Saturday, November 14, 2015

Amy Week Question: Funding

One of Amy's questions/issues: How to manage university pressures to secure grant funding when research time is becoming less and less available.

Now,  my response is for the already tenured, mid-career or later career professor, not those still needing to achieve tenure or secure a job. That seems to be where Amy is in her career, and I do not write enough for this audience anyhow.

Let me start with a bold assertion: The push for gratuitous funding, or funding for the sake of funding, is one of the worst trends in higher education over the last two decades. It is anti-intellectual, anti-intellectual freedom, and encourages conformity and mediocrity.

Bold, eh?

Let me explain.

There is nothing wrong with funding. Funding is great, if, and this is a big if, you need it to do your scholarship.  The purpose of the institution of the university is to create and disseminate knowledge. It is not to chase an ever increasingly shrinking and increasingly pursued stream of funding. A university that wishes to encourage innovation, true innovation, academic freedom, and the best within faculty will create incentives for faculty to follow their passions. What their passions are really does not matter; that is the nature of academic freedom. When faculty are freed to pressure their passions that are most dear to their heart, that is when they will create magic. 

Faculty that pursue grants for the sake of grants will engage in status quo oriented research that merely greases the wheel. They will use accepted methodologies about accepted issues. If your research is aligned with big grant funding mechanisms, fantastic. If not, then why would you give up your whole life to pressure funding? ( a bit of a hyperbole, whole life, perhaps, but...)

Why? As Amy's questions implies, the pressure of the all mighty buck, and the institutional, structural, and administrative demands to do otherwise.

And yes, dear associate and full professors, I know that the pressures are great. Deans, administrators, department chairs, and others engage in subtle and not so subtle influence on us. But, remember; You are tenured!  Tenure means that you get to pursue your passions and dreams and that you are mandated, required, and morally obligated to do so. I am not suggesting that you neglect your scholarship here; I am suggesting that you do so in a way that pleases you. Grant funding is a means, not the ends. Dissemination is the ends! Yes, we all have to do a good job of selling what we do; that is just part of life. And, I do see it is a moral responsibility not to pack it in and coast once you receive tenure or final promotion to full; in fact that really pisses me off! Yet, we are far more secure than we sometimes feel, and we have a great deal more choice than we sometimes believe. It is a pretty rare situation in which a tenured professor is fired for not receiving funding (has it happened??). 

So, do your scholarship, and do it well. Use the tools suggested in this blog to carve out blocks of time each and every day to become the type of scholars that you wish to be. I know, it is not as simple as that; that is why I have going on 500 posts!! 

Sooner rather than later, we will all be dead. Live hard,  love hard, play hard, research hard, rest deeply. Do not be seduced by those who seek to bend us to their will; especially post tenure!

Not sure if this is what Amy hand in mind, but it is what is on my mind :).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these thoughts, Rich. My university has adopted a new funding model that speaks exactly to these issues: a large part of a department's future funding and allocation of faculty positions (including retirement replacements) is based on the existing faculty's ability to secure funding from specific agencies. I don't require additional funding (although it would allow me to fund grad students) but there is a strong feeling of obligation to the department and its future... I think it is a terrible set of incentives and dynamics that the university is setting up. I appreciate your reminder that I don't HAVE to play this game.