May 19, 2003

First Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence

The First Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to:

Mr. Thomas Hart Benton for the following proposal (see comments to A Market Solution to the History Job Market Problem?):

Why not reduce academic salaries to zero? The lower the salary, the more virtue in serving the institution. Better yet, why not make humanities professors PAY for their positions?

Well done, Mr. Benton. This excellent suggestion demonstrates an outstanding grasp of the lack of principles that now define the pursuit of excellence in higher education.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at May 19, 2003 06:19 PM

As you may know already, this system actually used to apply in Germany. In order to become a professor, you needed to spend several years first as a Privatdozent, giving lectures and serving as general dogsbody without pay. Needless to say, this meant that only those of independent means could consider an academic career ...

Posted by: Henry Farrell at May 19, 2003 06:43 PM

I'm honored. Does this award come with a cash prize?

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at May 19, 2003 07:28 PM

No cash, I'm afraid, just glory. The funds that had originally been earmarked for this award have been diverted to an exciting new initiative: an online Ph.D. program in Academic Management.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 19, 2003 08:16 PM

Well, surely you can give him an honorary doctorate from the said program once it's up and running...

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at May 19, 2003 08:53 PM

Privatdozenten (if that's the right plural) weren't paid by the University. They did, however, demand fees from the students who attended their lectures. The students needed to understand the stuff in order to pass the exams. All in all, the incentives probably worked: the students were willing to pay for understandable lectures; the privatdozenten were willing to lecture understandably for student fees; the University kept its tuition and payroll down; professors were entitled by their eminence (and salary) to be obscure.

Not that I'd want to have worked in such an institution.

Posted by: jam at May 19, 2003 09:24 PM

Honorary doctorates will be available for purchase -- er, I mean awarded -- in due time.

Interesting about the German system. There was something similar in 18th-c. Scotland: lecturers received payment from students rather than from the university. Adam Smith thought this superior to the system at Oxford, which he characterized as lazy and corrupt.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 19, 2003 11:30 PM

Man, I am going to start demanding more of my students start giving me cash. Er, I mean... um.

Posted by: Alex at May 20, 2003 12:39 AM

Not so fast, Alex. This payment scheme presupposed a degree of authority on the part of the teacher that predates the advent of the student evaluation.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 20, 2003 03:23 AM

Ah, but if I'm selling myself to the students, I claim the right to heed student evaluations only if I deem it necessary! :)

I wonder if I could get them to pay for an office, health benefits, retirement accounts, too...

Posted by: Rana at May 20, 2003 03:47 AM

Is this THB a relative of the American regionalist painter, a pseudonym used by an admirer, or totally unrelated?

Posted by: Chris Bertram at May 20, 2003 10:13 AM

To Chris Bertram:

Here's the rationale for the Benton pseudonym:

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at May 20, 2003 12:10 PM

Mr Benton wrote (in the article to which he links above):

"One of my classmates saw my wedding ring and asked if I was married. I said, yes, and she asked, 'Happily?' Another student sneered, 'Wow, married ... how retro-hetero-normative.' Others snickered in approval. And so the seven-year assault on my values began."

This response to someone's marital status is so wrong on so many levels, that I'll only point to one. While these graduate students sought to display a world-weary sophistication, many of them were undoubtedly consenting to their own infantilization. Marriage is for grownups, who live in a real world that is bounded by time and space and by a complex web of overlapping claims and obligations. Those who snickered at a fellow traveller's wedding ring were probably uneasily aware that they had agreed to to spend years of their adult lives in a strange sort of nonage, placing themselves under a tutelage that required them to deny/forego all other claims and obligations.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 20, 2003 12:36 PM

Thanks for the pointer: great article btw!

Posted by: Chris Bertram at May 20, 2003 12:42 PM

The students-pay-per-lecture system was also in place at most medieval universities. Oddly enough, so were period demands (both internal and external) that faculty engage in community outreach and teach on less esoteric and more "relevant" subjects. What's noticeably lacking from that era is, of course, a particularly developed concept of academic freedom. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure that academic freedom and a pure fee-for-service model can coexist. *shrug* Funny how the conversation keeps going back to economic history -- I guess it comes in handy after all. ;)

Posted by: Naomi Chana at May 20, 2003 04:26 PM

When I was growing up a small print of a man with a scythe taking a drink of water was part of the furnishings. When I was about 30 I found out that it was a Benton original, given to my parents as a wedding gift.

For the record, the couple who gave the gift were old populist liberals of the Paul Wellstone type, a tendency which has been extincted in the last two decades. Modern hip lifestyle liberals despise the old liberals almost as much as do the neo-conservatives and free-marketers.

Posted by: zizka at May 20, 2003 04:34 PM

Jam - it's not at all clear that the incentives worked; the money you could make as a Privatdozent was only enough for a quite precarious existence. According to Max Weber, writing in 1918:

"Practically, this ... means that the career of the academic man in Germany is generally based upon plutocratic prerequisites. For it is extremely hazardous for a young scholar without funds to expose himself to the conditions of the academic career. He must be able to endure this condition for at least a number of years without knowing whether he will have the opportunity to move into a position which pays well enough for maintenance."

The rank of Privatdozent still exists in Germany, for academics who have received their Habilitation (2nd Ph.D. more or less) or equivalent, but who haven't gotten a professorship.

Posted by: Henry Farrell at May 20, 2003 06:02 PM

I think Weber's observation applies to the current situation here, too. Drat! And to think I thought I was done with him after leaving college -- too prescient, that guy.

Posted by: Rana at May 20, 2003 09:12 PM


The incentives balanced, perhaps, rather than worked. There were a goodly number of people who couldn't make it as a privatdozent. The history of early 19th Century mathematicians (a bunch of introverts, none of whom could sell themselves) is full of tiny tragedies.

Still, one shouldn't exaggerate. When Weber talks about "pays well enough for maintenance," he's talking about a substantial salary. There are lots of young scholars without funds today who either adjunct or move from one "visiting" position to another without achieving what Weber would have considered an adequate maintenance.

Posted by: jam at May 20, 2003 10:01 PM