Should unproductive academics be made redundant?

Below you will find the sort of rage-filled rant that comes from academics who have not shown academic excellence. The "publish or perish" rule is a demanding one (though I never found it so) but a more objective way of assessing intellectual excellence has yet to be found. And if a university is not about intellectual excellence, what is it about?

The claim below that intellectual productivity is "philistine" shows by itself what a confused thinker the author is. He sounds like one of the "Theorists" who tend to infest English Departments these day.

It is certainly true that some good teachers are inactive in research but they should not be in a research-intensive institution. You can be good at both research and teaching and a university is right to demand that

How to assess academic productivity? At Sydney University, the question couldn't be more relevant: in November, management announced that it had made a serious budgetary mistake and would slash underperforming staff in order to pursue IT and building improvements. Although officially, research is only 40 per cent of academics' responsibilities, management retrospectively introduced a new performance test, just to purge staff. Anyone who hadn't published at least four articles in less than three years was threatened. This basic violation of natural justice was astonishing, particularly from managers who continually profess their commitment to high-minded, progressive values.

Like other workplaces, universities have performance management processes. These, not redundancy, are the answer to underperformance. But how to respond to a failure of management?

The cuts have provoked an outcry. With its simplistic measures, how will Sydney maintain research quality, when the finest researchers couldn't possibly teach and publish consistently at the rate administrators demand? How can management sack staff with classrooms already so crowded?

Sydney's administrators have not been so different from their counterparts elsewhere. Administrators everywhere are trying to shrink their already overstretched academic workforces. Universities, apparently, just don't need academics.

Talk of values such as productivity serves to justify managers' failure to promote the conditions necessary for universities to function. Local managerialism is the polar opposite of world's best practice - such as in the US Ivy League - and shows parallels with the disastrous financialisation of the global economy.

University technocrats are the equivalent of the regulators whose negligence caused the GFC. Just as markets favoured complex financial instruments far removed from commodities, so too universities have been alienated from their basic rationale by an ascendancy of executives hostile to the principles that should govern academic communities: respect for students and staff; research unfettered by philistine "productivity" requirements; security of academic tenure; uncasualised labour; low student-staff ratios. These are the ways to guarantee academic "productivity", rather than its bureaucratic substitutes.

It is the managers who are unproductive. Systemic managerial failures are compromising quality.



  1. Thanks for the link - I tend to avoid Fairfax to avoid indigestion. This stuff is priceless. The use of language betrays the post-modern leftist sense of entitlement. Each sentence seems to contain a keyword which rings alarm bells for this reader. It was no surprise to note the faculty affiliations. Sad to see the current reality at my alma mater where I was an academic, and which was once a University in the true sense.

    Publish or perish is all the go of course and at least it shows activity, but sadly it fills the academic journals with so much useless crud, which nobody bothers to read. It does not lead to advances in knowledge. The very best ('Ivy League') research universities generally make appointments on the quality of research output.

    Let me have a little dig at psychologists and related academics. As you indicated publish or perish is no problem for fields like that. Just a questionnaire and a spreadsheet and job done. In much of climate science the mediocre just endlessly reprocess data series produced by others. All you need is a workstation. It takes much longer to actually build experimental gear and collect data in many other fields, especially in (serious) sciences and engineering. Publishing now consists of papers recycling essentially useless variations on what might even be valuable work. The crud collects in the unread journals.

    Hence I believe quality of research must be paramount. I think it was an 'Ivy League' question for a researchers to give only their best three papers for evaluation purposes. That sure exposes the mediocre with several hundred publications! Think Albert Einstein and his era.


  2. Sometimes you need quantity to get quality
    The most famous piece of Japanese art is "The wave" by Hokusai
    Hokusai did 19,000 (approx.) paintings all told


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