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Academics Not Productive Enough? Sack 'em

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the wish-I-could-sack-'em-for-being-poor-teachers dept.

Education 356

ananyo writes "One hundred academics at the University of Sydney, Australia, have this week been told they will lose their jobs for not publishing frequently enough. The move is part of a wider cost-cutting plans designed to pay for new buildings and refurbishment to the university. Letters were posted to researchers on Monday 20 February, informing them their positions were being terminated because they hadn't published at least four 'research outputs' over the past three years. It is unclear which research fields the academics work in. Another 64 academics were told they had a choice between leaving and moving to a teaching-only position, he said."

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That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135765)

So if they were to publish more to make up for a quota, wouldn't that'd lower the quality a bit?

Re:That'll work well. (5, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135781)

Yes. Any questions?

Re:That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135817)

Of course not. How could quality be going down if the metric we are using because it is easy and convenient is going up? That would be difficult to model and therefore unthinkable. Why, it might even require me to have some subject-matter knowledge in the areas that my human resources do! I am way too focused on lining my bookshelf with copies of books about management fads for shit like that.

Re:That'll work well. (1)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135999)

Be sure to republish with a new cover and changed word yearly.

Re:That'll work well. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135829)

I'd recommend a study on it. Seriously, right now unless you want to lose your job.

Re:That'll work well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135867)

First of all you can have a standard of what kind of journal/conference to publish to. Either that's based on ISI indexing or impact factor or other metrics. I don't think requiring a fixed number of "research outputs" is the way to go. A better idea would be to plot a histogram of outputs and give the ones which are constantly in the last 10-20% warnings to improve this metric. This would lead to more work being published, and of course you get to set where it should be done.

It's my opinion that if you work in academia and don't publish at least one paper a year you should probably be doing something else(either to another field which leads to results, not just food for thought or to another job).

Re:That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136009)

It's my opinion that if you work in academia and don't publish at least one paper a year you should probably be doing something else(either to another field which leads to results, not just food for thought or to another job).

Yeah, I hear that guy Andrew Wiles [] spent 7 years not publishing any papers. Oxford stupidly put up with that instead of canning has ass at year 2, and they've gotten nothing but disrepute ever since. I mean has anyone ever heard of Wiles? Has he published anything of note at all? Oxford definitely would have been better off without him.

Re:That'll work well. (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135899)

In general, I'd agree, but publishing just over one paper per year shouldn't be hard for any moderately competent researcher. At the very least, they can publish something saying 'we tried this approach, and now we can show why it's a bad idea'.

Re:That'll work well. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135941)

But which is more productive - writing up "this failed" for publication or getting to work on the next project? I'm a little biased here in that I'm a mathematician, so negative results are generally of the form "I wasn't able to show what I wanted to but still believe the conjecture is true/now believe it to be false.

Re:That'll work well. (5, Interesting)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136035)

In the short run you are better just continuing with the next approach. However if all the people keep publishing said "failures" and constantly look for other researchers' failures then in the long run, everyone does more research because they know what attempts are going to fail beforehand.

Ideally, researchers would also publish the attempt when they get started on it s.t. there aren't too many people working on the same approach but then you need to factor in the fact that an approach might be to tough for a researcher in which case he should let someone else do it. (Of course, this also assumes that all people are honest and their skills perfectly quantifiable which is obviously wrong)

Re:That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136111)

This isn't necessarily an "either/or" senario. Writting up negative results is just as important as writing up positive ones. That way other researchers in the field know what not to try. My bias comes from the life sciences, where a lack of expected response to a product is just as important as its presence. You may not want to go out and write up a full journal article, and instead go the route of presenting an abstract at a relevent conference, but that still counts as a 'research output' most places, even if it is of lesser impact than a journal article.

We academics are hired to perform a job, and as much of a PITA as publication can be, it is one of the major job requirements. Not doing a part of your job well enough is definitely grounds for termination, assuming the academic didn't have some sort of tenure protections.

Re:That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

PlatyPaul (690601) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136305)

Speaking as a computer scientist: negative results in my field are massively discounted, unless you are proving impossibility. Producing a less accurate image feature, or a less effective scheduling algorithm, is not generally considered publish-worthy.

Re:That'll work well. (4, Insightful)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136137)

But which is more productive - writing up "this failed"

Writing up "this failed" is absolutely just as (if not more) productive. Too many published papers are "this works" and not "this didn't work". A huge part of science, mathematics, etc. is failing and then explaining how and why you failed.

What's the worst that can happen? "Oh noes, Professor Straya tried a completely logical methodology but it didn't work out?" The only fear is to be exposed as incompetent (contaminated experiment, bad methodology, etc.) and that's a good thing as well.

Re:That'll work well. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135951)

Good luck getting something like that published for example in Computer Science. Reviewers won't even bother reading past the abstract. "No significant contribution", "nothing novel", etc.

Re:That'll work well. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135973)

Researchers only publish positive results. Makes for real good science.

Re:moderately competent researcher (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136065)

(Checks the Article hoping to avoid a blunder)

Did anyone else catch the irony that in an article about "not publishing enough research", they ... didn't do any research? Unless I'm missing something on the confidentiality side, someone has the list of letters sent, right? So then that's column 1 on the spreadsheet. So then you go to the Faculty Listing, and ... wait for it... it becomes clear which fields the academics worked in, right?

So then do I get to write my Paper in the Psychology of Deliberately Obfuscating Data or in Journalism/Economics of Speed of News vs Quality of News? So there's my Paper, so I get to Keep My Job, right?

Sigh: And we wonder why we can never get people to pay for content.

Re:That'll work well. (3, Interesting)

godrik (1287354) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136069)

I agree with you. The point of OP remains. forcing people to have a publication count won't solve anything. Close to the deadline, people will start submitting crappy papers until they pass the quota.

You can not put a simple counting rule to administrate people whose job is to understand, develop and bypass models. Researcher are the less suitable people for being subject to this type of rules.

Re:That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136073)

What about:

First year: "We have built up this experiment, and we are now collecting data."
Second year: "We are still in the process of collecting data; up to now we haven't seen anything interesting."
Third year: "We are still in the process of collecting data; up to now we haven't seen anything interesting."

No journal would publish any of that.

However, the following would make the headlines if the researcher hadn't been fired due to three years without publication:
Fourth year: "We have proof for superluminal supersymmetric magnetic monopoles!"

Yes, I'm exaggerating. But the point is, some things just need time.

The right thing to do if someone has few publications is not saying "sorry, you've got too few publications, you're fired" but to ask "you've got very few publications, what are you doing?" And only if he can't give a good answer to that, firing him is justified.

Re:That'll work well. (5, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136229)

Most conferences will publish method and interm report abstracts. Many journals will also publish novel method papers.

Re:That'll work well. (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136193)

It sounds like they're counting more than just papers. "Research output" sounds like it includes abstracts as well. Any non-tenured prof would probably get the sack if his 5 year review came up and he'd published so little.

Re:That'll work well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136195)

If it's a cost-cutting approach, then maybe we should assume published papers generates revenue for the university.
If it were simply a matter of the research doing something productive, then in their dry streaks they could do part-time teaching or grade homework to provide relief to full-time teachers.

What I don't get is you have a university full of students. Hopefully students with fresh ideas. Someone must have an idea to help deal with the budget deficit. Why not ask them for innovative strategies dealing with such financial issues? Another hope is that the people, who are financially well off, to donate to the university, even if it's just a little bit of money.

Re:That'll work well. (3, Interesting)

j33px0r (722130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136205)

One of the expectations when hired in many academia roles is to publish papers. If you don't want to publish papers then perhaps you should be taking on a different career or different position. If you are hired on as an assistant/associate professor at a major university, they will often only assign you 2-3 courses to teach per semester with summer courses being extra money in your pocket. Teaching 2-3 courses per semester is a part-time job and they are not typically paying you to be a member of a professional organization.

With that being said, firing someone because their articles were not in the "Top Five" journals of their field is a little ridiculous if you consider how many universities, professors, and researchers are out there. Those journals can only handle so many articles, and even then the articles must align with the theme of the issue.

Re:That'll work well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136219)

Depends on the field. In bioinformatics you can easy publish multiple papers in a year. In high energy physics, not so much. In biology, the mice take about 3 months to bred one generation, and you may need multiple generations. And lets not forget the required paperwork for getting permission to bred said mice, let alone the experiment. This also assumes the experiment works the first time.

Ok, now lets ignore those issues and say you actually got publishable results. The review process can be brutally short - 2 weeks and a clean rejection - or frustratingly long - 3 months and requiring you to run more experiments before reconsidering the rejection. Also remember there is a minimization process of trying to publish in the highest impact journals (Science, Nature) but not wasting time working your way down the scale until it finally gets published. (Jim Bob's Big Journal O' Science will accept anything, but no one is going to read it.) And since most journals have their own format for everything every rejection requires more rewrites and reformatting. There is also the current view in the (biological at least) community that negative results are useless.

-A physicist pretending to do biology.

Re:That'll work well. (2)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135959)

"Publish or Perish" has been a part of academia for as long as I can remember (in the U.S. anyway). When I was in academia, it was the ONLY way to get tenure. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of bad stuff like profs cooking numbers and fabricating sources just to get an article out of it and insisting on putting their names as co-authors on all their grad students' papers (even if they didn't write a word).

Re:That'll work well. (1)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136135)

Did you ever do research that wasn't heavily directed by your professor? I haven't. I've never listed my prof as a co-author but I would've had no qualms about doing so. Actually putting words on paper was the easy part. I also wouldn't hesitate to put the more helpful members of my research team as co-authors. We didn't do that in computer science at my university but both practices were commonplace for the education department where my wife went to grad school.

Re:That'll work well. (5, Insightful)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136157)

...insisting on putting their names as co-authors on all their grad students' papers (even if they didn't write a word)

Not sure what the problem is here. Maybe it's because of the field you are in, but in my field (animal science) it is expected that your major advisor be on every manuscript. Usually becasue they played a major role in designing the experiment, procuring the funding, and paying the students stipend. My advisor's primariy contribution to the writing process of my manuscripts was as an editor, but he definitely made "meaningful intellectual contributions" to the research projects described, which has always been the bar for co-authorship in my opinion.

Re:That'll work well. (2)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136295)

I'm going to throw a Car Analogy out here:

Old guy walks back into bank, waits in line and when he gets to teller, asks her to validate his parking stub. She tells him no so he steps aside and requests to speak to bank manager. When manager comes over he informs them that he's closing his accounts (plural) with the bank due to poor customer service for the refusal to validate the parking stub he'd forgot to have done when he was first in. Same teller. Manager discovers that said customer holds account in excess of 5million, then begs him to remain with the bank. Sorry but the quality of customer service has gone to hell here over the last 10 years.

What'll happen is that one of the people they've fired brings in 30-50 percent of all research funding yet they've never published? Well they've now lost all of that funding along with all of the projects because the funding owns the hardware that is being used in the research. Can they now afford to pay for the building upgrades/repairs? Not likely since they just lost a major source of money for that.

Re:That'll work well. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135983)

I suggest they quickly create the following papers supported and published by all academics at the U.S.A.
1) Does publishing more papers lower their quality?
2) Is using quantity a good metric to judge academics?
3) Does using quantity as a metric produce more useless papers?
4) Do professors and academics in teaching-only position lose touch with their field and does it affect their teaching abilities?
5) profit?

Re:That'll work well. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136099)

There is a very old saying specific to this: Publish or perish.

In academia, we don't say. . . (5, Funny)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135773)

. . ."publish or perish" just because we appreciate alliteration.

Re:In academia, we don't say. . . (4, Funny)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135923)

And for people outside academia, here's the obligatory SMBC [] ...

Re:In academia, we don't say. . . (4, Informative)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136289)

The dilemma with "publish or perish" is that the metric is stupid. Saying its "Do your job or get fired" is all well and good, but it is more akin to being a programmer and the sole measure of "doing your job" is "number of lines of code written (including comments)" -- it's frustrating because it encourages and rewards what most would consider "doing your job badly".

Re:In academia, we don't say. . . (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135961)

RTFAing for some extra discussion material, it looks like they were told even as recently as late last year that producing only four publications every five years would be acceptable. The University is guzzling funds in construction projects instead, at the cost of its academic integrity and ability to attract researchers. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like kickbacks are involved. Unfortunately, like here in Canada, Australia has no functioning critical apparatus and outing people for corruption is simply something that is not done, unlike in the US.

publish shit! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135777)

Publish any shit you can! That's the best way! unfortunately, that's how academica works.

Re:publish shit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135863)

Let's start a new journal, "Journal of Useless Publications" where the acceptance criterion is that the authors cited at least three other papers from that journal (the first three publications are not subject to that requirement). The journal is peer reviewed, of course.

After the researchers have fulfilled the formal criteria by publishing something in that journal, they can continue their normal research.

Re:publish shit! (4, Informative)

ArieKremen (733795) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135905)

Already Exists: The Journal of Irreproducible Results (

Re:publish shit! (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135977)

You may want to call it something more subtle than that so that the board doesn't get immediately suspicious—how about the Journal of Applied Numerology?

As the old saying goes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135779)

"Publish or perish."

Sewage (1)

DarkXale (1771414) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135783)

I thought I smelled something awful.

in other news (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135789)

papers put forward by australians for the ignoble award are expected to increase rapidly

Game show? (5, Funny)

owenferguson (521762) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135791)

Surely they could make this into some sort of a reality TV gameshow. "So you think you can publish!" People from the general public could read the various works, and vote by phone for who gets kicked out...

Re:Game show? (0)

Night64 (1175319) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135813)

Please please please mod parent up!

Good riddance (3, Interesting)

SirBitBucket (1292924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135797)

There are far too many in "accedemia" who just get tenure and do nothing. How about schools focus on TEACHING, specifically undergrads.... Universities these days just worry about publishing and other things that get them grants, but don't care too much about the students, especially the undergrads, which is all the degree most of them are going to get... Put people out in their field and they will learn far more in a week than in a semester of school.

Re:Good riddance (5, Funny)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135889)

There are far too many in "accedemia" [...] How about schools focus on TEACHING

Based on the evidence presented before me, I feel inclined to agree.

Re:Good riddance (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135913)

You get what you pay for. Academics are paid to publish, and (to a lessor extent) get good student ratings.

Doesn't make sense. (4, Insightful)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135953)

So, how exactly will firing professors for not publishing "enough" encourage professors to care more about students and teaching, and less about publishing?

Re:Doesn't make sense. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136225)

It won't. Clearly. But you are missing the point.

The whole publish or perish paradigm is set up because publishing professors typically have a stronger ability to get grants, which then help fund the university (which typically takes a portion of the grant money into a more general fund). Grant givers almost always look at the publication record of the applicants, and those who are publishing more are MUCH more likely to get the grant. And yes, this is even in cases where supposedly the grants are given 'blind'. Well-known authors in any field develop a distinct style and those who are familiar with the field are likely to recognize that style. Thus grants are given to people who are already productive.

In the end, science research as funded via universities is a bit of a circular situation and it's all a bit self-congratulatory for the people at the top of their field. Which is of course why anyone wanting to do research in a field needs to attach themselves to one of the top researchers during under-grad/graduate years, so that they get the chance to be 2nd (or 3rd or 5th) author on a number of papers published by the BIGNAME. Then after they do that for a while, they get to be first author and BIGNAME moves to last author, but their names become strongly associated, and eventually the rising star gets to move into their own celebrity status, while the BIGNAME just keeps getting more recognition.

If I sound bitter, it may be because this is system is hardly designed to foster innovation, and is hardly conducive to outsiders being brought in. The real rule is conformity to the status quo. If you start out trying to make your own name, or trying to publish things that go against the grain, then you will get quietly ignored by the publishers. Personally, I'm no longer in research, and I'm just as well off gone from that particular insanity.

I have a good friend who has a PhD in astrophysics, but because all he really wants to do is teach, no one will ever know much about him. Will he ever make some great discovery about astrophysics? LIkely not, even though he's as intelligent as any person you'll likely meet. But because he has a passion for passing on the knowledge he has to new students of physics rather than spend years fiddling around with galactic simulations, he'll likely always have lower pay than most professors, and he'll likely never get mentioned as an important figure in astrophysics. And let's be honest, saying, "I inspired thousands of students to continue learning about physics" sounds trite and boring, but saying "I figured out why some stars go supernova and others don't" sounds much more 'important'. Honestly though, the professors that teach the rising students the basic grounding in a subject so that *the new students* of a subject can go on and make important discoveries are the ones that deserve a lot of credit. The professors that ignore students that aren't actively doing research *with them* are often (not always) doing little more than polishing an already sparkly name. Yes, they bring in money for the universities. Yes, the research they do is *often* important, and yes, we need people who are willing to do real research. Yet, at the end of the day, if we don't have people who are competent at actually *teaching*, then we are going to eventually get ourselves into trouble when all the students decide to go get an MBA so they can actually make a decent living.

Don't you have that backwards? (5, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135957)

The professors who follow your advice and focus on teaching rather than publishing make up the bulk of the people being fired here (plus a few slackers who neither teach well nor publish). The ones being kept are the ones who can get grants and crank out papers like printing press, and most likely treat students as a low priority.

Re:Don't you have that backwards? (1)

garaged (579941) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136097)

You've been a Graduate student, aren't you?

Re:Don't you have that backwards? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136171)

Well, yes... perhaps the good riddance was out of place because of which profs would get fired. Bigger point is the lack of EDUCATION in most universities...

Re:Don't you have that backwards? (1)

Phydidus (2479128) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136187)

The professors who follow your advice and focus on teaching rather than publishing make up the bulk of the people being fired here

Which is exactly what the parent comment is complaining about. Sacking people who probably focus on teching and don't bother publishing. However, I do agree that if a professor wants focus solely on teaching, he should get a teaching only position, which the University on the post seems to be offering for a few of them.

Re:Don't you have that backwards? (5, Insightful)

mx+b (2078162) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136251)

Indeed. I recently interviewed for professor positions. I often seem to get blank/unimpressed expressions when I describe that my interest is teaching, making a good connection with students, and researching teaching methods to make my work more effective and beneficial to students. Personally, I love it. Fun job, and while my students don't believe me, I often learn as much as they do. It's wonderful to view subjects with fresh eyes, vicariously through my students. It also forces me to re-evaluate my own understanding when answering questions. I find it much more satisfying profession that research or industry work.

The come back to this statement is usually "Well what research did you do for your doctorate, what research are you in now? What papers do you have published? Do you have industry experience?". I usually tell them the relevant info, followed by "...but that's not my primary interest, I enjoy working with students better than working in a lab".

That never seems to go over well so far, but I feel like I need to stick to my guns on this subject. Universities and colleges should be focused on the students. This doesn't mean you can't do research part of the time, but students are what pay the bills, and ultimately I want enough students to come after me to continue any work I start long after I'm gone. What's the point of all of our hard work in research if we do not have a next generation to pass it to? If the next generation cannot understand it or further the research? In any case, I definitely feel like its harder to get in the door if you aren't obsessively focused on research.

Quick Anecdote: I remember during graduate school, most of the professors that were "well-known" effectively ignored me and did their best not to give me time and answer questions or help in any manner. They just gave commandments about what to do in lab for them so they could publish more papers and get their name thrown around more; if you're lucky, they might include you as a co-author. My favorite professors, the ones I actually sat and had conversation with and learned what I know now from, were the ones that spent a lot of time on teaching, but in conversation I found out they constantly had to justify their existence to the bean-counters in the administration office; being a teacher or even doing teaching research wasn't enough. They had to come up with all sorts of things -- faculty sponsor of club/organization, etc. -- to prevent themselves from ending up on the chopping block. And now i find myself in the same situation. It's a sad state of affairs, really. Why can't we be allowed to do our job without side project interference?

Re:Don't you have that backwards? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136307)

Bull. If you're focusing on teaching you probably have a teaching position and aren't expected to publish. If you've got a research position you're supposed to be doing research, i.e. supervising grad students. If you do a good job, they'll write papers, which is good for them and good for you.

There are too many professors who are poor supervisors and their students aren't productive. Not publishing hurts a professor, but it hurts his students more.

Re:Good riddance (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136029)

Yeah, that's bullshit. For starters, a scientist can contribute to the scientific output of his laboratory/department even without having his name in the author's list. Secondly, experiments can fail - there is no guarantee associated with scientific experiments, and failure is comonplace, and part of scientific life. Thirdly, not all research takes the same amount of time to complete. Some takes longer, other takes less time, and the papers produced could be numerous or very few per unit time. Finally, forcing people into publishing or losing their jobs will achieve the unwanted result of having lots of mediocre papers, instead of a few good ones.

Re:Good riddance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136079)

I can't speak for other fields, but if I wouldn't manage to publish four papers in three years, I would quit myself.
My job as an assistant professor at a university consists of three things: 1) getting funding for my research,
2) do research and publish, and 3) teach courses. If you work at a university, you have to be good at all these things,
because if you want to train people to be researchers, you have to be a researcher yourself.

Also, the reason people are being fired, is (according to TFA) that income from student fees is dropping. This probably means
that the amount of students is dropping. In that case, it kind of makes sense to keep the people on board that have the potential
to bring in money. This means, through grants.

Re:Good riddance (4, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136103)

The purpose of modern universities is not to teach students. They are businesses which make money by providing a resort town to 20-somethings, runing minor-league professional sports teams, and doing scientific research. The whole "education" thing is just a method of attracting 20-somethings to their resort, and publishing attracts more students than good classes do.

Re:Good riddance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136143)

You left out the "/sarcasm" at the end of your rant.

Re:Good riddance (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136177)

Universities these days just worry about publishing and other things that get them grants, but don't care too much about the students, especially the undergrads, which is all the degree most of them are going to get...

Hint hint, it's because publishing gets grants. Grants get accolades. Accolades bring in donators. Donators + Grants = $$$$. How many universities actually care about teaching their students and how many care about meeting the bare minimum requirements in order to keep the gravy train rolling?/p.

Re:Good riddance (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136283)

Universities aren't for teaching undergrads. They're for doing research and giving undergrads a chance to learn as part of that process. If you're an undergrad who doesn't intend to go to grad school and you want to be spoon fed, find a college with a good university transfer agreement.

Not that a good professor shouldn't be able to teach, but the primary function of a university is not to pour knowledge into undergraduate heads.

I've got tenure, suckers! (3, Funny)

in10se (472253) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136313)

One of my favorite Futurama scenes:

Mayor Poopenmayer: Professor Wernstrom, can you save my city?
Professor Wernstrom: Of course, but it'll cost you. First, I'll need tenure.
Mayor Poopenmayer: Done.
Professor Wernstrom: And a big research grant.
Mayor Poopenmayer: You got it.
Professor Wernstrom: Also, access to a lab, and five graduate students, at least three of them Chinese.
Mayor Poopenmayer: All right, done. What's your plan?
Professor Wernstrom: What plan? I'm set for life. Au revoir, suckers!
Leela: That rat! Do something!
Mayor Poopenmayer: I wish I could, but he's got tenure.

Re:Good riddance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136319)

And there are many who do publish who don't get tenure simply because the spots are occupied already by 'dead wood'
hacking out life until retirement.
It really frustrates me!
To those of us who are employable though the whole discussion is a little amusing: I'm 2 years into a 3 year contract and - basically - I'd have to do something major-bad to have it terminated before then as the money has being awarded & getting somebody else to take over is possible, but really difficult. Still if I don't publish (articles, books [maybe], give high-level courses, do Tech-Tx or present at conferences) then I won't get the contract renewed at my current institute and others will be very reluctant to take me on.
At least when you do publish it creates a very transparent record of achievement

PS: Maybe the fired academics could take some administrators (as in the financial management sense, not the computer) with them on the way out?

Tenure (3, Insightful)

Relayman (1068986) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135805)

That's why we have tenure in the United States. "Publish or perish" exists until the professor gets tenure and then it's not as much as an issue any more.

Re:Tenure (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135825)

I thought we had tenure to better prevent students from learning from apathetic and burned out professors.

Re:Tenure (4, Interesting)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135873)

Or to prevent mixing whackos with experts breaking ground in radical directions. That is what tenure is supposed to grant, the freedom and protection to go iin new directions or challenge conventional paradigms without fear of being discarded for going against the status quo.

But just like many well intended benefits of track record and experience (see also social security), it became interpretted by many as the start of a good paying and low effort pension.

Re:Tenure (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135897)

Yes; instead it ensures that they learn from apathetic and chronically absent professors. In some Canadian university departments we actually have a system of accountability for lecturers based on students' opinions; in the CS department where I'm doing my undergrad, a Scantron-based survey is incorporated into the decision to give raises. Even tenured bigshots who rake in huge multi-million dollar medical grants are prone. I've seen other departments also send out a round of automated e-mail when considering professors for tenure. The whole system works wonders for preventing the kinds of abuses and irregularities that might occur elsewhere.

Re:Tenure (1)

garaged (579941) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136141)

That would have the same results in Mexico than the autralian way of evaluating, a lot of people being fired

Re:Tenure (1)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135857)

It Tenure what makes schools in the United States so affordable and so superior to those in other countries?
Or is it something more?

Re:Tenure (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135917)

No, that would be the incredibly well-funded sporting programmes. Obviously.

Re:Tenure (3, Insightful)

sohmc (595388) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135929)

I'm not an academic but my understanding of tenure is to allow the professor to publish topics that may be controversial. That way, the school can't dump the professor for publishing something that goes against the grain.

Of course, professors are still human and many of them abuse tenure but I'm sure there are professors that actually use the protection that tenure provides them to do extraordinary work that otherwise might have gotten them fired for not toeing the university line. (The easiest examples that comes to mind is global warming, creationism, etc.)

Re:Tenure (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136125)

...extraordinary work that otherwise might have gotten them fired for not toeing the university line. (The easiest examples that comes to mind is global warming, creationism, etc.)

You seem to be using the word "extraordinary" to mean abnormal. In regular usage, the word usually has a different meaning, which would suggest something positive comes out of this.

Re:Tenure (1)

charon69 (458608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135967)

Here's what I don't understand: Why is tenure necessary? What is different about academia such that teachers require "protection"?

And if someone does choose to respond to my post, please keep the vitriol down. Both of my parents were high school teachers. I've been around teachers for an extremely long time. I understand that they work much longer hours than just regular school hours. I understand that they take money out of their own pockets for school supplies. I know all the hardships. That's fine.

So, I repeat: What is different about teaching such that it requires tenure?

I live in a "Right to Work" state, i.e. a "we can fire you for any reason and, as long as we don't tell you that reason, you have no legal recourse" state. Everybody I know functions in this *absolutely no protection* environment, and we all do fine. Sure, sometimes somebody gets screwed over by the system. But in general, skilled labor is required to fill most positions such as engineering, software development, etc. Businesses don't just go off and clear out their entire staff on a whim, even though they can, because it would be disastrous for the business.

How is the same thing not true for teaching? You keep the good teachers. You fire the bad teachers. You get on with life.

You can even feel the tone of the original submitter. How there is an implicit denunciation of the firing of academics. But if you switched out the profession and said, "100 software developers were fired for not meeting coding deadlines", would anybody here even bat an eye?

I just don't get it. And, seriously, if I'm missing something, please explain it to me.

Re:Tenure (4, Informative)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136109)

the purpose of tenure is to protect professors who do research into controversial and unpopular topics and ideas, it's a counterweight against groupthink and peer pressure

like any other program or institution it can be abused by some, however measures to counter such abuse need to be in proportion to the prevalence of said abuse and ideally would not introduce excessive complexity, as complexity usually just leaves more room for abuse

Re:Tenure (1)

garaged (579941) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136223)

From what I know about it for having been graduate student a few year ago, this is an elite, seriously, in a bad way if you want it too, but it is.

People spend a lot of time and effort to join a little group that know a lot of something and can keep digging further about it. That means they also want to be treated special, most of them will never be rich, but at least will make enough money to secure a good living for them and their kids.

Kids, that is another interesting story, divorce ratings are really high in academia, so parents want to compensate, and also might feel guilty because of the problems their kids have ( a lot, believe me), and most of the money they are getting is not from wage, but from bonuses, so a good effort needs to be done so they can keep up.

I can go on with this, but you get the idea.

Re:Tenure (3, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136237)

The simple answer is that academia is powered by a completely different mindset, one where—at least officially and romantically—the importance of ideas exceeds the importance of an individual or organization. As sohmc said [] , the point is to protect intellectuals from being fired because their ideas are radical or unfashionable. Tenure gives professors a chance to go off the beaten path without fear of reprisal, and it's delayed to make sure that they're worth their salt and can contribute in a socially accepted way as well.

If you want to get right down to it, the "right to work" model you outlined simply does not scale to universities, because their core business is obtaining the truth, and that really is a matter of resolving many conflicting and shady theories until they are all completely disentangled and the right answer is found. Teaching is ancillary, a service offered to the general public through which society is benefited by their work. Publishing is only an indirect measure. It's not business or economically sensible (unlike high school teaching); it's a post-scarcity blue-skies fantasy that gained protected status as a result of trial, error, and a lot of rich people very long ago who were convinced that it was a good idea.

What you expected to find is much closer to private sector R&D, where every paycheque comes from the lifeblood of the company and must hence be carefully weighed against each researcher's profitability. Despite the harsh reality of grant-seeking and paper-publishing, academia at its core is still imagined to be about doing the right thing, and any professor worth his or her education knows this.

It's still a business (1)

bigbangnet (1108411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135847)

Sorry but a university still act like a business. Even if they receive funds from the government, you'd be pretty stupid to think they only like on that type of funds. If they can't make money in any way, they will have to do something about it. So a school today is just like a business. As we all know businesses needs funds, cash and a lot more...just like a business. It also needs public attention which helps with all the above.

on the bright side, there not the only one doing this so this not new after all lol.

Dare I say... (3, Interesting)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135853)

Good? If you're not teaching full-time then you'd better be publishing. If you're not teaching or publishing, what the hell are you doing? A hard quota on papers-per-time-period seems like a terrible idea, but sacking guys who legitimately aren't producing (or moving them to full-time teaching) seems like a no-brainer. Unless, of course, you have some Nobel laureate on staff and want to keep him around just to beef up your department's "cred".

Re:Dare I say... (4, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136033)

Except that the demand for publishing lots of papers results in:
  1. Researchers chasing low-hanging fruit and ignoring hard problems.
  2. Researchers taking one good result and publishing lots of tiny variations on that result, essentially publishing the same paper over and over again.
  3. Lack of cooperation and secrecy among researchers

Research is not about the quantity of results that are published, it is about the quality and importance of those results.

Re:Dare I say... (1)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136093)

Which is why I said a hard quota seems like a terrible idea. Come up with some pseudo-objective way to evaluate your staff's research output and take action on the ones that aren't producing with respect to that metric. Are you arguing for ignoring productivity altogether and basically letting them do whatever they want? Even if, for a few, that ends up being "pretty much nothing at all"?

Re:Dare I say... (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136267)

Are you arguing for ignoring productivity altogether and basically letting them do whatever they want?

That is the idea behind tenure: you work hard, publish lots of papers, and so forth to get tenure, and then you are free to work on whatever problems you want. Unfortunately, yes, that means that some professors basically do nothing, but it also allows professors to spend ten years working on a hard problem and not have to worry about being fired for not publishing anything during that period of time. It is also unfortunate in that it basically forces young researchers to chase easy problems before they can really devote much energy to hard problems, and may make young researchers nervous about collaborating or even discussing their work with anyone else (the classic, "Don't tell so-and-so about what we are working on, he is working on something similar and we want to publish first!").

I agree, we need a better way to evaluate research. We need to weigh things -- weigh the number of papers, the number of citations the papers are getting (one paper that is cited hundreds of times is probably better than a hundred papers that are each cited once), what sort of things a research is currently doing that have not been published (if someone is running a 30 year experiment in biology, that should count, it should not count against them), etc.

Re:Dare I say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136163)

This only applies to the lazy, and the way it is now they just don't do anything at all. So going for the low hanging fruit is probably better for the university.

Re:Dare I say... (1)

Phydidus (2479128) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136243)

Except that the demand for publishing lots of papers

It's 4 papers over 3 years. That's hardly lots. That's not nothing to be sure, but it's easily manageable. Besides, it has to be any 'research output', so intermediate steps probably count. Might not be the best approach, but it is better than let people sit around and do naught.

Tiny Variations (1)

mx+b (2078162) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136299)

Researchers taking one good result and publishing lots of tiny variations on that result, essentially publishing the same paper over and over again.

This drives me absolutely nuts. I find a list of papers thinking "oh wow, this will be great to find more about the topic!", only to discover none of the papers actually describe the method, but are simply a dozen papers on slight variations of the same problem with no real insight into how the method actually works. Just "Here's another result using my method from 1985, this time I set a=3 instead of a=2!". It never really seems worth publishing, but I guess the reviewers are in the same situation so there's pressure to approve each others' work.

Re:Dare I say... (3, Insightful)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136239)

If you're not teaching or publishing, what the hell are you doing?

Actually doing the research which the publications should be based upon, and which will be taught in 30 years. Editing or writing textbooks. Pulling in grants which will pay for research equipment, laboratory space, materials and expendables, travel, publication costs, and incidentally feed, house, and clothe you, your students, and the higher-ups. Serving on administrative councils which are necessary evils, but massive time-sinks. Writing and running necessary simulations so that future research projects can be green- or red-lighted before these time-sinks are encountered again.

If you think that time researching in a University is spent either in the classroom, or at one's desk pumping out papers left and right, you're sorely mistaken.

Re:Dare I say... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136285)

As a academic who recently saw the light and left for industry, I can tell you exactly what they're doing (at least in the U.S.): activities related to grantsmanship and serving on committees! Getting a grant is a mixed blessing. First, you have to figure out how exactly to spend the money, including hiring people to actually do the work (e.g. graduate students, post docs, etc). Then, you need to write regular progress reports and keep track of the time and effort for people working on the project (accountability). Finally, you need to publish - which can be a very time consuming process since most graduate students and post docs now are not native English speakers. This all assumes that the experiments work. Keep in mind that during all this, you need to keep writing more grants so that the people you just hired are funded past 2 years. Depending on the source, the probability of being funded ranges from 3-20%, so most grant proposals written are a waste of time.

After obtaining tenure, one is also expected to start performing more administrative-level functions. This includes spending countless hours serving on departmental, college, and university-level committees for all sorts of things. This is a huge use of your time but a necessary evil since your needs may not be met if you don't participate.

On top of all this, you need to keep on top of what is happening in your field and current pedagogy, teach, and deal with all of the issues students have - and there are many.

Academia at research-oriented universities has become a mad scramble for money and the students are the ones who suffer. The typically academic with a research appointment works many more hours per week than someone in industry and usually for 50-70% of the pay. Yes there are lazy ones, but after spending years doing that job I feel that it is partially earned!

This will drive up publication quality! (2)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135865)

Or rather not. Counting publications is a completely useless metric. In most fields you can publish things just a little different than what you published before, i.e. basically worthless. There are conferences as well that basically take everything. The only thing this does is waste money and time. Stupid.

Re:This will drive up publication quality! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136127)

Counting publications as a measure of quality makes no sense, but it is a measure of quantity. Demanding a certain amount of quantity does makes sense, and so counting publications for a mimimum publication quota also makes sense. Of course, you also need to put demands on quantity, and so I would hope that there will also be news of people being sacked for publishing only rubbish. Nevertheless, I'm all in favor of sacking those who don't produce anything worthwhile.

Does not seem unfair (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39135877)

A drunk high school janitor can meet the publishing output requirement of one paper a year.

Re:Does not seem unfair (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135991)

The key here is that they were told less than six months ago that producing four papers every five years (0.8 papers/year) was acceptable. In that time I expect a number of researchers could have produced enough legitimate papers to stay afloat.

Skeptical (2)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | more than 2 years ago | (#39135989)

As an academic early in his "career" (postdoc) I'm skeptical about absolute publication quotas. While it is true that in Southern Europe, where I live, many academics are lazy, it is my impression that in certain domains, especially in the humanities, many of the people that publish a lot are mediocre to say the least. The peer reviewing system in the humanities already gives a huge advantage to people publishing intellectually modest to plain stupid papers, as it is much easier to get an uncontroversial paper that only makes minor points past the reviewers than a controversial paper with new ideas. (This is probably not such a problem in natural sciences, because they have better evaluation criteria.)

Sure, the top people in the field almost always publish a lot -- 4 or more papers a year is quite common -- but I claim that in the middle field this measure does not work. Too much publication pressure primarily encourages people not to strife for substantial results, but in the end its these rare gems that drive research.

That being said, 4 papers in 3 years is a very low demand, as long as we're not talking about indexed papers in A-tier journals. At least people should be able to demonstrate that they have written something even if they don't get all of it published in time. But perhaps there should also be an upper limit---no more than 3 papers a year.

Let's do the same on Slashdot.... (1)

DomHawken (1335311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136003)

First Post! Oh - wait... Darn.

Seems fairly reasonable (4, Insightful)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136011)

Another 64 academics were told they had a choice between leaving and moving to a teaching-only position, he said

If the teaching-only position is an option for most of them, then that seems to be a reasonable compromise. The West simply doesn't have the money anymore to throw at professors who are neither prolific researchers nor teachers. There are plenty of students who work very hard for the university who could benefit from having their stipends increased by cannibalizing the salaries of "researchers" who don't really publish much of anything.

I think this quote might hint at who is really being targeted:

“The mood is bloody,” agreed Jake Lynch, Director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. “The union accurately reflects the frustration of many researchers.”

There are a lot of humanities, liberal arts and social sciences professors who claim to be "researchers" but aren't productive in any sense that the sciences or engineering disciplines would recognize. Based on the friends I had in the sciences and engineering, I can't believe that most of the professors overseeing the researcher graduate students aren't regarded as highly productive by their universities because they put in solid time and effort every year at the very least guiding the researchers doing the grunt work. Admittedly, that's an American experience, but I have a feeling that their College of Arts and Letters, not Science and Engineering, is what is starting to feel the bean counters' medusa-like gaze...

While student enrollments are increasing... (5, Insightful)

bigsexyjoe (581721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136031)

The professors' union has a good point. Enrollment is increasing and management miscalculated the student fees they would need to take in. So now the professors have to:
a) publish more
b) teach more
leaving little time for:
c) publish papers that are risky and innovative (the kind that actually move human knowledge forward)

You have wonder how we can encourage the best and the brightest to be academics. We work them to death making them earn a degree, we work them to death making them actually get hired, then they have to still build their reputation. And know they are saying that they'll get fired for not publishing more when they are already teaching more.

Screw that. (3, Insightful)

GauteL (29207) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136049)

It is my experience that many academics these days are pushed into "pork" activities, that is industry oriented work that brings in money for the university, but has little or no academic value.

In the UK it is particularly common that research fellows are hired for specific pork-based projects on short-term contracts, and also has to cover teaching due to a shortage or unwillingness of staff on higher pay-grades. Actual research you're meant to do on your spare time.

Well screw that. These days an academic career gives you less pay, longer work hours and less job security than an industry job. You're much more likely to get a permanent job in industry. In academia you have to go through 4-5 short term contracts before you're likely to get a permanent job.

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the sacked academics has been pressurised into pork work for years and then get let go when the bacon runs out, because they've been too deep in pig fat to publish.

Publish Failures! (3, Interesting)

GiantRobotMonster (1159813) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136067)

We need a lot more people publishing "We tried X to do Y, but it didn't work because of Z."
They may not be exciting and sexy, but they are good data points to have.

Are there a whole lot of academics out there who aren't writing anything at all?
Are they writing absolute crap, that journals are rightly refusing to publish?
Are they perhaps keeping all of their research secret, so that they can commercialise it themselves and diddle their institutions at the same time?

Enquiring minds want to know.

That's how the Republicans will do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39136071)

They'll keep putting pressure on the academics in hopes that they will leave the structure and take on full time jobs. They want intellectuals to go away and if they can't do it by force (yet!) they'll do it by stressing them out of a job. Just another move by anti-science conservatives.

Yet again pushing quantity over quality (4, Insightful)

geogob (569250) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136091)

Although I agree that some people deserve the boot, such a policy - like most academic policies nowadays - only encourage production of large quantities of low-quality material. (That just a polite way of saying "huge piles of shit").

Going through published material is really depressing. Most of it is either republished stuff (à la "the same article few months ago : now with a new figure") or stuff that wouldn't even find its way into a textbooks due to lack of interest.

The groups I've been working with are on the top of our field. These groups published very little (maybe a paper or two per year, for the whole group), but always groundbreaking content or content of high interest for the community - and thus hold very high reputation in the community. I like it that way. Rather than wasting my time writing worthless papers (because writing a good paper takes time if you are not writing it with 3 keyboard keys - ctrl, c and v), I rather do actual work and publish it when it's mature enough.

Sadly, this view is not very common and I believe we get through with our way only because we are closer to engineering than to what people refer to as scientific research.

We expect professors to do both (2, Interesting)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136151)

Professors are supposed to be teaching AND researching. If the focus was on teaching (especially undergrads) we wouldn't need professors for that kind of work; any post-doc would do, and do it for cheap.

While turning professors into publication factories would indeed be a BAD idea, four "research outputs" over three years is not exactly a high bar to cross.

Typist (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136255)

Some kids just can't type. There's only one way to find out. :0)

Thank you, Management Consultantman! (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136301)

You've bungied in and saved academia with the power of Metrics! Now that you've determined the method to use to judge people whose work you can't even begin to comprehend, you can bag your non-performance-related flat fee and sproiiiing off to your next lucrative challenge!

Publish or Perish (0)

jholyhead (2505574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39136317)

Less than 4 papers in 3 years? I'd sack them too.
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