How (Not) to Measure
By Mark Bauerlein
Every few years, it seems, a troubling storyline surfaces that American college professors have it easy. Not all academics come under assault, of course, but entire disciplines get attacked. Perhaps ome university scientists work year-round in labs, hospitals, and technology centers to produce
stunning inventions and medical cures. And maybe community-oriented counterparts allocate significant
time out of the classroom to civic ventures and disaster management. But faculty in education, English,
sociology, French, film, and other liberal arts lead more cushy lives, the accusations go. No matter the setting, research institutions or small colleges, critics assert, professors across the humanities teach few (and
tiny) classes, enjoy months of vacation, and don’t have to secure grants to support their projects.
Twenty-plus years ago, allegations like these arose in, among other places, the much-discussed
Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education. In this 1988 book, wide-ranging author Charles J.
Sykes argued that faculty members manipulate the system to lighten their teaching load and shirk other
duties. More recently, the economic downturn prompted further mistrustful scrutiny of faculty labor such
as the creation of a Task Force on University Excellence and Productivity at the University of Texas System. Its initial study, an 821-page spreadsheet work in progress, led to this headline in the May 6, 2011,
edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Release of Faculty-Productivity Data Roils U. of Texas.” On
Sept. 23, 2011, this same industry weekly newspaper reported that Florida Gov. Rick Scott planned a
similar review at state universities under his watch. The headline: “Florida, with an Eye on Texas, Read-ies for Next Conflict over Faculty Productivity.”