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They're honestly not doing much at all. These are quite cushy positions. Work usually gets sloshed around and offloaded onto staff who make much less but work much more.

For example, at my public law school (1,000 students), there was the dean (who many suspected had an alcohol problem and appeared drunk at commencement) who makes $330,000 per year. His job is to just go around the country/world selling the school to "recruit" (we don't actually need more faculty) in order to boost our "prestige" so we can climb up in the almighty US News rankings. He doesn't engage with faculty or students at all.

Then below him is another Dean, who is a prick. He makes something like $280,000 and also doesn't do much at all. He is also a "recruiter." At least he answers emails when you have a question.

Then there are other Deans, like Dean of "Student Affairs." She makes $130,000. Mind you this is just for a law school of 1,000 students situated on a larger university campus that will have its own Dean of Student Affairs as well. I have no idea what she does. She does get dressed up every day in fashionable clothes and walk around the building chatting up people. That's all I ever saw her do.

Below that is the "Director of Student Services" or something like that. This guy works his ass off, has a mediocre basement office, but literally runs the school. What does he earn? $80,000. Anytime anyone had a question, they had to go to him. After exams, he gets a pile of USB keys, one for each exam. Takes each grade for each class and logs it, curves the grades, reports them, etc.

It's all a big scam. A big one. Tuition at this school has risen every year -- they want to build a new building (Why does a law school need a fancy building? All you need is a room and a professor). They think it will boost their "ranking." Nevermind that "ranking" doesn't do anything for the local job market, which is still stagnant, and every year new graduates enter it looking for work to pay their $150,000 in loans (at 8% interest, non-dischargeable).

This school isn't even that bad compared to the other law schools out there, namely the private ones. Even a top school like Columbia states on its own site that students will spend $250,000 for their law degree (this includes a conservative housing budget).

The only thing more mind blowing than the scam itself is that we all sit around and don't seem to care as these people eat our young alive. In fact, they worship these institutions. It's their "alma mater," after all, it's like family, isn't it? Some even DONATE to them! The federal government enables the scam by flooding the industry with easily obtained credit, with no restrictions on tuition charged, and even letting for-profit "schools" get the money if they want.

This is a racket that is in big need of disruption. Where does it start? Perception. Once we stop perceiving these degrees as meaning anything, once we stop valuing prestigious names as absolutely required, and look more at individuals themselves when hiring, the racket will die.




This reminds me of when I went to a legal symposium at a newly opened law school (UC Irvine). There were about 80 attendees sitting in a room with Aeron chairs. A lecture room with Aeron chairs, FFS. Many attendees were congratulating the Dean on the opening of the school, with more than one reference to 'that new law school smell.' This is why I can't afford to attend a real school :-(


You think that's bad? Check out NYU's Bobst library, where there are entire floors with Aeron chairs.


Aeron chairs in a place where you'd spend many, many hours studying are useful. Not for an hour-long lecture.


well you completely miss the point

the dean is a dean, because in the past he was more succesful in raising money(+ you need a ph.d), but more important is how much money you raise.

i can show you a bunch of guys whos resume consists exclusively of how much money they raised


Nonprofit institutions are not supposed to operate so exclusively on capitalist principles.


"Why does a law school need a fancy building? All you need is a room and a professor"

Or in my subject, a room, a few whiteboards, some textbooks, plenty of scrap paper, and the attention of my students, which is getting harder to get.

Something has gone wrong in the UK as well, we have a culture of checking, inspecting, compliance, data driven quality &c and all it does is increase costs.


You know, with just a room and a whiteboard you won't be able to convince parents that paying tuition is worth it. Universities need tuition, because the share of state and federal funds has dropped in the last decade.

At my university they are renovating the teaching labs, and it took them half a year to replace the tiles that had rotted off the floor of my office.


The problem is that nobody has been disrupting academia at all. Instead, everyone has chosen to disrupt job-training with for-profit job-training scams and to disrupt teaching with massive online video courses (which have rampant cheating and plagiarism problems).

I'd really love if someone could come up with a way to create a new form of nonprofit teaching and research institution not prone to the feudal staleness and scamming of real universities.

Mind, in a lot of places, they just call that a "publicly-funded university", and it often has no scamming problems at all. Still involves a stale institution and a stagnant job market, though.


It is in need of disruption, and it's a wicked problem. There's no simple solution and no easy starting point. Perception is definitely something that needs to change, but unfortunately behavior is much harder to change.

Another aspect of the problem is tenure. It is (extremely) difficult to fire a tenured professor (or admin for that matter). When things get tough universities have a hard time downsizing if necessary.

A resulting, and somewhat funny, problem is what universities tend to do with tenured professors who just aren't good at what they do anymore. What do you do when a professor with tenure isn't good at teaching or research? You promote them.


i'm sorry but i don't see tenure as a root cause problem here (unless someone can find figures saying tenured positions are growing at a rate comparable to admin).

tl;dr summary of academia: high failure rate, low salary (per unit brain power) and the only carrot on offer is that somewhere decades down the line you might get a salary that doesn't hinge on kissing up to this year's newest admin quality surge? seriously, tenure (done right, i'm not defending idiots) is the only safeguard that allows universities to fulfill their legal obligation of 'Conscience of Society'. I wish more professors had tenure and the courage to speak up against waffle and balderdash. NB Conscience of Society may be a NZ only part of the Education Act but I suspect it was borrowed from the UK system wholesale back in the day NB 2 This is playing out in NZ realtime as a scientist is being wailed on for having the temerity to point out some rather unpleasant facts about NZ's environment


Not necessarily a root cause problem, but it is still a problem that affects the quality of education and research.

Tenure was intended to allow for the things you're stating (i.e. academic freedom) without fear of backlash from donors. Unfortunately, as with all things there are downsides and one is having people who strive for tenure in order to ensure a stable job.

One thing that is a fundamental problem is how universities operate. There is inherent waste in everything that is typically done. Classes aren't designed so that the work you do amounts to anything beyond a grade for the class.

In a way, it relates to your point about perception. The perception of universities has changed because originally the university was for academics. College wasn't necessary to get a job. Now it's almost a necessity to find a decent job, but the way colleges operate aren't in a way that optimizes for that.


The problem with getting rid of tenure is that we have an up-or-out system in academia: you either rise to tenure, or you're fired. Permadoc positions would be nice, but if you eliminated tenure then academics would just become more abused, overworked corporate employees. Not because academic freedom would die, but because "if you don't publish X papers and bring in $Nx100 thousand research dollars this year, we'll get someone who will."


My college considered dropping its PE requirement back in the 70s. From what I heard, a major reason for not doing so was because all the PE teachers were tenured and couldn't be laid off.


That's unfortunate. For some reason that reminded me of high school. The AP English teacher was notorious for being considered almost crazy. Her son was a classmate of mine too and one time he decided to flip a compressed air can upside down during class and spray his own arm.

It was well-known that your performance on class work meant very little, and your only opportunity to get a good grade was to bet on the extra credit "opportunities" that arose towards the end of the year. Basically, it all depended on how much she liked you. One girl gave her a ride to the airport and her grade miraculously jumped to a 4.0 after nearly failing every assignment.

She also happened to be the chair of the AP committee, and tenured. It wasn't until well after I graduated that the school was finally able to do something about her, which amounted to having her teach non-AP courses and removing her from the committee.


PE requirement in University? It's... unusual... no?


Ga. Tech had one in the olden days when I went there. Survival swimming, which involved things such as swimming the length of the pool underwater with a brick and staying afloat for an hour. I think we had to do another PE course in addition, but that may have just been my choice.


MIT has it and a swimming test to graduate. No idea how wide spread it is


Caltech has a PE requirement.


AFAIK, it's actually significantly easier to fire administrators. My parents are both bio professors, so I've been around academia my whole life. Multiple of their friends at different schools discussed the downside of being "promoted" to a dean is that they lose their tenure. These were all private schools though.


Private universities exist.

If public universities were mismanaged and inefficient, we would see private ones providing a better product at a lower cost.


Education is not a market where perfect competition obtains (as for fungible commodities like oil or cotton or iron). Rather, it follows laws of monopolistic competition, so price doesn't automatically converge on a sensible equilibrium.


I would agree with this statement, but the prestige situation is a self ensured stagnation. You do see big private competitors such as Phoenix, but in order to compete they lose out in the prestige competition.

I think the only real disruptive players in the business timelines that Universities operate in are the technical school, but they have been around long enough to play the prestige game also.

Phoenix for example will need to operate for 100 years to even begin to sit at the table with the nostalgia crew.


Phoenix is probably does more harm than good to the for-profit or at least disruptive private college community. Their targeting of federal subsidies that often account for ~90% of their income and the stories of them doing things that basically trick low income people into spending more money than they will get from the degree give everyone a bad impression. Even if these stories are all exaggerated (which I have no reason to believe they are), they aren't entirely false and it makes people (reasonably) dubious of other for-profit schools. Someone should have made an elite for-profit school first that then expanded to what Phoenix could be.

It's like google and other companies with driver-less cars. Sure, their cars might be safer than drivers statistically, but if you get a few high profile accidents that a driver could have stopped, they will probably get swamped in bad PR and get delayed many years. Luckily, this hasn't happened.

random example from google: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/vet...


Good luck if you believe that Univ of Phoenix is a disruptor in the space and simply lacks "prestige".

That's quite an excuse. The newer University of California campuses have only been around for a few decades.


Private universities have found that there are other metrics they can compete in other than cost: ease of admissions, prestige, specialization, etc.


Public universities are hugely subsidized by the state.


You wish. It used to be that way, and it used to make up for the comparatively small endowment, but it isn't the case any longer.


In many places states are just another donor to their public universities, budget-wise.


" According to the Delta Cost Project, most of the nation’s public research universities had more than half their costs paid by tuition in 2008, and other four-year public institutions were hovering near the 50 percent mark. With three more years of tuition increases, they, too, have probably passed it, said Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the project, leaving only community colleges as mostly state-financed."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/education/24tuition.html?p...

≈50% is a fairly large amount of subsidy.


But it's not 50% subsidy, it's just 50% things other than tuition. There's also various donations and grants.


Sounds like marketing, not education ;-)


Those deanships sound like sinecures.




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