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September 9, 2010

Evaluating A Professor's Worth

Academia: Texas A&M plans to rate faculty by the money they bring in

Elizabeth K. Wilson

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The Texas A&M University (TAMU) system is preparing a controversial program to rate its faculty by their financial net worth--calculated from salaries, research funding, and teaching--a move that has some academics up in arms.

TAMU vice chancellor for academic affairs Frank Ashley was not available to speak to C&EN at press time, but he recently told The Eagle, a local newspaper, that the program, which has yet to be presented to the university's board of regents, grew out of Texas taxpayers' demands for greater accountability from the university.

Calculations made under the proposed plan would subtract each professor's salary from funding he or she brings in from outside research grants and from teaching. How the resulting numbers would be used to affect or influence the careers of academics at TAMU remains murky.

David H. Russell, head of TAMU's chemistry department, is concerned that faculty could be pressured to focus on teaching, narrowly defined to emphasize classroom instruction, rather than the broader aspects of scholarship that includes research. "This definitely could negatively impact the [reputation] of TAMU as a major research institution," Russell tells C&EN.

William M. Gelbart, chemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says the amount of money professors bring in is only a small part of their actual worth. "I feel very strongly it's the wrong way to think," he says.

Gelbart points out that some faculty do important work with small grants, while others need millions of dollars in equipment to do their research. "In the end, they should be judged by people who know the field, by their originality and productivity," he tells C&EN.

TAMU, based in College Station, Texas, is the seventh-largest university system in the U.S., consisting of ten colleges, and enrolls nearly 50,000 students.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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