Phi Beta Cons

Rich Vedder on Scott Walker and Faculty Workloads

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker survived a political firestorm when he pushed through changes in 2011 that reduced the power of public employee unions. Now he’s done it again. This time, he has angered the faculty and administration in the UW system by proposing budget cuts. A big part of the counter-attack was to say that Walker didn’t know what he was talking about when he said that professors don’t work very much.

In his new SeeThruEdu piece, Professor Richard Vedder argues that Governor Walker’s cost cutting is perfectly reasonable. He also argues back against the “Oh yes we do work a lot” crowd, writing that university professors “spend most of their time engaged in highly inefficient campus decision-making activities (“shared governance”) and writing articles for various journals of last resort. What is the rate of return on faculty publications to society? No one knows or tries to calculate it, but vast portions of that ‘research’ are published in obscure journals that few read, relating to obscure topics.”

So true. Many professors may work a lot, but much of that work is of scant value except to the system itself. Is it work that anyone would pay his own money to have done? Are the books and articles that are published sufficiently valuable to pass the test of the market — attracting enough voluntary support to cover the implicit and explicit costs? Mostly, no. Non-profit entities typically create lots of make-work so they will look busy.


George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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