Thursday, December 13, 2012

Risk, Moneyball, Leadership

Some slides for an MSU leadership meeting. Click for larger version.

See also Moneyball in Academia.


David Coughlin said...

I would like to know more about what you were thinking when you wrote the leadership slide.

steve hsu said...

If your team knows how you think they can anticipate what kind of evidence you will want, what your decision is likely to be, etc. That let's them plan better and wastes less effort. If everyone knows that decisions will be made rationally according to transparent metrics, there will be less BS and positioning. There are lots of crazy things happening in any big org, and it's good for people to know that demonstrably nutty things, if brought to the attention of the leadership, will be stopped.

David Stern said...

Here in Aus we hire pretty much equally across the ranks. I don't really know why the US is stuck on the model where the vast majority of hires are at the assistant prof level and there are relatively few moves after people get tenure.

steve hsu said...

In your system researchers might be efficiently priced throughout the seniority range, but here I think there is an arb. Beginning profs and senior profs are correctly priced, but often universities don't, as my trader friends would say, bid back properly against offers for people in the, e.g., 4-8 year seniority range.

Robert Sykes said...

I heard this policy announced by deans every year for the 37 years I served on faculties. It is a good plan for a pure research institute like the Battelle Memorial Institute without academic programs; it is potentially disastrous for colleges and universities.

The main problem facing colleges and universities is maintaining the completeness of their academic programs. This means that people must be hired that provide missing skills in a particular discipline. This is especially a problem in engineering and most especially in mature disciplines with only modest external funding like civil engineering (all federal). Sciences like geology also are poorly funded but need a variety of skill sets (sedimentary, igneous, oceanic ...).

By focusing solely, or even heavily, on funding potential, one lets needed academic programs rot. Students graduate from these programs without some of the knowledge needed to succeed.

This hiring theory, which is nearly universally held by senior administrators, is the Army's "Theory of Tanks," which says, Reinforce success and abandon failure. Leaving aside what constitute failure and success (we will disagree), it leads inexorably to a single department and perhaps a single faculty member. Hardly the recipe for a college or university.

steve hsu said...

The slide says "Shift SOME hiring ..." -- SOME, not ALL. We're talking about marginal dollars here, not the bulk of hiring. Also, you have to remember what my portfolio (Research) is, as opposed to a dean, who has responsibility for training undergraduates, etc. MSU has historically been run along the lines you seem to favor, but the goal now is to increase research intensity here. Note "increase" <> "prioritize to the exclusion of all else"!

Glenn Sullivan said...

I really like the "Fail early; Correct fast" bullet point, which I interpret to mean that those assistant professors who "just aren't working out," i.e., seem headed to the lowest quintile of performance 20 years out, get jettisoned early -- before the whole tenure committee rigamorale (5 to 8 years out!). Do tenure committees really think that some who doesn't make the mark at Year 6 was making the mark at Year 3, or even Month 18? I don't think that tenure decisions should be "surprises" for anyone. Further, I don't think that people who aren't tenure-worthy should be put through the motions of having to apply for tenure. They should have been told as early as possible in their careers that "it's just not working out." The only reasons I can think of why we have the current system (where we string people along for half a decade just to neck-chop them) are 1) to make the tenured folk feel good about themselves and seem "elite" to the state legislatures ("see how selective we are?"), and 2) to squeeze a few years of cheap teaching out of some lower quality Ph.D.s How much more humane simply to switch them over to adjunct status after a year or two of an underwhelming assistant professorship.

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