25% of Dubliners Have More than Two Legs!

The Sunday Independent this past week published an article whose headline claimed:

 25% of university academics earn more than €100,000

This is what we in the academic business refer to as a lie. Not just a misuse of statistics, but a misuse so egregious that it had to have been deliberate. Allow me to explain.

The numerator of 1,093 “academics” making over €100,000 is apparently taken from the entire third-level sector (universities, institutes of technology, teaching colleges, etc.) and includes all staff (including a lot of senior administrators) and not just academics.

The denominator of 4,327 is made up of academic staff (not other staff) at universities only. Notice the difference between the cohort making up the numerator and that making up the denominator: one is made up of all staff at all institutions and the other is made up of a certain category of staff at certain institutions.

Here’s an analogous kind of study one might conduct. Imagine that our intrepid Independent reporters have decided to find out what percentage of people in Dublin have more than two legs. In order to determine this they count the legs on all the people and also dogs in IRELAND. They then record the number who have more than two legs. Then, they divide that number by the number of people in DUBLIN in order to trumpet, in a headline, that

25% of all Dubliners Have More Than Two Legs!

One thing we could be sure of is that vast swathes of the Irish public would not only believe the claim, they’d repeat it to anyone who’d listen, since it was in the Sindo. Similarly, judging from the comments on the actual Sindo story, many were nearly giddy in their outrage at the thought of all those pampered lecturers.

Loath as I am to intrude into the midst of such joyful righteous indignation, I must nevertheless point out that, if you want to compare like with like and thereby come up with a meaningful rather than a meaningless statistic, then the 1,093 in all of third level (all categories of staff combined) who make more than €100,000 per annum should have as their denominator the 22,638 staff (all categories) working in third level. If we do the maths that way, we come up with 4.8% of all staff making more than €100,000 per annum. Not 25%. Which really does spoil the outrage party, now, doesn’t it?

Of course, anyone who thought about it for the few seconds they allow themselves between checks of their Facebook page would realise that the 25% figure was absolutely absurd.

The questions then are:

1) Why would the Independent publish such obviously absurd statistics? I did attempt more than once to point out the highly misleading nature of the statistics in the comments to the article in question but was met with the journalistic equivalent of “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” (i.e., they censored the post, repeatedly). One wonders what they are afraid of. Except one doesn’t have to wonder; I’ll tell you. They and, in particular, their boss, are afraid that the Irish people might get the impression that the public sector have suffered enough. In particular, the Irish people might come to realise that the public sector has been utterly hammered with the result that their younger children are now being taught 33+ to a classroom and their university-age children are being taught in large measure by adjuncts at 24 to a classroom, etc. etc. And if the people came to realise that sort of thing, they might start wondering about things like whether the corporate tax rate was adequate or who really bankrupted the country or how it is that (to take an individual at random) Denis O’Brien can control almost the entirety of the media here yet be non-resident for tax purposes. Indeed, they might start wondering why it is that the wealthy and the corporations have gotten off almost entirely scot-free during this crisis and not been asked to sacrifice much of anything. And WE CANNOT HAVE THAT.

2) Why are so many ready to believe such arrant nonsense? Is it because it confirms a set of prejudices that they very much want to believe despite having no evidence for them? I’m afraid I have no answer to this one. But I’m sure this guy does:

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We Have Ways to Make you Talk!

Ferdinand von Prondzynski had a post on his blog lamenting the loss of university autonomy implied by HEA Head Tom Boland’s recent speech in which he proposed the now-infamous idea of “directed diversity” for our universities. Ferdinand summarised this idea as follows: “The key element of this speech appears to have been the proposal that universities will need to have their strategic objectives approved by the HEA, to ensure that these are in line with government policies and that there is no unnecessary duplication of provision.”

To which I responded:

“Directed diversity” is no more nor less offensive in an academic context than is the notion of “strategic objectives.” . . . [I]t makes no difference to me as a researcher whether the bureaucrats interfering and attempting to “direct” my research are from the university bureaucracy or from the government bureaucracy. In other words, the discussion of “autonomy” never seems to get to the level where actual autonomy should be located: at the level of the individual researcher. . . . It’s supposed to be some great tragedy if the very university presidents who constantly attempt to deny my autonomy and direct my research somehow have their autonomy of action curtailed.

Ferdinand replied as follows:

I suppose it depends whether you think research was as good 20 years ago as it is now. On the whole the nature and quality of university research, in Ireland at least, is immeasurably better now than it was back then; in the sense that there was hardly any taking place back then. I agree that the integrity and independence of researchers is important. I’m less sure about ‘autonomy’, when historically that tended to mean that you didn’t do any.

It is no doubt true that Ireland produced less research 20 years ago than it does today. But should we be so confident that the research now is “better”? There’s more of it, to be sure, but is more better?

It is, however, false to say that nobody did any research 20 years ago. People were doing plenty of research when I came here close to twenty years ago. Probably enough research. Since then, the pressure to publish has increased (the more frenetically and thoughtlessly, the better), but I can’t say that the quality of the research is any better as a result. In my field, I’d say it’s worse. And quality is all that matters when it comes to scholarship and research. Quantity matters not at all. The only reason people care about quantity is because they are unable to judge quality.

The era where someone like Wittgenstein or Turing or Sraffa could be allowed the time to come up with truly important contributions is now gone. Today, his head of Department or Dean would be on his case to “publish more.” More’s the pity. Indeed, what suffers in this current dispensation is precisely the only thing that matters: quality, insight, ultimately genius. Is there any field of human endeavour where greater quantity results in greater quality? I think not. The best cuisine is not produced by McDonald’s. But this plank of contemporary ideology—productivism—is utterly foreign to intellectual life. It is an illegitimate importation from the world of business. It models the production of intellectual work along the lines of the production of interchangeable widgets.

If someone is not inclined to do research (or not yet inclined), what exactly is gained by forcing them to do it (now)? Here’s an unspoken fact: most research is pointless make-work and most “researchers” have nothing of interest to say or contribute (even though none of them believe that they are among that group!). The managerialist insistence on ferreting out the “dossers” and cracking the whip on them exacerbates this situation by forcing those not so inclined to engage in make-work or “perish.”

You can act as if this situation is somehow the fault of the researchers and that all of our universities should be staffed with nothing but active researchers with important contributions to make. That supposes that there is an ample supply of real researchers who have important contributions to make in every field and that, if only we got rid of the “dossers,” we’d have universities filled with nothing but the justifiably active. There isn’t such a supply. The vast majority of “researchers” should not be doing research (or “research”) and all you do by insisting that they churn out such “research” is superadd to the quantity of important research an extra mountain of unimportant research.

As for the particular pathology of Irish society whereby everyone attempts to get away with whatever they can: you won’t change it by assuming that everyone is always attempting to get away with whatever they can. You’ll reinforce it. You especially won’t change it if you assume that it is true even about the areas where people aren’t trying to get away with anything but have a real vocation for what they do. Instead of making that assumption, you should have confidence in your hiring procedures (and if they are inadequate, fix them) to get the best possible people for the jobs and then let them do those jobs. If they show promise, give them tenure and let them at it. And if it is their expert judgement that what they have to contribute to scholarship is modest (or even nonexistent) but that they really are very enthusiastic about teaching young people, it is not the place of anyone else to say otherwise and insist that they really must have something else to say. Like the forced confessions produced by waterboarding, the forced publications of academics in this situation will necessarily be worthless.

In any case it is rare in this day and age that someone who has managed to overcome all the obstacles to getting an academic job will not be dedicated to teaching or research or both. Too many sacrifices (including the sacrifice of potential income while in graduate school) are demanded along that path for any but the most dedicated to persist. But insisting that they do research under threat of sanction serves no one and certainly doesn’t serve humanity.

The next step contemplated by those who feel more whip-cracking is needed, then, is to start revoking tenure. That is also a mistake that, in addition to making it very difficult for Irish universities to recruit internationally also, again, results in nothing but the production of reams of make-work. Worse, it results in reams of make-work evincing nothing but groupthink because going out on a limb and doing research that might not be “successful” and have only negative findings will never be justifiable in the narrow sort of cost-benefit thinking that such an arrangement would impose.

All this is to say that on these matters Ireland and the UK and some parts of the US (although, notably, not the best private institutions) are going exactly the wrong way in their university policy. The old ways served us well and the burden of proof should be on those insisting that they be changed. Tell us in what way the achievements of university research in the 20th century were inadequate. Yes, a lecturer somewhere could conceivably have been getting away with something. But redesigning the entire institution to avert that possibility is perverse in the extreme and we will all be the poorer for it.

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Stomping Like an Elephant Through the Fine Points: Brian Lucey on Academic Salaries

You might think, given their role in our continuing national nightmare, that woolly-headed economists would be a little bit circumspect when it comes to making pronouncements that affect people’s livelihoods. Not Brian Lucey. In a recent blog post he purports to evaluate Morgan Kelly’s claim that “senior civil servants like [Kelly] continue to enjoy salaries twice as much as our European counterparts.”

Kelly is apparently confused about who is and isn’t a civil servant (professors are not), but that is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to misinformation about such matters. Nevertheless the claim about his salary seems worthy of public outrage. Lucey, seizing the moment, decides a little half-arsed unscientific investigation is called for. He looks up a handful of job advertisements looking for “professors” and makes three comparisons with the top of the Irish professorial salary scale. One comparison is to Coventry, another is to Hull and the third is to an entity that calls itself Reutlingen “University.” Investigation of the latter website, indicates it is nothing more than some glorified technical institute, with programmes in Applied Chemistry, Business, Computer Science, Technology, and Textiles and Design and nothing else. In other words, not a university at all. He then concludes on the basis of this sample as follows:

Ireland? http://www.ucd.ie/hr/pay/ gives information on the pay scales for UCD academics. The top of the professorial salary is €138,655. That’s 1.7 times Coventry, 2.95 times the German, and 2.3 times that of Hull.

Ah, yes, another of these “where to begin” moments. Let’s begin with the job at the German technical school. Never mind the obvious question (“in what way is this comparable to an academic job in a university rather than at, say, Griffith College?”). There’s also the obvious terminological question that Lucey, in all his wisdom about international comparisons, seems not even to recognise: not all “professors” are what we call “professors.” In the US, all academics are professors. Although “Professor” in Germany is roughly equivalent to our “Professor,” it is by no means clear that this is the case in the prestigious “Reutlingen University” which is advertising for a “Professor” with 5 years’ experience. Lucey, of course, could’ve left it out but that would mean excluding a full third of his sample! And the most inflammatory case of all! Imagine: the very top of the professorial salary scale at the flagship campus of the national university in Ireland is 2.95 times the salary offered at a technical school to a “professor” with 5 years’ of experience. What an outrage.

It bears pointing out that both Morgan Kelly and Brian Lucey are professors and earning those big salaries. And it makes them look good as they selflessly insist that they are overpaid. However, where Lucey goes too far is in insisting that this somehow justifies a claim about “academic salaries” in general.

Lucey’s modus operandi in this case has about as much validity as asking three random punters in the street what they think and then drawing general conclusions about whole classes of people on that basis. Fortunately, there is some actual research out there on these matters, so we don’t have to rely on statistics Brian Lucey pulls out of his arse. For example, an April 2007 study published by the European Commission Research Directorate-General entitled Remuneration of Researchers in the Public and Private Sectors.

Like most studies comparing remuneration across borders and currencies and unlike Brian Lucey, Morgan Kelly or the occasional inflammatory article in the Sunday Independent, the European Commission study is at great pains to determine what salaries are, not in terms of meaningless headline numbers but in terms of purchasing power. The reasons should be obvious. That an economist (and a professor!) needs to have it spelled out to him, well, draw your own conclusions. So let me spell it out:
1) There is a worldwide market for academics and researchers;
2) Academics tend to be reasonably smart and, unlike the average Sindo reader or Brian Lucey, are not simply attracted to big flashing numbers. If they were, they’d all be heading to Japan, where an average academic can earn (cue Dr. Evil voice): eight million yen per annum. Even if we’re converting into the same currency, what matters is not how much of it we earn but what standard of living it allows us to have. Academics are not going to flock to a place that pays high nominal salaries if the cost of living makes the proposition less attractive than a place paying lower salaries with a much lower cost of living.

The means for making such determinations are varied. The Economist uses their notorious “Big Mac Index.” Organizations like the OECD and the European Commission use things called Purchasing Power Parities. Brian Lucey uses . . . nothing. He thinks that it is meaningful to compare salaries in the UK and Ireland just by converting the salaries in pounds sterling into euro and then mime a shocked expression by bugging out his eyes and letting his jaw fall to the floor Macaulay-Culkin-Home-Alone style. It doesn’t matter to him, of course, that the euro is close to all-time highs against the pound. He’s not after the truth, he’s interested in making himself seem heroically selfless. If the euro were at 30p, he’d find some other country to make comparisons with because suddenly it’s the British salaries that would look outrageous without anything having changed in the two countries or the standards of living of academics in them other than the exchange rate.

So what does the EC study find? If you look at just the average researcher salaries in the EU countries covered by the study (the EU 25 plus associated countries), Ireland does indeed look high, with only Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland paying higher average salaries (table, p. 43).

What about if we standardise using purchasing power parities? Ooh, here’s a revelation. The average researcher salary in Ireland, when salaries are adjusted to take into account purchasing power is lower than the average salaries in: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Israel, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK (table 10, p. 46). Hardly the outrage we’d been conditioned to expect, eh? Not 1.7 or 2.3 times the salary in the UK. Less than. As in: not more than. Not 2.95 times the salary in Germany. Less than.

Ah, hang on, I hear you saying: those figures are for all sorts of researchers, private sector and public sector alike, including some in business environments. Table 14, however, on p. 49 gives you the comparative salaries using PPPs in the Higher Education Sector:

Notice that average salaries in Irish universities, adjusted for purchasing power, are lower than the salaries in: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. It would appear that the comparisons in the previous tables were skewed upwards by the enormous salaries paid to private-sector researchers in Ireland. But you won’t read about that in the Sunday Independent or on Brian Lucey’s blog.

What these statistics reveal is that what Brian Lucey and Morgan Kelly are doing in this instance is insisting that Irish academics (and other public servants) and only Irish academics (and other public servants) pay for the fact that Ireland is an expensive place in which to live. It’s almost embarrassing to have to point this out to an economist. As for the private-sector researchers who make even more money, they are not a problem because they are subject to the discipline of the infallible market (and we see how well that sort of thinking worked out for us).

Bear in mind, the EC survey was carried out in 2006 and 2007, before the entirety of the Irish public sector had two successive rounds of pay cuts imposed on it. In the case of academics, those two pay cuts reduced pay by somewhere in the region of 20%. Well-paid professors like Brian Lucey and Morgan Kelly no doubt took pay cuts in the region of 25%. It was false to claim in 2007 that Irish academics were overpaid by international standards. It is no doubt more falserer now, no matter what kind of figures Brian Lucey jots down on his cocktail napkin on the way out of the pub.

Ireland is an expensive place to live. Nevertheless, the nation needs to be able to attract academics here from abroad, for the simple reason that the country does not produce enough quality PhDs and never will. Indeed, many of the best Irish PhDs did their postgraduate work abroad and returned. If Ireland does not offer a competitive standard of living to such people, it will be unable to compete and be left with nothing but third-rate bloviators of a kind far too much in evidence in the press and on the internet.

P. S. Baby-faced killaz in the house!:

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Two Birds, One Stone

With all the hemming and hawing and handwringing about whether and how to reintroduce student fees, something has been lost on almost everyone but working lecturers: the woeful rates of student attendance. Absenteeism among students is absolutely endemic and, in my experience, the problem is getting worse. I suspect that, if the taxpayers knew what was going on, the pressure to re-introduce fees would grow.

Many see a link between poor attendance and the abolition of fees. They believe that students aren’t attending because it doesn’t cost them much or, in any case, nothing like the real costs of their places in university. Yet, I’m not certain that re-instituting fees alone would solve the problem for the simple reason that, once the money is paid, students on whom the qualitative incentives to attend (you know: learning) have no purchase have no further incentive to attend (or, alternatively, no disincentive not to attend). Let’s face it: a great many students are mercenary about their studies. The view is very widespread among students that grades are the only things that matter and that the goal of a “university” “education” is to get the highest grades with minimal effort. If you can get a good or even satisfactory grade without attending a single class, then you’ve played the game as well as can be played. I’m not the only one saying this even if it is a view that one rarely hears in Ireland.

Many lecturers and departments have tried to devise all manner of incentives and disincentives to discourage this behaviour. They give a percentage of the final grade for attendance, for example. But that’s perverse: why should a student get actual credit for doing what should go without saying?

Is there a way to solve this problem without re-introducing fees (or, worse, continually increasing fees by calling them something else while also claiming that university is “free”)? I believe there is and I also believe it would have the effect of improving educational outcomes for many if not most students. It may also raise more revenue than the current system.

The idea is this: fees are re-instated at a level around the average cost of delivering the service to students in all disciplines–in other words at the level of the actual cost of delivering a university education–but all students are given a grant to cover 100% of those fees. So university is effectively free. However, for every timetabled class that is missed without a documented excuse, the student’s grant will be reduced on a pro rata basis. There’ll be no direct impact on the student’s grade in the class, only on their pocket. Miss more than a few classes without documentation and you’ll be paying more than you pay currently. Miss a substantial number and it’ll cost you quite a lot. Miss them all and, before you flunk out, you’ll pay the full cost of providing you with the education you’re not taking advantage of.

What objections could anyone have to this? Students could not claim that fees had been reintroduced. Indeed, the various “student services charges” that they object to would also be abolished. Now, it might turn out not to raise as much money as what it replaces, but even if that were so, it would nevertheless result in better-educated graduates.

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All’s Fair in a Propaganda War

News comes in today’s Independent that “Academic pay of €113,000-plus far outstrips worldwide average.”  The article then elaborates:

The lowest salary for our professors of €113,000 is also way ahead of the average salary of €79,000 paid to professors in the US — although this figure does not include additional payments for summer teaching and administrative expenses.

The author of this article is the Deputy Political Editor of the Independent.  Given that he is, apparently, a high-ranking professional journalist, one can only marvel at such extraordinarily concise mendaciousness.  This is how Deputy Political Editors earn their keep.

The headline, of course, is entirely misleading.  It gives the impression that the article is talking about the pay of all Irish academics.  Yet the article turns out to be about only the pay of Irish Professors.  It then takes a tone of mock outrage while comparing those Professors’ salaries to those of other “Professors” in other countries, notably the US and Canada.

When is a “Professor” not a Professor?  Had the author even the most cursory acquaintance with the North American higher education system that he’s so keen to compare with our own (for purely disinterested reasons, I’m sure), he would’ve known that the term “Professor” in North America covers (nearly) the entirety of the third-level teaching workforce.  The three grades of “Professor” in the US and Canada–Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Full Professor–correspond roughly to the Irish ranks of Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Professor.  So when he compares an average salary of €79,000 for “Professors” in the US with the minimum salary of €113,000 for our own “Professors,” he is not comparing like with like.

Never mind that no support is given to the claim that the salaries of Irish academics “far outstrip” the worldwide average: no data is given for the worldwide average.

So the article turns out to amount to this claim: the pay of the highest grade of Irish third-level teachers, on average, outstrips that of the average of all grades in North America.  Wow, I’m scandalised.

The cynic in me says that he probably knew all this and didn’t care.  It’s all good when we’re scoring points against the public service.

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Full Economic Fiction

In the recent Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the universities, much is made of the need for “robust” (even with the scare quotes, I gagged a little when writing that) data on the “costs” of universities, particularly the costs associated with academic staff salaries.  At the recent Dáil Public Accounts Committee hearings, UCD President Hugh Brady was rightfully raked over the coals for having spent millions on emoluments for his Senior Management Team (including himself) over and above what the HEA allowed.  But the committee, particularly Róisín Shortall TD (Labour), were also somewhat exercised by the report’s claim that the Full Economic Costing model had not been fully implemented at the universities and that accurate information about academic workloads and hours might not be available.

To say that this was a distraction, is something of an understatement.  Faced with gross mismanagement and possibly illegal pocket-lining on the part of the UCD administration that has contributed to the massive deficits the University is running, Deputy Shortall could think of no more pressing issue to bring to the nation’s attention than the headline-grabbing but utterly specious claim that lecturers work an average of 15 hours per week (the Irish Times article misreports the claim as being that lecturers might work “as little as” 15 hours per week whereas Deputy Shortall was clearly extrapolating that this was the average workload).  This was in the context of Shortall’s insistence on the need to impose “minimum workloads” and derive accurate measurements of academic worktime in the absence of which, in her view, there would be no way to “measure academic performance.”

Deputy Shortall’s intervention is so ill-informed that it is hard to know where to begin.  For one thing, she seems to think that the number of student contact hours a lecturer has per week is exactly the same thing as the number of lecturer contact hours a student has per week, as the following exchange makes clear:

Deputy Róisín Shortall: In terms of the 40-40-20 referred to earlier, if six hours is 40% of the week, we are talking about the full week being 15 hours.

Dr. Michael Murphy: The Deputy must take into account as well that to teach, to have a contact hour, one must have extensive preparatory time. Figures internationally vary from three to four hours per contact hour of preparatory time. The complexity—–

Deputy Róisín Shortall: This is a matter of considerable concern to parents. Many of us have had experience where young people having worked hard in the leaving certificate go to college, perhaps with a lot of points, and discover they do maybe six, seven or eight hours per week. Quite frankly, that is unacceptable. I would say it is quite dispiriting for the students themselves embark on a course in which they expect to be challenged but where it turns out they only have a handful of hours per week. It is very hard to see where the accountability comes in for the very substantial amounts of public moneys that go into the universities to pay for staff.

The students, in her view, are disappointed that “they” (which can only refer to the students here) “do maybe six, seven or eight hours per week”. Apparently these hours that they “do” are the same hours that the lecturers “do”: 6 or so. This is just false. Students in Arts (which is lighter than some other areas on the student workload) “do” at least 12 hours per week. And that’s just the hours of contact with lecturers. We’ll leave aside my bewilderment at the claim that students are “dispirited” at the prospect of not having enough contact hours and how that sits with the 35-40% attendance rates that my colleagues and I experience for each and every contact hour that they do have.

Furthermore, the “15 hours” figure that made the national news is extrapolated on the basis of two other sets of numbers: the claim that lecturers have 180 contact hours a year divided by 30 weeks a year gives 6 hours per week; and if workloads divide between teaching, research and administration on a 40%/40%/20% basis then 6 hours is 40% of 15 total hours spent working.  Never mind that teaching isn’t just contact hours: there’s preparation, correcting, teaching-related research (what?!), pastoral-type work (e-mailing students and office hours), putting things up on Blackboard or other “learning management systems” and more.  If we estimate (extremely) conservatively that each teaching hour requires at least 2 hours of these ancillary activities, suddenly the 40% is up to 18 hours and the total is 45 hours per week.  But that’s a figure that wouldn’t grab any headlines.

But surely the point is that we don’t know what the correct figure is.  Isn’t there then an (urgent!) need to collect information about the amount of time lecturers spend on various activities? You know: in the name of accountability to the taxpayer (who is apparently a raging Puritan who only cares about how much you are working and not at all about the quality of what you are doing). Don’t we need a robust (there’s that word again) information-gathering process to give us a sense of the full economic costs of the nation’s academics?

There is such a process in place.  It’s called the Full Economic Costing exercise.  We currently at UCD fill out an “Academic Activity Profile” form 3 times a year. It looks like this:

Excel spreadsheet

It asks for percentages of time spent doing various things, as you can see, although disappointingly, the activities only add up to 100% rather than the 110% that we have a right to expect from everyone these days.

Now, this form, like almost the entirety of this facile debate, shows almost no understanding of what a lecturer does. For example: suppose I sit down and read a scholarly book on a topic of professional interest to me. How am I to apportion the percentages for that activity, assuming that my teaching and research are entirely imbricated the one with the other?  Suppose now that the book is scholarly but only tangentially related to my research.  In either case, anything I put down will not even be a wild guess.  A wild guess implies that there is a truth of the matter that the guess is (wildly) aiming toward.  This case is worse than that, for anything I put down would be nothing but a fiction, for there is no truth of the matter absent a set of specious assumptions. Yet it is proposed that we assemble such fictions from everyone working in third level in order to arrive at some kind of true picture of the costs of teaching and research.  One can only marvel at the administrative magic by which a giant assemblage of fictions is transmogrified into truth. For here is the actual truth: virtually none of the work academics do breaks down so nicely into the categories on this form or any set of replacement categories. So if you want to determine costs on this basis you are quite simply wasting my time and yours.

Much was made in the committee about the (urgent!) need to replace reporting in percentages with reporting of the actual hours worked.  Yet doing so does nothing to rectify the conceptual and metaphysical confusion of the original form.  All that will have been done in that case is to replace one set of nonsensical measurements with another. If I spend an hour reading a book that’s somewhat related to a course I teach and that I might use one day in a research paper, how am I to apportion that hour on such a form? If I raise my eyes from the page to contemplate the ideas I’ve just read for 2 minutes and 35 seconds, does that time count or not? What if, during the 2 minutes and 35 seconds, my attention wanders to thoughts of my evening meal?  Do I subtract that?  And how shall I keep track of it all? Do you get a sense of how absurd all of this is?

Never mind the quite obvious fact that the nature of my job (like that of a TD, I might add) is such that I have no idea how many hours I spend on various activities. For I don’t keep track: I don’t punch a clock before I reply at 9pm to student e-mails. And if  it is proposed that such punch clocks be implemented, then I’m afraid what will result is that lecturers will start to work less, not more. Most will stop answering e-mails or doing much of anything else that isn’t “on the clock.”

The fact is, lecturing is a hard job to get. You have to have put in many years with almost no remuneration just to be able to get to the point of applying for a job. Those that do get jobs have been through a winnowing process that is stricter than in virtually any other employment. Lecturers are committed professionals who have generally sacrificed much to get where they are. Given that, it would be quite anomalous if large numbers of them turned out to be dossers. In my experience, most lecturers work far above the hours of those in other jobs, in part because they love their work. Start questioning that commitment too forcefully and you may find that it vanishes. You will have successfully replaced the complete dedication of most lecturers with a set of banal contractual relations more suitable to a sausage factory.

To my mind, this entire debate as brought to the public’s consciousness by Deputy Shortall, will have incredibly destructive effects that all those in government, the HEA and university administrations ought to think long and hard about. Irish Universities have to compete globally for students but, even more so, for academic talent. I myself was recruited internationally to UCD. If Ireland becomes known (as the UK did in the 1990s) as a place where academics are closely monitored and controlled, it will become incredibly difficult to recruit academics to come to Irish universities or convince the best home-grown talent to stay, especially in light of recent pay cuts, etc. In the current zeal to measure and account for the money spent, we may find that we have rendered Irish universities utterly mediocre, possibly for generations.

There is enormous waste in Irish universities, but it has nothing to do with lecturers or the hours they work. As the C&AG’s report makes clear, this waste is almost entirely the result of management activities and not those of frontline teaching and research staff. UCD, to take only the example I know best, wasted millions on consultants, further millions on the Gateway Project boondoggle and still further millions on illegitimate bonuses and allowances for those who are not engaged at all with the fundamental activities of the University (teaching and research) and who are, apparently, answerable to no one. Deputy Shortall’s line of questioning in the PAC took valuable attention away from this important issue and, indeed, muddied the waters, leading the public to the false belief that all university staff are equally to blame.

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Are we all in it together?

Ferdinand von Prondzynski has published a piece in today’s Irish Times about the question of academic pay.  This is supposed to be a matter of concern because we live in an era where all those who do not provide a clear economic benefit to the state must be called before the tribunal of the market.  Never mind what other benefits they might provide (Enlightenment, say, to use an out-of-fashion word), if it isn’t cost-effective it shan’t exist.  You can see why academics would be first in line for the firing squad in such a dispensation.

Anyway, Ferdinand’s piece is typical of virtually everything that makes its way into the press about such matters these days, in that it contains misleading statistics that, whether by design or not, outrage the general public and it conflates two different classes of people working in universities: management and academics.  Here’s a cross post of what I posted in response to him on his blog:

1) Comparing like with like: If you are simply comparing Irish and UK or German salaries and not taking into account purchasing power parities, you’re simply not comparing like with like. For one thing, the comparison will shift, sometimes wildly, when the exchange rates shift without anyone’s pay having changed. If you compare Irish and US salaries now (with the euro at $1.30 or so), Irish salaries look OK. If you were making the comparison soon after the launch of the euro, when it was worth about $0.80, Irish salaries wouldn’t look so great. Purchasing power parities take account of this as well as the cost of living. There is no such thing as “highly paid” or “low paid” unless and until one specifies the cost of living. I was recruited to UCD from abroad. The number itself meant nothing to me absent information about the cost of living. My salary now sounds impressive to US colleagues. But the fact is, I could have a similar standard of living in most places in the US on roughly half my salary (and I could afford to buy a home, which I still can’t do here).

Any discussion about whether or not academics are paid too much or too little that doesn’t take these things into account will be misleading at best.

2) Who is overpaid?: The main issue raised by the C&AG’s report, on my reading of it, is not the pay of academics. It is the pay of management. The vast majority of the money paid out in off-the-scales payments and allowances in my university was paid to those in management positions. Because of the 1950s-style (if it’s not Louis XIV-style) hierarchical bureaucratic organization of UCD, I must include as “management” all those Heads of School, Directors of institutes, et alia. who have been chosen by the Sun King and his “management team.”

This crucial distinction–between university management and those they hope to “manage”–has been entirely lost in this debate, yet the report couldn’t be clearer. It is management that has squandered resources and paid itself handsomely for doing so. At roughly the same time that the Registrar and the Bursar of UCD were paying themselves €21,300 and €47,100 respectively over the sanctioned rates for their positions we received the following in a memo from the Registrar and Bursar:

Hospitality costs should be reduced and should not at any time be excessive or extravagant. The provision of tea, coffee, biscuits etc. should be discouraged and reduced. Any unnecessary costs incurred in the provision of water dispensers should be reviewed and discontinued where possible.

Do you think the annual budget for tea and biscuits for this university amounted to anything like what the Registrar and Bursar overpaid themselves per annum?

The guilty parties run this university as though it were a corporation. But when caught, then all staff are “collegially” lumped back together as if the problem were university-wide. It’s not. Your article, along with this sort of coverage contributes to just this sort of conflation.

Speaking of this conflation, Section 4.7 of the C&AG’s report has this reported justification from President Hugh Brady to justify the off-the-scales salaries of UCD management:

The President noted that universities including UCD compete for a highly mobile international talent pool and are recognised as key drivers of economic development. He stated that Ireland would not be able to compete successfully for jobs if its universities were not competitive with international universities.

This is laughable on its face. Yes, universities do have to compete for a highly mobile international talent pool of academics. Do they have to compete for a highly mobile international talent pool of managers? Surely not. How else to explain that virtually nobody in UCD management has been recruited internationally and virtually nobody has left UCD management for greener pastures. In fact, far from having been recruited from abroad or even from some other university in Ireland, almost everyone in UCD management has been recruited from Belfield itself.

And before you scold me: yes, I know that UCD is not all universities. It is, however, the worst offender according to the C&AG’s report.

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