Bad and getting worse

Ken writes:

The Dublin metropolitan area university at which I work has, I’ve found out, declined to offer a promotion to an ambitious and prodigiously talented young scholar which would have retained him in the face of a counter-offer from a university in Canada. This is just so typical! Obviously the universities are at the heart of the project of providing the kind of educated workforce Ireland needs to compete globally, and surely a necessary part of that project should be retaining excellent staff. No one who knows the scholar I’m talking about has the slightest doubt that he is an asset to the department both because in view of the care and effort he puts into teaching and the research he does. At the same time, the university sclerotically packs its upper levels with tired old dinosaurs who haven’t published in years and got promoted out of senility (I’m sorry, seniority) only.

The question is, What does the future look like for Irish universities if they retain old staid and unproductive staff, who couldn’t get a job elsewhere, and loses young energetic and ambitious staff, who are getting jobs elsewhere? It does not look good. Senior staff (that is, senior in rank, not necessarily in age) are more expensive, and universities should not take the easy option of letting the gifted leave, to reduce their wage and salary costs, but should cut the pay of staff who have failed to stay research active.

(They belong to a different time, when the academe moved at a slower pace of life. It is not their fault. But their world has come to an end. They are like the poor natives of Hispaniola who quickly succumbed to disease when the white men came.)

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10 thoughts on “Bad and getting worse

  1. Ken,

    I despised the woman, but there was no ‘Thatcherite’ revolution in Ireland. People remaining in posts for years and years, regardless of levels of productivity, is part of Irish culture. Your comments suggests that that culture pervades even academic life.

    Those you would propose pay cuts for senior staff would quickly fall foul of political figures who shared school/university/sports club backgrounds with those staff. Ireland is so small that disputes would become personalized and descend into acrimony.

  2. Helen Conrad-O'Briain

    Some of us teach our hearts out, direct research, help pretty nearly every student who comes to our door … and publish very little. Sometimes the amount you publish does not reflect your worth to the educational system. Or maybe I should just chuck it all in …

  3. Dot

    Helen, perhaps you used a different form of your name and the computer didn’t recognise you?

    Personally I don’t think research output is the only measure of a good academic. It had better not be, as one of the things that can slow it down to a miserable trickle is being the mother of a small child, as I am. I also strongly think that educating students is the most important thing we do. But I do sympathise with Ken’s anger about the specific case he cites, where a young academic who is as dedicated in his teaching as in his research is being poached by a foreign university because the Irish one won’t pay him what he’s worth.

  4. kenanddot

    Helen, I was making a complaint about the status quo, which is a system that does a very bad job of recognising worth. I believe it promotes on the basis of seniority and who you know.

    I also think it has done a very poor job of recognising your contribution, which is why I find it hard to understand your objection to my post.

    Teaching is very important, for everyone, but I don’t think it is enough for senior staff. To be worth the money we pay them, they should be leaders in research too.

    Ian, I take your point. You are saying the education system can’t change because the system everywhere is a mutually supporting old boys network. I should have got depressed rather than angry.

  5. Belle Inconnue

    That’s not academia – it’s the same everywhere. There are tired old dinosaurs who don’t really do relevant work/care anymore at the top of every public sector institution – don’t know about the private sector, that might be a bit more ruthless. Eventually the young blood gets depressed, leaves, finds the new place just like the old, and eventually gives up and becomes an old dinosaur themsleves, then finally gets promoted, due to nothing more than long service. I don’t think its a conspiracy, its just that employment law makes it hard to get rid of people, and people go into the public sector because, although the financial rewards are less, it’s safe, cosy, you won’t lose your job, and you don’t have to work very hard.

    nobody really likes the young bloods, beacause they want to change things, they are enthusiastic, they work too hard, they might force the dinosaurs to work hard too, so people usually try to get rid of them.

    depressing enough??

  6. Helen Conrad-O'Briain

    There are people in every system that shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place. Anyone who went through the American system in the seventies bumped up against plenty of duds who were appointed in the boom following the twin bursts of the GI bill and Sputnik simply because they needed bodies at the front of the lecture theatre. I suspect that happened in Ireland too, about the time that free secondary education was introduced with a concurrent surge of numbers into the university system.
    At the same time, I’d like to say something for the ‘dinosaurs’. Eventually you do get tired, very tired. You’ve fought the good fight; you’ve raised a family. You didn’t get paid very much when you were punching – possibly above your weight – but now finally you are at the top of your scale. Should you simply be tossed out? For every scholar etc who is still producing at the top of their form at sixty, there are twenty who have settled down to doing the job day by day and hoping that they will have enough energy at sixty-five to finally produce the magnum opus, or even have the energy to actually enjoy not having to.
    You are upset for a friend. This is understandable and laudable. As a person for whom no one ever bothered to be particularly upset, I envy them, but I still do not think one can simply complain about classes rather than about individuals – about whom I can and will complain about at length and with great rhetorical vigour, but not in print.

  7. kenanddot

    “I still do not think one can simply complain about classes rather than about individuals”
    –You are quite right. I was being intemperate. I am sorry.

  8. Murray

    I don’t think that there is anything specifically Irish about the incident you relate. In my experience this kind of horse-trading for positions and and promotions goes on all over the academic world and probably in the equine industries as well. I suspect that elsewhere in Dublin there are stories of a similar nature where the outcome went the other way.

    There is an argument against special deals for ‘super-stars’ in academia. Such deals result in worse prospects for other members in the same group/unit/department/etc. Somewhere in the admin someone is keeping count of money spent on salaries for ‘bums on seats’. It will be just that much harder for the superstar’s colleagues to progress. The group/unit/… may then loose more than one or two staff members as they begin to realise that their prospects are better elsewhere.

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