Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Now suppose for some reason prices are not allowed to ration. In the case of universities, salaries for new hires are often griped over by current faculty not only in the department the person will teach in, but in other departments. It surely grates on the new history assistant professor that the new economics assistant professor makes $15k more. So there's a tendency to shade the two salaries towards each other. (No fancy name for this; it's simply my observation over twenty years in academia.) We always teach in economics: If prices don't ration, something else will. Since positions are decided by search committees, being a good "fit" for a department becomes the criterion of choice. And this, says Robert Wright, is leading to something dire.
the fit criterion makes academic freedom a cruel joke for scholars who are not on the tenure track. Where fit is the key to getting a permanent job, one must be careful of what one says and writes. Attempts to fit are distorting scholarship and teaching. Woe to the job candidate bold enough to suggest in an interview that financiers were not uniformly pernicious, or that there is more to business history than the concept of class struggle. The academic freedom of the professoriate, in short, is purchased at the cost of the academic freedom of the untenured.The solution is to use price to allocate jobs. But IA is not impressed with that solution.
Could departments then afford to hire more tenure-track historians? Or would the money simply go elsewhere? That is, would university administration simply take the money saved on salaries and put it into faculty recruitment in other departments, new buildings, technology upgrades and the like?Around here, we call the reallocation of that money "the snowplowing fund". But the presumption is that the current salary of history assistant professors is somehow a measure of their value. By what metric do you make that measurement?
Would this really tend to raise the value of history PhDs, or would it rather tend toward a further devalution?
Remember, once more, all scarce goods get rationed somehow. If you don't want to use price/salary, and you don't want to use "fit", and you don't want to use job security/tenure ... How do you allocate scarce jobs?