Market Power

Musings by an academic economist on the power of markets and the power over markets.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

From the Ground Up

One of the first things I did when I got to Minnesota State was develop my Sports Economics course. My younger colleagues and I are also going to be instrumental in building the future of our department. These sorts of things are common at most institutions, but most of us will not be involved in building a university from scratch. From the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription req'd):

The faculty members who have already arrived on the new Merced campus of the University of California have not only had to balance research with teaching, but also had to concentrate on curriculum development, community outreach, job searches, and heavy administrative duties. "Everyone is doing multiple tasks and working very long hours," says Maria Pallavicini, dean of the School of Natural Sciences.
Someday Merced will boast a faculty of more than 1,200. For now, the university employs fewer than 50 professors; 60 should be in place by the time the campus officially opens, in September.

Recruiting for those positions has proceeded smoothly, by and large, despite the many challenges the new faculty members face, the remoteness of the campus in central California, and Merced's lack of name recognition.
But Merced has seen an outpouring of interest in faculty jobs. Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the chancellor, says the university received 7,000 applications for the first 30 faculty openings. "Many were drawn to the UC name," she says. "Thank God for that."

Indeed, many faculty members mention the university system as a prime reason for their interest in their new jobs. "Being within the UC system guarantees a certain level of support from the state and a certain level of quality," says Kevin A. Mitchell, a physicist who is an assistant professor in the natural-sciences school.

It also means a certain salary level. Merced pays faculty members salaries in the same range as that of professors on the system's other campuses. The lowest-paid assistant professor makes nearly $49,000, and the highest-paid full professor brings home more than $151,000. According to the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, the median price of a house in the city in 2004 was $279,000, a far cry from the sky-high prices elsewhere in the state. (The median price in San Francisco was $647,000.)

Minnesota State has about 1300 faculty jobs. If Merced gets up to a similar student-teacher ratio, I suppose it will end up with about 14,000-15,000 students. I wonder how successful the following sort of collaborative stuff will be in the long run, once the bureaucracy gets in place and starts festering:

That freedom has allowed faculty members to be creative. For instance, Mr. Mitchell and a mathematician will team teach a double-credit course in calculus and physics. "These are two very closely related subjects," says the physicist, "so it makes sense to teach them together."

The introductory-biology course will also make more use of mathematics and computer science than traditional biology courses do, says Mr. Colvin, who will teach it. That shift in priorities will lead to less emphasis on memorization, he says. It will also have a practical side benefit: Since teaching-laboratory facilities will not be completed by the time the fall term starts, computer-lab sessions will help make up for lost time.

Faculty members from all three schools constituting the university are working on shaping a yearlong core course that will be required of all freshmen. The class will pay particular attention to noteworthy concerns of California's Central Valley, such as the use of natural resources, particularly water, from the perspective of scientists, engineers, politicians, historians, and anthropologists.

"Departments often create silos and barriers for faculty with different expertise," says Ms. Pallavicini, the natural-sciences dean. "It's often difficult to get a computer scientist and a biologist together if there's different space and different rules in their departments."

Such problems do not exist at Merced, where the faculty members know each other well because of their constant administrative work in the race toward opening day. But other issues have cropped up because of that very lack of departments.

I reiterate... I wonder how long it will be before the bureaucracy festers and the various departments start calling their credit hours home in a game of "that's mine, this is yours?"