Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tipping professors

Daniel Drezner discusses a proposal that essentially allows graduating seniors to tip professors. Well, it's a bit more complicated, but essentially it's a scheme that allows students to anonymously allocate funds to professors who they think have been doing a good job. Because we all know that professors love to be praised for competence.

The first comment champions the scheme, framing teaching as a service transaction in which the professor plays the role of the student:
Your second objection is that it is unseemly to be rewarded for a good job. It's a good thing you teach PolySci and not Econ. You may not be aware of this, but the teacher-student relationship is not one of authority, but employee. Yes, that's right, the teacher WORKS FOR THE STUDENTS. Who is in a better position to judge his employee's performance? As any anyone who has ever taken a class after graduation strictly to learn something will tell you, the value of a teacher is how well he teaches, not the grade. Those immature students who don't get it cannot possibly foul up the system worse than it already is.
This is a common misconception. Check the funding of any public university and you'll find that tuition pays only a small percentage of faculty salaries. The lion's share comes from state and federal monies. So if we want to think of academics as a service industry, the "employers" are actually the taxpayers, not the students, and the "service" involves providing quality education that meets state and federal goals rather than individual goals. In this context, the notion of tipping professors becomes really incoherent. :: Daniel W. Drezner :: A post in which I go against my material self-interest

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Alan Rudy said...

Here! Here! And if the "employers" are taxpayers (read: society) then our responsibility is clearly not only to meet state and federal goals and standards but to produce active citizens and productive workers.

One thing you don't note, however, is that under these conditions students - given their neophyte status and need for training - are rarely in the best position to judge a teacher's performance... which raises real questions about the importance many Research II and teaching universities/colleges put on student evaluations.

Moreover, y/our perspective raises some fairly important questions about the pursuit of private research funds and technology transfer agreements when our "employers" are taxpayers in general rather than students and corporations in particular. Most folks promoting university-industry relations assume a variation of trickle down economics and a conflation of private and public interests.

As always, thanks for the provocation.

Charles Nelson said...

At one time, the lion's share was paid by state and federal agencies, but I'm not sure that's true anymore. Although I don't know statistics for federal monies, with respect to state monies, for example, the Chronicle of Higher Ed reported this year that New Jersey had dropped support to about 20% of the operating budget for a state university, and hazily I recall this drop as a nationwide trend.