I just met up with a friend of mine who teaches at a small(ish) western university. It was interesting how much our stories intersected about some of the job challenges we both face – even though our respective University environments are quite different.

Both seem to stem from a fundamental lack of respect for what scientists and faculty do. We get squeezed from both sides. At the small college, they try to squeeze more teaching out with ever less resources.
At the large University like my own, they try to squeeze more research out of us with less and less resources.
A while back, I calculated an interesting thing. I am bringing in over $300k in “Facilities and administration” money this year to my university.
That is “extra” money that is tacked onto research grants to cover things like:
– Administrative personnel
– Space
– Office equipment
– etc.

I’ll just tell one story here that shows how much of that money comes to support my work.
About a year ago spring, I was hiring more people and had no place to put them.
So I needed to buy some new desks to cram them in.
We attempted to be frugal by going to University Surplus – but there weren’t any desks that would fit.
So we went to Ikea and found a desk set for $500 that would fit perfectly – and allow me to put two new people into my limited space.
What happened when I asked about this?
My department said, “Sorry, you can’t spend that much – the limit is $200”.
Do you notice any mismatch between the numbers here?
I bring in $300k of “Facilities and Administration” money.
The University refuses to pay for $500 desk – limit $200. (It is not like I was asking for a bunch of other stuff!)
My goal isn’t to complain – I realized a long time back that complaining does no good.
But my goal is to highlight something: that certain University administrations seem to have entered a sort of collective insanity. At my own University, it is an insanity of expecting us to bring all this grant money in – but giving nothing in return.
At my friend’s small University, it is an insanity of expecting people to teach so much that they can’t do any research – and hence, there are no opportunities for graduate students to get hands-on training.
These aren’t like the days when my father was in academia. Back then, people looked up to what scientists did, and wanted to support them.
Now they care more about pop stars and fast cars.

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