Monday, October 27, 2003

Comparative advantage 

Loyal reader Burt Dubow sends me a New York Times article on the competition for trophy professors among research institutions. This one exhibits a lot of jealousy over such outsized salaries going to research and not to teaching.
What's good for a university's reputation, however, isn't necessarily good for its students' education. Since the standing of top-rung professors, their bankable asset, depends on what they write, not how they teach, their main loyalty isn't to their students or their institution.
That's rather silly. As Adam Smith wrote, 'It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own self-interest.' And that self-interest also drives the good teachers. Some people may feel a calling to teaching, but most are motivated more by their own self-interest: a desire to stay in academia without high achievement in research. (And acting on the call to teach is an act of self-interest, not benevolence.) There isn't anything wrong with teaching-for-profit. Nor is there anything wrong with research-for-profit. Since the latter has more of a tournament feel, (q.v. this working paper as well) it's not surprising that research institutions are engaging in bidding wars for faculty.