By Richard Vedder
The startling data that Whiz Kid Matt Denhart and I revealed the other day on the salary growth of presidents of private institutions of higher education suggest several things --colleges don't care much about teaching, they are taking federal research dollars and diverting them for private gain, etc. But they also hint that implicitly university presidents are working on commission -- the more research grant money they raise, the bigger the salary payoff.
Presidents at the universities receiving the greatest amounts of federal research dollars got the largest raises; schools with moderate amount of research dollars received generous but smaller raises, while presidents at lowly liberal arts colleges received small raises. The salary differential between the big research university presidents and the liberal arts college presidents grew markedly. Why is putting your attention to getting research dollars more important than improving the quality of the teaching product at a teaching institution? The reason is simple: universities get easily measurable dollars from research grants, but better teaching is hard to measure and does not have financial rewards, because it is increasingly a loss leader that some universities offer almost reluctantly to provide some rationale for alumni donations and some non-research federal grants. The real name of the game is research --actually the real name of the game is MONEY.
I remember when I was teaching at a top flight liberal arts college and the economics chairman at Stanford told me he was sending his son to the college I taught at because it took teaching, advising, and nurturing young undergraduate minds seriously, something far from the thoughts of most senior Stanford faculty. Yet the Stanfords of the world are getting the huge financial rewards, while the teaching schools are leading a life of genteel prosperity, not starving to death my any means but not sharing in the big bucks financed by third party payments that are being captured by the major research universities.
P.J. O'Rourke once wrote a book entitled Parliament of Whores, humorously analyzing how politicians scrounge for dollars rather than weigh the evidence and follow principles. In America, it looks like we have An Academy of Whores, with our governments rewarding those academic hookers (the researchers) and their pimps (the college presidents) who grab the most dollars much more than those who do a good job of educating kids. All of this is aggravated by the fact that teaching is hard to measure very well anyway given the lack of performance testing in American universities.