Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where's my money?

Teaching for dollars

San Francisco's KSFO, bastion of right-wing talking points for the poor out-numbered arch-conservatives who live in the Bay Area, has been cutting back. High-priced hosts like Melanie Morgan and Lee Rodgers have been shown the door and their erstwhile sidekick, Brian Sussman, has been elevated into the anchor chair. His feet may not be able to touch the floor as he sits in it, but Sussman is now KSFO's monarch of the morning drive time (although actual traffic reports come from “Officer Vic,” who now gets to be Sussman's yes-man).

My inner masochist occasionally takes over when I'm driving and tunes the radio to KSFO, just to see what the crazies are promoting at the moment. On Tuesday, July 27, 2010, listeners were treated to yet another paean to the wonders of running government “like a business.” This shows remarkable resilience in right-wing ranks, especially after the debacle of George W. Bush's “MBA presidency.” Yeah, another dose of the business acumen that destroyed the world economy is just what government needs these days!

During the 7 o'clock hour, Sussman started a little rant about the Obama administration's shocking lack of business people in its top ranks. While Reagan and the two Bushes had over fifty percent of their appointees coming from the world of business, the current administration's tally is only eight percent. Shocking! (While the numbers may be true, they came from one of Sussman's devoted listeners, so a block of salt might be indicated.) With Officer Vic providing sycophantic punctuation, Sussman began to rail against academia—the reputed source of the bulk of President Obama's political appointments.

By itself, this is no surprise. Right-wing talk-show hosts really don't like higher education and its purveyors. We tend to be too liberal for them. (Funny how education tends to make people more liberal, open-minded, and opposed to right-wing radio bigots. No doubt Beck University will fix that.) Nevertheless, Sussman managed to surprise me, a jaded liberal listening to a usually predictable spewing of right-wing talking points from KSFO. You might not guess, however, just how he managed to surprise me.

Check it out:
Sussman: Herein lies the problem. These people live in a parallel universe. They don't understand. How do you get ahead in academia? It's not about being the best. It's not about being— There's no competition.

Officer Vic: No.

Sussman: Basically you go out there and get a degree and maybe another degree and another degree. And then you work your way into— You get a job at a university and you publish papers that no one reads and you publish books that are unreadable and you speak [Officer Vic: You get tenure.] and your speaking can be completely boring and you teach and you can be the worst teacher on the planet but you get tenure.

Officer Vic: Yep.
I begin to suspect that Sussman has never been on a university campus. Good thing tenure is so easy to obtain, though. Practically automatic.
Sussman: And then, you're in! That's it. You're in the club. It's nothing about being the best. There's no competition involved to move up the ranks of academia. It's not like in the real world. And that's who Barack Obama's surrounded himself—a bunch of propeller-heads, who have never produced anything. They've never produced a job. They've never managed large numbers of people. But it's all unraveling for these guys.
It's true. Competition is anathema in academia. We don't compete for choice assignments, office space, grant money, promotions, or anything else. Never, ever. It's contrary to our communitarian nature.
Officer Vic: Payroll.

Sussman: Never had to make payroll, never had to balance a budget. Never had to manage a profit-and-loss statement. Oh, they'll write about profit-and-loss statements, they'll write about how to manage people, they'll write and write and write and write, they conduct all this research. And again, I think it's hilarious. You read some of the books that these people write and they are unreadable. You hear some of the speeches that they give and you can't listen to them. You go to their classes and you listen to them teach and they're awful. But they've got their jobs and they're millionaires.
I don't think Sussman actually goes into classrooms to listen to professors and deem them awful. He strikes me as a class-skipper. But that last sentence? Yeah, that's the part when Sussman took me by surprise. Millionaires? I think I need to talk to my union rep. I may be getting cheated! (Of course, I'm not a university professor, so perhaps I shouldn't quibble—except that I know plenty of university professors who earn less than me.)

So Sussman thinks professors are millionaires who never have to make payroll, never create jobs, and never balance a budget. What an ignoramus. One of the problems at universities is the management of research teams, the budgeting of grant monies, and the allocation of lab space. One jumps through all kinds of hoops to get the funding the first place and then gets to do further mountains of paperwork to document its expenditure on personnel and resources. We even have similar challenges at my community college, even though on a smaller scale. (We seek external funding more frequently now that the state budget is such a mess, but it all comes with strings.) Maybe we have to deal with the NSF instead of the SBA, but many of us can commiserate with the entrepreneurs who deal with the latter.

KSFO's morning oracle continued:
Sussman:I get a kick out of— You go to UC Berkeley, you go to Stanford, you go to these various campuses and these students are out there protesting, “We need more money for our schools!” And standing next to them are the professors. “We need more money for our schools!” Hey, have you ever asked that professor how much money they're making every year? These professors are all millionaires. They're millionaires with big, big salaries and big, big retirement packages. And yet they dress like little schmoes, you know, with their crummy jackets [Officer Vic: Patches on the elbow.] that are twenty years old, yeah, and patches on the elbow. And their ties are askew and their hair's kinda crappy and they drive crummy little cars and they're millionaires. They're all millionaires! And they actually have the gall to stand next to the kids who are protesting because their fees are too high. “We need more money for our schools!” So you can pay these millionaires!
Oh, good. Fashion advice from a radio jockey. Nice hair, Brian. What training academy does it for free just for practice? As a millionaire professor, I shell out $14 for each of my haircuts.


John Armstrong said...

Put them in contact with me -- someone who got competed out of a career and into a solid year of unemployment 'cause nobody wants to touch a former academic mathematician.

Btw: comment identification seems to be broken.

NoAstronomer said...

Quite frankly I think you have fairly decent slander case on your lap here.

Anonymous said...

Haha oh lord tell me where on earth these millionaire professors live. This guy has no clue.

Ian said...

He thinks that university professors live in their own little world? That's rich coming from a right-wing mouthpiece paid to spew nonsense into the ether.

RogerE said...

Isn't that the "American Dream"? Get as much money as you can and become a millionaire? Seems he should be praising professors for finding another way to get there.

Anonymous said...

I think I know the root of this myth. For many folks esteem is correlated to salary. Sports, business, and, one would even imagine, radio talk show hosts get more money for getting more recognition. Those of us who have a life academia have positions that are held in uniformly high esteem. So, naturally, we get paid a lot. If we didn't we would swap to another team or bankrupt our firm and move on to another, after demanding a golden handshake as well.

Anonymous said...

Maybe profs would be paid more if they ruined the environment or the economy. It is well known that "doing good" is its own reward, so those who ruin things really should be paid more. ;-)

Anonymous said...

If we were to "run government like a business", the President would be like a CEO of a 300 million employee company, right? So Obama should get paid, what, 30 million bucks every month? I guess that's what they mean....

Miki Z. said...

Part of this might stem from something I've heard more than a few times:

Once you get a grant, you get to decide how to spend it, so you can just keep it all for yourself. That $1.2 million five year grant to study ways to improve XYZ? Cha-ching, you're a millionaire. After all, you just give the problems as a class assignment, and the students do the work for you, right?

I guess he could be more tone-deaf -- he could have explained how academia has no competition just after the University of Alabama tragedy.

Ed Darrell said...

Mark Twain said that the man who can read, but doesn't, has no advantage over the man who cannot read at all.

But I wonder: Can Sussman read, or is he all gasbag? University salaries are generally public record. Surely he looked at some official reacords . . .

Oh, now I see my error. Actually looking at information would be contrary to Official Conservative Rules Manual procedure on such stuff. The prescribed methodology for people like Sussman is Make Shit Up.

And anything left over after his program, he can eat.

Dr24Hours said...

I thought about, and am still thinking about, attempting professorship. I confess, the things about it which push me away are low pay and intense competition. I mean, I have two years job experience right now, and I make something like 125% the average assistant professor's salary, I'm on hard money for 3 more years, and I get to compete against professors and other academics for grant money that will make it harder for them to continue to be professors and easier for me to become one.

Also: who gets tenure anymore? The great majority of professor's positions in research and other equivalent academic posts are not tenure track.

And even if you GET tenure, your life sucks a big red baboon's ass if you can't cover your salary with grant money. This is idiotic in the extreme.

Nevyn said...

I teach at a community college, and could be teaching at the local UC. Why do I choose to have much poorer quality of students, and less exciting, cutting edge classes (no upper division at the CC level)? Because if I were full time at the UC, I'd make 55% of what I'm making at the CC (which is nowhere near enough to become a millionaire!). I also have some job stability, at least, as much as is possible with the state budget issues. I'm the most recent hire, so if we have layoffs that affect Full Time Instructors in my area, I'd be first to go (but it's unlikely that would happen, since I teach pre-nursing classes, which are always full and overflowing - I'm not worried about it at all). If I were at the UC, I might or might not get full time employment each semester and I would not know that I wasn't going to be FT until a few weeks before the semester.

I can't justify teaching at the UC for significantly less pay, and potentially no pay at all. And the researchers don't make much more (and most make less than what I'm making at the CC, even if they have tenure, unless they've been around for decades).

Miki, my understanding about the grants being tapped for professor's personal income is that on *certain* types of grants (I don't recall which agencies, or types) there is some percentage that is "discretionary", but it's on the order of 5%. Most (good) faculty will not choose to take this for personal use, however, because every dollar they take is a dollar that isn't being used to pay for supplies or equipment which will help fund their lab in the next cycle of grants. FWIW, the grants I'm familiar with were NIH and NSF grants for biology-related stuff. Equipment and supplies are expensive, lab technicians have to be paid from that (salary and benefits) and $1.2 million over 5 years doesn't cover nearly as much as one might think. If each tech takes home $40k, another $30k for benefits, and $240k goes pretty quickly.

The competition in research labs, at least the places I've been, was excruciating. I've seen several people get scooped because they spent too much time revising papers for submission, or getting that last control done, or doing one last experiment to tie this data in with earlier work.

This guy hasn't spent much time on campuses, or in classes, or talking to actual professors, and it shows.

Scrawny Kayaker said...

Way late to find this post, but what the hell:

I don't normally defend Dubya ('cause I rarely find anything to defend), but much of the blame for the economic meltdown has to be laid on deregulation and offshoring pushed by Clinton's team of neo-liberal geniuses, headed by Summers and Rubin, who are now also Obama's financial team.

Sure, the Bush League did plenty to dig the hole deeper (asinine tax cuts) and tried to do worse (Social Security in the stock market), but there's plenty of blame to assign to both parties.

Unfortunately, Howard Dean's recapture of the Democratic party by it's Democratic wing was short-lived.