• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Great Mistake on Research Costs

I'm going to use a lull in my travel for The Great Mistake to start clearing my post backlog, starting with a response to the most recent review, by the sociologist Andrew Perrin.  His piece is at the public sociology blog Scatterplot, and, among its other virtues, it offers the most sustained engagement on research costs (Stage 2 of the book's decline cycle) that I've received.  I posted a comment on his post and crosspost it here.  His skeptical analysis of the emphasis I place on research costs is essential reading. It advances the kind of debate whose general absence has helped dumb down university policy.  I'm very grateful to him for the intelligence and energy that went into his analysis.

This blog has covered research costs many times ("How Can Public Universities Pay for Research?" "UCLA Loses LONI: Why Budget Silence is Bad for Science," "UCSD and the Crisis in Public University Research Funding," etc.) In The Great Mistake I go into the problem in detail, and also, in the final chapter, suggest a way of solving the core research cost problem without needing new money.  

After one talk this winter, someone asked me, "are you arguing that the way we fund research is the public research university's Achilles' heel"?  "I wish," I replied.  "That was just one small though important body part that didn't get protected in the River Styx, so you could armor it and be ok.  Our research funding model is more like a tragic flaw.  It is a secret weakness that cannot be separated from a great strength--unless it stops being a secret and is brought to light."  As I was later watching Toneelgroep Amsterdam's great 6 hour sequence of three Shakespeare plays, Roman Tragedies, I wondered, is the public university like Coriolanus, returned a military hero but unwilling to work with the newly empowered plebeians in the Senate, and so destroyed? Or like Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger, picking the wrong political allies, with the same result? Or Mark Anthony, losing the civil war to Octavian by ignoring his own strategists, who assured him he could not win at sea but must fight on land? Overkill, perhaps.  Start by reading Andrew Perrin.


My response:

Many thanks for the thought and intelligence that went into this review.  I agree with the criticism of UC-centrism.  I’d like to assemble a research group to do comparative state studies of university policies, or at least work with other people on this.  We’re getting a better picture through a series of books that focus on the systems the authors know from the inside.  Austerity Blues looks at New York, to take just one other example. Jeff Williams and I would love to publish more work on various state systems in our Critical University Studies series. As you say, North Carolina is a crucial case.

On research funding, let me first take a step back.  The book argues that treating universities as private goods has lowered their social value and hurt their finances. Many defenders of any given instance of privatization either deny social or educational costs or say they are less than the life-saving benefits of the new revenue streams. My examples question these life-saving revenue benefits, which in many cases are actually negative.  Universities always generate value even when they lose money on something like extramural research or small-scale teaching.  But policymakers shouldn’t support a practice—privatization—that doesn’t correctly do the one thing it is supposed to be good at, which is provide net financial benefits (gains that aren’t created by losses elsewhere in the institution).

Research costs come where they do in the book’s decline cycle because they are a core example of the university’s primary reaction to abandoning the public-good model of the university (Stage 1), which is to stop saying public benefits justify monetary losses on research, and to start saying the university generates monetary benefits on research (the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 was one turning point).  The latter statement has the double liability of obscuring research as a public good and of being wrong. Research is a public good and a private (institutional) loss, as it can be in the public good model, and as we disallow in the (inappropriate) private good model.  (A lot of bad things are tied in to this error, like splitting STEM and SASH research on phoney market grounds, hinging some portion of federal funding on science’s (exaggerated) direct economic value, etc.)

Other broad points. Technically, the contrast I draw is between high-research and high-teaching fields, where fields with lots of extramural funding have high gross revenues but lose money when overhead costs are netted out, and fields with essentially no extramural research but lots of enrollments are able to run surpluses—surpluses that administrators must use to cover losses elsewhere.  The fact that these kinds of departments polarize into STEM and non-STEM is contingent on other historical problems that I’m trying to help address.

Also, I am pro-STEM and hate the STEM/SASH divide.  I spent not the happiest years of my professional life as a co-founder of an NSF center trying to overcome it.  I see the divide as an artifact of a two-cultures ideology that has produced fundamentally different—even mutually incomprehensible-- material conditions of research.  The grant scramble in STEM feels to me to be inhumane and even anti-intellectual. I think it’s getting worse all the time, and I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for the colleagues who work 80 hours every week while skipping weekends for months at a time to keep their labs running and students funded.  I take their plight as seriously as I take that of SASH scholars. And yet I also see political inequality between STEM and SASH that is supported by budgetary opacity.  Designated makers always beat takers in America, and my hope is that showing the makers are also takers (we all are both) will create a more open and less biased policy arena and fairer, more effective outcomes.  A side benefit, which I don’t do much with in the book, would be redress for the structural poverty of qualitative and interpretative research, for which I don’t see any ethical or intellectual justification.

Since I advocate a wholesale public good model for universities, I am pro-subsidy.  I am also pro cross-subsidy.  I don’t mind some Sociology enrollment income winding up in Electrical Engineering to pay for accounting staff.  In terms of what you call external funds, my view, which goes beyond that of Walter McMahon and other economists I cite, is that the general public should pay all the costs of public universities, in the full knowledge that some returns will go only to the student they subsidized in the form of private market benefits (a salary increment), while most returns are nonmarket, indirect, and social, and fan out incalculably into the society, as we want them to.  In “internal” terms, we all need to help each other out.  If running one chemistry hood costs as much as running the lights and computers in 35 sociology offices, then sociology coughs up for chemistry.  The reverse should also be true.

The paragraph you call grudging (pp 94-95) reads as follows:
The problem with this situation is not that these subsidies, which are called cross-subsidies, are inherently wrong. To the contrary, these subsidies are commonplace and justified by the public benefits of research results. They are also justified by the private benefit to the student of attending research-intensive universities. At these institutions, students work with faculty who are at the forefront of their part of the knowledge world. They have access to the research process, which helps them to develop creative capabilities sooner rather than later. One can argue that the public and the student receive more benefit from an education in which instructional funding subsidizes research in the same environment. Though the costs can and should be separated so we can see who is paying for what and how much, the cross-subsidy is completely legitimate in principle—as long as it is acknowledged and shared in an equitable way.

The last sentence is the issue for me: not that we have cross-subsidies, but that we hide them. This removes them from the realm of policy and shared governance, and even correct accounting.

 Here are my more specific responses:

You write,
After a few silly anecdotes about scientists prevented from buying printer paper on their grants (do English professors not need printer paper?), Newfield then relies on NSF and university budget data to claim that between 9% and 20% of universities’ outlays for research are uncompensated by federal funders, so must be made up by institutional funds. These funds, he claims, often amount to nearly 100% of institutional research expenditures, which leaves 0% for institutional support of SASH and other research that doesn’t attract extramural funding.
I agree the anecdotes are silly. The point is that research accounting rules set up Catch-22s: some are silly, and others which blow holes in universities budgets. I also break down the range of 9-20% into three models all of which are justified by different sections of research funding reports based on the same data.  The differences reflect not only the ambiguity of semi-official interpretations of federal data, but also unequal budgetary situations for different kinds of universities. We need much more—and much more open—research to have a more complete picture of what is going on.

There’s a lot of forensic accounting going on here, and I think Newfield makes untenable assumptions to reach those high numbers (20% unfunded, 100% of institutional outlays). Most important here is the accounting for what universities pay for research that is not extramurally funded. Lots of that is implicit; professors spend their time, paid by university funds, on research and scholarly inquiry all the time. They do it with computers, office supplies, and sometimes dedicated funds that don’t count as research expenditures but are university resources spent on research and scholarly activity.

I’m not sure what you mean by untenable assumptions, but I assume you mean the omission of a portion of tenure-track faculty salaries and benefits as university’s internal funding of research.  I mention this omission in a footnote (middle of p 363, and also see the following note), and my reason is that this applies to all research professors in all disciplines, and is part of what one must do for one’s basic salary. Put differently, it would increase both the total amount of institutional funds spent on research and the total amount of research expenditure, so it wouldn’t change the share.  If anything, counting part of salary and benefits would have helped my inequality case, since disciplines that expect extramural grants for tenure, promotion, etc. generally require about half as much teaching as those that don’t.  In any case, I could better acknowledge that research universities do invest in all faculty in this way, especially since I am personally very grateful for that.

Next you write, “Throughout the section on extramural funding, Newfield implies that universities would not be doing the research if it weren’t for that funding.”  I’m agnostic on this. Your counterfactuals are interesting, but I don’t think they affect my argument.  It’s true that universities paying 20% of research is better than them paying 100%.  But paying 0% is better than paying 20% when general operating money per student has never recovered to the levels that the research enterprise assumed, and when students are progressively taking over from taxpayers in supporting it.  20% or 50% fro institutional funds would be fine with me were research funded at adequately high levels and as a public good, such that subsidies (including those from students as private individuals) are no longer extracted, left acknowledged, and not reimbursed.

Then, “That emphasis is puzzling because, unlike the rest of the book, it’s really not necessary to the overall argument. Each other piece of evidence goes directly to the devolutionary cycle (p. 36), but it’s not at all clear to me why the external-funding claims support that argument at all.’’

I tried to address this point above.

his greater claim that in fact the English department is subsidizing STEM is based on treating institutional funds in two conflicting ways. When they pay for English salaries and overhead, they are treated as external income from tuition and state funds: fees paid for English professors’ work. But when they pay for STEM salaries and overhead, they are treated as internal funds. Newfield is right to call out the PR machine’s implication that STEM pays for itself and English doesn’t, but he’s wrong to interpret this as an internal subsidy.

The terms external and internal may be confusing.  External funds become internal funds, or what the federal accounts call institution (or institutional) funds.  Student tuition and state general funds, plus some other smaller streams, become the university’s unrestricted funds that they distribute as they deem best.  It’s an “internal” subsidy in the sense that the university is itself paying a share of research costs on top of what it gets from the specific extramural research sponsor (DARPA, The Legacy Foundation, etc.)  But the university isn’t creating this money itself, and “profits” from other enterprises (like medical clinics) don’t flow toward core campus operations like instruction and research.  So I stick with calling this an internal (or institutional) subsidy. But again, I don’t think subsidies are bad. I just think hidden subsidies are bad.  (One practical reason that helps propel the decline cycle is that they have convinced legislators that research makes money rather than loses it, so they don’t understand why the state should pay more money for university operations.)

That account masks a much bigger problem with reliance on external funding: its intellectual costs. Funding rates are already very low, and today’s “skinny budget” contains draconian cuts to those low budgets. All that means that scientists will be spending more of their time trying in vain to attain funding instead of doing science. (Grant applications are the beginnings of science, yes — but only when high-quality applications are likely to be funded.) Furthermore, the bottleneck by which such an enormous majority of science is funded by just a few agencies raises the prospect of an intellectual monoculture; heterodox inquiry is unlikely to flourish under such concentration. I think it would be better for science and for SASH disciplines for universities to find ways to fund more research across the disciplines internally.
I hope my account doesn’t mask this problem, even if it doesn’t analyze it.  I also hope my account helps the discussion you call for by shining a light on how we spend institutional funds now, precisely so we can imagine spending them differently. 

In general, I agree with you that the agency funding situation poses major intellectual problems.  These are important and longstanding.   Clark Kerr described federal granting agencies as having created a “putting-out system” that made universities dependent subcontractors with borderline sweatshop conditions, and that was during the golden age of federal granting growth in the late 1950s and early 1960s. More internal funding would help with this quite a bit.  Projects could be developed in collaboration between faculty and their offices of research, and consortia could be created bottom-up to share costs across universities.  It would be helpful to draw up some questions and projects that can’t get funded in the current system but that could under this alternative.

The drawback of course is that universities would need to quadruple their research funds to cover what we currently fund today, which still wouldn’t be enough, either for STEM or for SASH disciplines.  I’d like to see a cultural shift that would allow the public to trust universities and their associated professionals enough to do that, but that’s a long road.

In any case, many thanks again for your very helpful and insightful analysis.


Anonymous said...

As I teach the 325 students in my introductory science course, I do get to ponder the strange phenonemon that at my UC campus, it is the science ladder faculty who, per faculty member, teach the most lower division students. Yet somehow Chris Newfield maintains that English departments subsidize science departments... because somehow the $108,000 my federal grant pays each year to UC isn't quite enough, based on studies that never track where those indirect funds actually go. And because the full tuition that the 40% of out of state students in my introductory class pays never gets accounted for.

Should I trust the accounting skills of an English professor? Do English professors trust the textual analysis of literature by accountants? If English professors do, well, let me know.

Anonymous said...

So tired of STEM vs. Social Sciences and Humanities. It's time for a new narrative. I'd be very surprised if the University made a profit on very many faculty members' activities---last time I checked, we still aren't a for-profit institution and there's quite a bureaucracy dealing with safety, compliance, facilities, and more to support your grant activity. No one is pointing a finger at you in saying that research is expensive. It's not supposed to generate a profit.

Chris Newfield said...

@Anonymous Accountants who spend as much time with say Toni Morrison manuscripts as I spend with NSB and other data-- yes, I would trust them.

If you have counter-data as opposed to generic skepticism I would love to see them and hear your interpretation. My analysis isn't based on any given large introductory courses, but the relationship between total SCH taught in relation to faculty overhead, staff overhead, faculties and administration not tied to a given grant, faculty startup packages, retention packages, and many other things. Key differences include (1) many fewer support staff in non-STEM (my dept has had zero dedicated staff since 2010); (2) higher teaching loads in non-STEM; (3) very small startup and retention packages in non-STEM; (4) very little sponsored research that requires support.

I agree that you should have information about where your overhead goes. And I constantly say that I would like to see STEM research fully funded, not diminished. So I think you're blaming the messenger here.

Chris Newfield said...

@AnonymousI agree with all of this, particularly STEM vs. non-STEM. The issue is extramural research that requires institutional subsidies vs. nonextramural research or fully funded extramural. The book proposes a fully-funded fix that will help sustain research in all fields.

Anonymous said...

Well, certainly my experience at UC on various committees has convinced me: the concepts of trying to fight subconscious bias aren't particularly strong with my colleagues from HFA... the Social Scientists and Math/Engineering/Physical Scientists understood the concept of recusal, but during our discussions the HFA faculty couldn't stay quiet when HFA issues where discussed. It was surprising. Doesn't mean that non-HFA succeeded in being fair-minded. But they did understand that one should make a solid effort to do so, and even then, one might fail.

So, Prof. Newfield, perhaps let me express reasonable skepticism as to whether you treat data that might contradict your argument with the same weight as data that supports it.

Nice rhetorical strategy... sling a piece of mud, but then faux charitably say... well, let's be fair to everybody, particularly those poor sots who are covered with mud. Or, say, now that the mud is on someone, loftily say "I'm so tired of all this mudslinging" after you've thrown the most mud.

The one piece of hard data I really do know... from UCSB it turns out... SM faculty have the contact with the highest *numbers* of undergrads. They are gathered into large classes. HFA faculty teach the largest *number of classes*, many small. Social Science faculty have the largest # of students in their departments, but consign more of the teaching to temporary lecturers than the other groups.

So at least at UCSB, all 3 groups claim they teach the most! Lake Wobegon rules.

I did leave TE out of STEM... teaching at least at UCSB in TE is a weird problem of its own. If you include it with SM, well, teaching in STEM at UCSB does look somewhat modest. Just the sort of thing that people can subtly move in and out to suit their rhetorical purpose.

UC accounting is so convoluted that it is very fair to conclude that just about no-one, from Chris Newfield to Charles Schwartz, truly masters it. But there are books to write, lectures to give, careers to be made, so getting the numbers right is generally subsidiary to citing a few numbers one finds to support one's prejudices, and to make a career. Nobody is perfect.

Chris Newfield said...

@Anonymousreasonable skepticism is of course welcome, but if you have evidence of bias or error in the analysis I'd really like you to produce it. That would contribute to better understanding, which is the point of all this.

The argument about cross subsidies isn't about student credit hours per instructor but about total income generated by a unit vs. income retained by that unit, in relation to very different cost levels across different units. See the discussion around Figure 1 here https://profession.commons.mla.org/2015/12/16/the-humanities-as-service-departments-facing-the-budget-logic/

You can get a sense of overheads that vary widely by department and division by looking at UCSB's Planning Data Book.

By 2015, HFA majors were down around 25% from late 2000s peaks, while MLPS majors were up. However, enrollments in HFA were essentially flat (down under 1%). Net resources are affected by the workload allocation formula for revenues and by costs. Growth in a unit's majors and/or SCHs doesn't in itself tell us whether or not that unit is covering its costs, how much it may need from elsewhere to cover them, or where the funds to cover its costs are coming from.

This is a boring but vital point, and I hope that the Senate and other bodies don't just look at trends in majors to decide whether or not budgeting is effective or fair.

Meanwhile, overall UC institutional expenditures on research are around a $1 billion a year, and growing in spite of increased ICR rates (http://accountability.universityofcalifornia.edu/2016/chapters/chapter-9.html#9.1.1) At the same time, many TT faculty have effectively zero annual research budgets (anecdotal--actual numbers may not exist). I would welcome STEM faculty perspectives and help in figuring out real solutions to a problem that affects all of us. We are all limited by our experiences and institutional locations, but also get special insight from them, and I would like cross-campus collaboration in figuring out what to do.

Chris Newfield said...

note too that HHS head Tom Price is using indirect costs to justify NIH cuts. see comments on this thread h/t @reclaimUC https://twitter.com/carlzimmer/status/847116660993601536

Anonymous said...

Concerning Table 1 in your MLA article: it isn't helpful. Why lump Technology and Engineering with Science and Mathematics in STEM? Why lump Economics with Dance in SASH?

Do you really think the "service" teaching functions are in any way fairly depicted by your categories? I don't. For example, in language departments, who really teaches the language courses. Do the Above Scale Chinese Literature Professors teach first-quarter introductory Chinese language? Do Above Scale English Professors really teach first quarter writing? Why aggregate those together?

The fact is there is a complex Rorschach of teaching and research in nearly every unit of a modern University. When you make inappropriate aggregations you wash all that out.

There is massive service teaching in Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics in all big modern research Universities. That teaching is so neglected that Chris Edley thought a robot programed by "high production value" Hollywood directors could do a better job than live people who know the material.

A useful aggregation would be: large service teaching versus small service teaching departments. With lower division, upper division, and graduate separated. That is a step toward identifying the real cross subsidies.

That you focus mainly on how you and your friends are providing subsidies looks very much on implicit bias on your part.

As for Tom Price and indirect costs... a good response would be a simple apples-to-apples table of indirect costs for... 1) university research, 2)health care (where Medicare pays cost+, would have to work hard to extract the comparable utilities, infrastructure, etc), 3)defense contractors.

Chris Newfield said...

@Anonymous I answered your first question last time. The distinction is high vs low levels of extramurally sponsored research. There will be outliers (Math). Figure 1 has 5 categories, not 2.

"Service department" means departments in research universities that teach but do not do research. In most cases they do most of their teaching at the lower division level. Although Biology departments everywhere do a lot of what TT faculty call "service teaching," that does not make them service departments, because they are also conducting extramurally sponsored research.

The point of the argument is not to describe service teaching fairly. That is a separate issue. Many research universities do ask senior faculty to teach a quota of 1st year students and courses. Most don't, not simply because senior faculty think their time is better used elsewhere (whether they are physical chemists or medieval Chinese literature professors), but because it's a lot cheaper.

The breakdowns you mention are useful, but they are baked into the income and expenditure data I used.

You may be trying to say that the above scale chinese lit professor is doing so little language teaching to first years that he is very expensive, but that's a value judgment not a budget statement: the costs of chinese profs, including all of their generally unfunded research, are not on the same scale of extramural research costs.

If you have contrary evidence, I again invite you to produce it.

Your tone seems designed to forestall the possibility that there are deep structural inequities in the budget model that damage both sponsored and non sponsored research and also the university's financial viability. One person who read your comments wrote to me to say, "I find them quite demoralizing because it really shows the faculty isn't prepared to think new things that might actually preserve what we care about. it isn't that his questions about departments aren't reasonable (I wonder about language teaching all the time) but they seem designed to keep everything in place." Rather than denouncing everything that points out problems with the traditional order and its mythologies, why don't you conduct the research you propose at the end? I'd be glad to offer feedback.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Of course there are deep structural inequities in the educational budget model. The deepest inequity arises from the whole model of low-paid teachers who develop a profit that is used to pay high-paid researchers, right across campus, in every department...

Breaking down by extramural funds is not the useful division, it is one originating in a prejudice to lay low those who bring in extramural funds... not that extramural funds are in any way wonderful... they are simply a necessity. Without them... no significant research in empirical science & technology in universities.

And yet the public who supports the university is lukewarm about the educational model, and that may be a principal reason for flagging support for public universities. The public would like to see their 20-year-olds contacting exceptional faculty every time they take a class.

Easy to fix that: just make a salary component related to the number of students taught. German professors used to give lectures for admission fees at the door. Sure, lots of details. But the deep structural problem is that: those who earn the money for universities don't see that money in pay... the first-yar writing instructors and chem lab instructors and calculus instructors.

It does seem that the Humanities side doesn't have much depth of appreciation for the vast teaching effort in biology, calculus, chemistry, and physics... darn few if any comments on the absurdity of robot teaching by Edley. Human interaction is just as important in the science classroom as in the humanities classroom. Big impersonal classes in math & science developed from necessity not choice... at the best places... Caltech, Harvey Mudd, UCSB's CCS... freshman science/math is taught like a senior seminar in English.

Exactly who did I denounce? I certainly don't see evidence of the deep numerical research, perhaps by learning UC's accounting software and really following the money, in anything presented on this page or in your work, Prof. Newfield. Fair point to say that I haven't done that either, but I'm not out getting publicity presenting myself as an expert.

My direct experience with the accounting of my grants and tracing the money, and on faculty committees, is so far at odds with what you present that I just have to shake my head and wonder whether you've ever done nitty-gritty case studies. Not that UC makes it easy, UC most definitely does not. In my experience my preconceived notions get flipped around 2 to 4 times in any deep dive I've done into the data.

Chris Newfield said...

@Anonymous that your "direct experience" hasn't taught you how the system actually works is why I've done the research. I've never met a PI who knew where their IDC money went. That's because, with rare exceptions, you aren't told by the control points that keep it. Same goes for senate committees, who are never charged to look into this. Why don't you investigate this? Why don't you get the Senate to up its game?

anyone who researches the university knows quite a bit about teaching issues in the sciences. The classic "flipped classroom" was Eric Mazur's lower div physics course at Harvard. MIT has done the same with some intro courses and massively increases rates of passing and of retention. CS folks started cMOOCs in Canada in the 1980s. The efforts to apply xMOOCs that you keep associating with Edley, who was an administrative politician not a learning theorist, were in general led by engineers. etc etc. etc. You have no real idea what I do and don't know. If you're concerned about this at UCSB, trying flipping your own classroom. See if that runs into budgetary obstacles. Wonder what the informal ceiling is on teaching expenditures per biology student, and whether it's less than what a resident student brings to campus, and why . . .

Your idea of paying faculty by teaching headcount: It would cut against advanced knowledge, emerging knowledge, unpopular knowledge, difficult knowledge. You might take a look at the curriculum of the University of Phoenix. You might also think about the impact of paying faculty by headcount on the student experience. And think about what that would do to the time investments of research faculty. Ask colleagues in medical schools what public funding cuts have done to medical research, as deans pressure faculty to generate more clinical revenues every year to cover unit overheads. You might also ponder the point you keep evading, which is that extramurally sponsored research doesn't pay its full costs, so that if you silo teaching revenues (some teaching overhead to the unit and the rest to the faculty salary) you lose the 25 cents on the dollar that institutions pay into research.

Since you are not alone in treating discussants of research costs with indignant belligerence, UC faculty are likely to keep shying away from the issue, and we'll keep the situation we have now. Congratulations.

You should read Stage 2 of the book.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Senate Committees have concluded that a large portion of IDC funds are kept for slush funds, and the remainder is distributed to new faculty in startup costs... the variety of slush funds is perhaps vast. Sometimes for Garamendi buildings, on some Campuses to Department Chair slush funds, others to slush funds at higher levels. The one unifying theme, perhaps, is the IDC are in no way, shape, or form spent the way that any Rand, NRC, or other studies assume they are, at least at UC.

Perhaps discussing these issues in Senate Committees becomes so fraught with nonsense that people give up. And perhaps some people decide to write books and go on lecture tours in lieu of the marathon struggles in Senate Committees. Perhaps their own outside offers and retentions are fueled by those books and lecture tours, while marathon struggles in the Senate invariably result in denied promotions by other aggrieved faculty.

Your comments about large class teaching drift in the direction of the Cargo Cults. My friend Tom Lehrer, a terrific math lecturer, could (and perhaps has) written a song already satirizing your comments. For the most part, the transition to carefully evaluated descendants of the antiques you mentioned is resisted by the research faculty. Research faculty opposing research-validated teaching methods, naturally... bad ideas die one faculty member at a time. A great test that was done at UBC... two large science courses, one taught by a recent PhD using contemporary techniques, the other by the most distinguished and awarded (for teaching) senior faculty member, using old-style chalk & talk. The students in the youngsters' class learned and retained a shockingly higher amount (3 to 4 standard deviations) more than the award-winning chalk & talk.

The (c/x)MOOC junk (MIT is truly a wasteland, but some departments at Stanford have done OK) missed the crucial element... there is "magic" in face-to-face interaction. The true genius of active learning is it does seem that halting class and getting students to interact face-to-face with their neighbors is almost as good as a grad student interacting with their thesis advisor.

"Your idea of paying faculty by teaching headcount: It would cut against advanced knowledge, emerging knowledge, unpopular knowledge, difficult knowledge. " ... oh, horsepoodles, Prof. Newfield. I didn't say make 100% of salary dependent on headcount. I said make a component of salary. You're hyperventilating response shows how closed your mind is. I'm responding to a dire situation I see at UC Campuses: administrators are clueless and without experience, research is rewarded by outside offers and retentions, but there is really no significant term in the power equation that rewards great teaching, when teaching funds a huge amount of UC. The claim that only SASH does vast service teaching, and provides cross-subsidies... not true at all, go visit a chemistry, calculus, biology, or physics lower division class. The most prominent cross-subsidy is from teaching to research. Perhaps Charles Schwartz agrees with me on that point.

I find your reaction quite demoralizing because it really shows the you aren't prepared to think new things that might actually preserve what we care about.

As to "evading" the point that extramurally sponsored research doesn't pay its full costs, I don't evade it, I take that point as unproven. Your proofs aren't proofs, they are Cargo Cult accounting.

Indignant belligerence? I don't think so. I just don't see you as in the jugular of the problem... I do see the jugular as closer to all the California parents who know darned well that their children aren't getting the amazing experience we owe them, and that they now pay a lot more for than 50 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Certain STEM fields may teach a large number of students in service courses, but generally they are doing a pretty bad job at it. Students arrive in my upper-division science courses without the ability to do calculus, though their transcripts say otherwise. A colleague in the math department reports that cheating is rampant and students have cookie-cutter homework and exams. I've taught lower-division science general ed courses in my discipline, and I can't do much better than fact memorization given 150 students and only two TAs. I'm very interested in active learning and research-validated methods and recently attended a workshop on that in my discipline, but the experienced instructors leading that workshop told me that these methods don't work for classes of the size that we teach. So math and certain science departments may be teaching a large number of students in service courses, but they're doing a bad job of it, in large part due to too many students and too few instructors. So I'm not interested in rewarding headcount unless their is a commensurate improvement in learning outcomes. We really need to increase faculty number to bring down class size so that there is more interaction with the instructor (interacting with peers may help, but it is the blind leading the blind if an expert isn't involved). Students and parents are paying more for getting less, and UC is going in the wrong direction. At my campus we're halfway through a ten year period of growing undergraduate population by 50%, with little increase in infrastructure or faculty number.

Anonymous said...

Amen Anonymous 3:34pm, 3/31/2017. All the same at my campus (I'm the previous anonymous)... totally agree that learning outcomes must go into the mix to reward headcount.

In principal the Academic Senate is the place to debate this... but here is the gauntlet, at least on my campus: 1)the SASH faculty are relentlessly cynical toward Science/Math initiatives, and pretty much torpedo promotions of Science/Math faculty that are not retentions; at our campus retentions largely bypass the faculty committees; 2)the SASH faculty are sure that no real teaching goes on on the Science/Math side of campus... well, they help fuel a self-fulfilling prophesy there, through their relentless cynicism; 3)the STEM (and often the TE faculty here are the harshest) are no friends to serious teaching either, but they tend to be simply lukewarm, not actively cynical; 4)Most SM research faculty gradually realize that focusing on their research and getting retention offers is the only way to advance to the point, where, say, someday at age 50 purchasing a house within 20 miles of campus becomes just barely possible.... well that problem afflicts the SASH faculty too, but they form blocs on promotion committees to help promote SASH, and block SM promotions... the SM faculty with solid research and teaching but who haven't sought regular retentions are easily the lowest paid on campus, often "on scale".

It is really hard to see how to navigate that gauntlet. On top of it... the HFA side of campus has lost a lot of enrollment, while enrollments skyrocket in SM, and the SASH faculty cynically align with the administration (who are no friends to instruction, no promotions for Deans to VC by solving instruction problems) to suppress any expansion in SM resources to address the huge explosion in SM lower-division teaching resources. It is a perfect storm.

The departments I'm in have seen a 3X increase in lower-division teaching in 10 years, with no new resources. Typically, one 10-hour a week TA per 150 students. Homework is all online.

I strongly advise SM-interested high school students to avoid UC now. The good Junior Colleges are better than UC. I never thought I would come to this level of despair over our own teaching.

I do think the Carl Weiman techniques can be applied to do a lot better. But there has to be some kind of incentive to do so. Right now one is simply marching into cannon fire to try to fix the problem... it is a death spiral because so many SM-interested students and parents are learning just how bad UC is, and they politically sour on public support for US.

Gerry Barnett said...


After you have finished with the personal drama of how certain you are that you are on top of the situation, perhaps you would sport us all the favor of producing some evidence that backs up your opinion.

Gerry Barnett said...

That's my request for the previous anonymous, Horsepoodle.

Chris Newfield said...

@Anonymous I'm surprised by your inability to paraphrase my research results correctly.

Chris Newfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Newfield said...

these problems of instructional quality CAN be fixed. But it will take STEM faculty saying, even in small but organized numbers, that this really is a problem they care about. This would ideally include (1) identifying the main learning problems as you've started to do here; (2) tracing them to overcrowding and related issues; (3) pricing the fix--what would it do to instructional budgets to lower TA loads to 50 per term or whatever the goal is; (4) identifying sources and/or obstacles. Obviously I think research costs are an important obstacle, but it would be great to get other analyses and see faculty put this issue on the admin agenda. @Anonymous

Chris Newfield said...

This has good coverage of the IDC can of worms HHS Secretary Tom Price has opened up, and includes links to articles in Nature, Science, and elsewhere that have analyzed university losses on IDC - https://www.statnews.com/2017/03/31/nih-indirect-costs-universities/. Also http://www.sciencemag.org.proxy.library.ucsb.edu:2048/news/2017/03/trump-wants-2018-nih-cut-come-overhead-payments

Chris Newfield said...

amidst the uptick in discussion of research funding caused by the proposed Trump cuts, there's this interesting piece about staffing composition on NIH and NSF grants https://theconversation.com/who-feels-the-pain-of-science-research-budget-cuts-75119. The piece is making some other points, but SASH researchers will be surprised by the multiplication of faculty effort through paid staff that is unimaginable in their own fields.

Chris Newfield said...

Here's a good overview of specific UCSB research that will get cut back if the federal reductions happen. (It's not designed to help the public understand who actually pays for research, and they never are.) http://www.independent.com/news/2017/mar/30/ucsb-braces-trumps-proposed-budget-cuts/

Chris Newfield said...

I have a piece on the broader politics of university research funding in Inside Higher Ed today -- http://bit.ly/2nHyzjl

Join the Conversation

Note: Firefox is occasionally incompatible with our comments section. We apologize for the inconvenience.