Study: One-fifth of faculty does most of the work

Twenty percent of faculty at the University of Texas-Austin teach 57 percent of the student credit hours, according to a new study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity that attempts to build a case for inefficiency and waste in academia.

If the “bottom” 80 percent were as productive as the top 20 percent, the study concludes, the flagship Texas public university could cut its tuition in half. Or, the state could reduce its funding to the university by as much as 75 percent.

The study is likely to provoke outrage among those who suspect that college faculty positions are comparatively cushy, if it gains traction. And it’s likely to irk faculty associations, whose leaders contend that professors are a very hard-working and dedicated group, on the whole.

Look at the faculty list at any department at a major research university and you’ll find that a good number of professors are teaching something well short of a full load of courses. The reason is research: Universities typically grant professors a good amount of freedom — from lighter course loads to paid sabbaticals — to pursue their area of specialty, generating articles in peer-reviewed journals and chasing grant funds.

That research effort is just as important as the quality of their classroom teaching, at least in terms of college rankings and reputation.

But the study suggests that research and teaching can easily coexist. It found that the 20 percent of faculty with the heaviest teaching loads generated 18 percent of UT’s research funding, meaning that they remained competitive in research even as they carried more than their share of teaching duties.

“This suggests that these faculty are not jeopardizing their status as researchers by assuming such a high level of teaching responsibility,” the study states.

The least productive 20 percent of faculty teach just 2 percent of all student credit hours at UT — meaning that students barely see them.

Research grants at UT go overwhelmingly to a small group of faculty. Two percent of faculty are responsible for 57 percent of research, and 20 percent are responsible for 99.8 percent.

Furthermore, the study found the faculty doing all the research were neither the most nor the least productive teachers.

“States looking to find answers to the exponential growth in college costs should take a close look at the Texas study’s findings,” said Richard Vedder, director of the center, in a statement. The center was founded in 2006 to study cost and efficiency in higher education.

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