Saturday, September 17, 2005

What you gonna do with the old professors, early in the morning.

There are a lot of research adverse universities trying to move up and grab more of those F&A costs (overhead in industry speak)

The only occasionally successful way of upgrading research at a non-research habituated place is to shove the old guard to the side, grab their lab space, and push them into attic offices slightly smaller then a cell at Gitmo and about as well air conditioned. Then the Dean waits for time to take its toll. In the meantime you open the alumni purse for a few real stars, let them talent spot some young stars and hire bodyguards so that the old folk don't do fancy knife work. It does not always work.

With the abolition of forced retirement, this can be quite expensive. It also might be wasteful because no one really knows what the old guard could have done with real support. Probably they are more optimistic than everyone else, but the truth is they never have had a chance.

Thus we come to the Rabett solution: Any member of the old guard can get as much in set up funds as a new assistant prof, if they give up tenure and go on a rolling contract, like your local football coach. Renewal conditions are negotiated, for example x publications per year, y dollars of grant funds, z students supported. The length of the renewal period might be between 3 and 6 years.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Who ordered that?

If it is a college textbook, the professor. Textbook prices have more than doubled in the past 15 years but few professors care, or have even noticed. The US has a North Korean textbook market: those who order the things (the professors) get them free, and the ones who buy them (the students) are captive.

The GAO (I simply cannot bring myself to call the Government Accounting Office by its new newspeak moniker) has a report on the college textbook market requested by David Wu (R) Representative from Oregon. Three cheers for him!!! A worthwhile read for faculty and those sent to the poorhouse after buying books.

Still, they fail at the bottom line. Textbooks cost a whole lot less elsewhere because in the US textbooks are specified by the instructor. I can get any chemistry textbook hand delivered complete with slobbering publishers rep the next day at no cost. They will cheerfully pile the supplementary material they carefully designed to kill the used book market (more on that in a later post. GAO has nailed that issue) up to my ceiling.

I exaggerate, but if the General Chem program at Really Large State U, can get slobbering reps and more. The economics are simple. At RLSU the GChem course might have ~5000 students or more. At $140 for the book (more if the students are offered the "package") that is ~ 0.7M$, about 75% of which goes to the publisher and the rest to the bookstore. At our smaller place we are down by an order of magnitude, but the business is steady enough that we can get a decent lunch brought in every couple of years when we consider new texts and all the free copies we want. English and math are the 1000 pound gorillas in the textbook business, but chem ain't bad.

As you might suspect I am a trice uncomfortable about this. The situation is negatively affecting higher education in the US as students seek to escape economic thrall by not buying books, and selling them back as soon as they can. When I graduated I had a library built up across many fields which even today stands me in good stead. To assuage my conscience I don't accept desk copies. If a publisher sends one to me, I call them up and tell them to take it back. If they don't come within a couple of weeks I give it to a student. More later, but you might ask your favorite US academic bloggers what they do about desk copies.

A first post ....

that feels like an oral presentation on an obscure topic in a small hot room at a not very well attended conference during lunchtime.

That pretty much sums up the direction of Rabett Run. Eli Rabett is a not quite failed professorial techno-bunny, a couple of chair elections from retirement, at a wanna be research university that has a lot to be proud of but has swallowed the Kool-Aid. The students are naive but great and the administrators vary day-to-day between homicidal and delusional. His colleagues are for the most part merely fey but not harmless. This is not to say that they are not smart, they are, but that they have a curious inability to see the holes that they for dig themselves. Prof. Rabett is thankful that they occasionally heed his pointing out the implications of the various enthusiasms that rattle around the department and school. Ms. Rabett is thankful that Prof. Rabett occasionally heeds her pointing out that he is nuts. There are no little Rabetts, so you will not be hearing about the doings of Jessica the Wonder Child. As he grows older, Eli has learned that it is less important what is done, than that it be done well and consistently.

Eli has published a fair amount of research in a wide variety of engineering/physical science areas and is almost competitive. He does know most of the people who do research for a living and some of them might respect him, if they knew who he was. Some of what he knows is relevant to climate studies, although he is not a climate scientist as such, and he has commented on other blogs on climate, as well as chemistry and physics.

As someone who has floated between chemistry, physics and engineering Dr. Rabett is a mile wide and an inch deep. But he is also familiar with the lack of understanding the inch wide and mile deep folk have about most things and the curious implications of this among what are probably the brightest group of people on the earth.

So hello, I must be going.