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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fuzzy Dice

Mark C. Taylor, writing in a New York Times forum on tenure:

Tenure is financially unsustainable and intellectually indefensible. The fundamental problem is liquidity – both financial and intellectual.

If you take the current average salary of an associate professor and assume this tenured faculty member remains an associate professor for five years and then becomes a full professor for 30 years, the total cost of salary and benefits alone is $12,198,578 at a private institution and $9,992,888 at a public institution. To fund these expenses would require a current endowment of $3,959,743 and $3,524,426 respectively and $28,721,197 and $23,583,423 at the end of the person’s career. Tenure decisions render illiquid a significant percentage of endowments at the precise moment more flexibility is required.

Capital is not only financial but is also intellectual and here too liquidity is an issue. In today’s fast changing world, it is impossible to know whether a person’s research is going to be relevant in five years let alone 35 years.

I do not know what to say about this.  I have one minor editorial quibble:  although it’s true that research on stuff nobody cares about, like Duns Scotus, will not be relevant in five or thirty-five years, the proper locution is “in today’s fast changing world today.”

But never mind the words—let’s look at those numbers.  As director of Penn State’s Institute of Advanced Research in Totally Made Up Arithmetic, I am tempted to respond to Professor Taylor’s claim that faculty at public universities average just over $285,500 in salary and benefits by awarding him a Distinguished Visiting Professorship and a research account in the amount of four-twenty ten-eight scintillion dollars.  But for now I think I will simply board a plane to Las Vegas, where I hope to put Professor Taylor’s system to use at the gaming tables of that fair city.  By my calculations, the Taylor Theorem suggests that your average craps-shooting college professor has a 95 percent chance of tripling his stake every twenty minutes, so if you’re in the house, stop on by! 

Posted by Michael on 07/21 at 07:23 AM
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