Monday, December 17, 2007

Conglomerate: The free market and academia

Our good friends over at Sifting and Winnowing are barely out of the starting gate and they're getting some attention. The Conglomerate Blog has posted a piece talking about S&W's take on the chancellor's (future) pay package (as well as noting our views here at Mr. V), concluding:
Attracting outside talent requires the University to acknowledge the market for university presidents. Outrageous!
Well, yeah, it is, if you're interested in advancing and disseminating knowledge. I don't know him at all,* but I'm guessing that Gordon Smith, author of the Conglomerate post, believes in the power of the free market. But raw greed is seriously overvalued today. The S&W post rightly asked whether such salaries are based on performance. I'd be very interested in seeing any plausible data showing that university presidents earning 700K+ perform better than those earning a mere 250K, for example. Certainly among rank-and-file faculty, I have watched a number of departments where not particularly outstanding professors have gotten outside offers, often from pretty weak institutions, and driven their salaries up many tens of thousands of dollars above that of more active, productive and generally valuable colleagues. The outside offer game takes a tremendous toll on these people's research and teaching — it is very time-intensive to pursue such offers, for one thing.

But enough non-linguistic content. Conglomerate has a detailed story of how they arrived at their name, here, which calls to mind Nancy Friedman's fine piece on the origins of linguistics blog names. These guys chose the name for its 'businessy' sound, among other reasons. But their sense of the term is dramatically different from my own, and probably that of many readers of this blog. For me, conglomerate has a very negative ring to it. It calls to mind the buying of companies to drive up stock prices, where people got rich off manipulating markets, not by producing goods or delivering services. I'm just making a point about word meaning here, not about what's good business practice, but a similar view of conglomerates is laid out in this wikipedia entry, and also in this post on Conglomerate Monkeyshines.

If you name your forum the Conglomerate Blog, you are pretty much obligated to endorse the CEO model for university administrators' salaries.

*It appears we do share a love of cheese, though.

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