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Of course, it was the students who paid. Many of their undergraduate courses were canceled or given by one-year visitors unfamiliar with the byways of the university. We grant that Harvard is especially well endowed—or at least it was until the meltdown of 2008. But it sets a standard other colleges hope to emulate, which then affects how they will parcel out whatever funds they have. Even at Williams, which originally put teaching first, a third of the faculty is absent in a typical year. Nor are parents told how much of what they remit for tuition goes toward paying professors not to teach.

In theory, education is supposed to be a public service: like health care, firefighting, national parks. And by and large that describes the motivations of teachers from kindergarten through high school. But as we ascend to colleges and universities—the preserve of professors—self-interest, strengthened by a narrow sense of self-definition, begins to set in. It starts with how professors identify with their disciplines. Imagine that we were to say that the employees in an enterprise all brought a central part of their personal history with them to work, and insisted that it govern how they did their jobs.

I have my research to continue with and, as you heard, it’s important. Where I did my doctorate, it was two and two. ” He was told one came every seventh year, after six of teaching. The candidate winced. “I couldn’t consider that. At other schools, it’s a year off after three. ” This young man never got a callback, which we suspect must have puzzled him. True, this episode occurred several years ago, when young stars felt they could write their own tickets. Today, hiring freezes are the rule, and there can be several hundred applicants for any open position.

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