education be minimized. I don’t expect Hunter College to compete with Harvard University in scholarly opportunities or in faculty pay, but having distinguished faculty such as Paul Krugman in a public institution lifts the level of attractiveness of affordable education.
Finally, on a personal note, Professor Krugman, thank you so much for coming to CUNY. I am a B.A./M.A. student in economics at Hunter, and I will come and knock on your door when I start looking for a thesis adviser. You will probably say no because it isn’t your job, but it won’t be the answer that is important. It will be the fact that at that moment I got an opportunity to approach you, at the graduate school of my university.