Sunday, June 12, 2005

What Does $50 Million Buy You?

Via Powerline, I learn of Heather MacDonald's essay on Harvard's decision to allocate $50 million to new initiatives on women in science. A lot of MacDonald's ideas about how little is likely to be gained at the margin from these resources, given what Harvard and all elite universities are already doing to hire more women faculty, make sense to me. For example, she writes:
And what does $50 million buy you? This astounding sum, offered by Lawrence Summers as a down payment on his absolution for mentioning the science of sex differences, comes without any explanation as to how he arrived at it or what it will purchase. One would hope that the Senior VP for D, whatever her exalted position and her bevy of dedicated helpers in the provost’s office, doesn’t come near to costing that amount. Given that Harvard and its competitors across the country have already beaten the bushes for years for “diversity” candidates, even $500 million would seem unlikely to produce any major change in Harvard’s “diversity” profile.

If I were an administrator at Harvard, and I were asked that question, my answer would be, "10 more endowed professorships for world class scholars." The going rate for an endowed professorship is about $5 million. Then I would realize that these are scientists, who require labs and start-up money, so maybe only 7 or 8 of them. And that's how I would spend the money.

I haven't read the Task Force's report, but the newspaper account in The Crimson in May had the following to say about hiring in the wake of the report:
Part of the money will fund 40 new faculty appointments over the next five years “with priority given to the hiring of women and underrepresented minorities,” according to the report from the Task Force on Women Faculty.

Given how expensive science professors can be, I don't see how 40 new faculty appointments (provided they are permanent) leave anything left in the $50 million budget for anything else. In fact, they more than exhaust the budget, even if they are all at the non-tenured level. Perhaps that is why we also find the following in the article:
“This is an initial commitment, and we expect, given the importance of these issues, that there are likely to be more resources that are allotted down the road,” Summers said.

That's certainly true, unless Harvard has figured out some new way to dramatically underpay its scientists. So my guess is that the outcome will resemble MacDonald's thesis in the end--relabeling of ongoing efforts under the heading of this new initiative--but that the mechanism will simply be hiring additional faculty rather than other aspects of the report that may have garnered more media attention.

For some evidence, consider the annual letter from Dean of the Faculty William Kirby to the faculty in February, after the outrage over Summers' remarks but well before the Task Force report, as quoted in this article:
Kirby wrote in the letter that he was “extremely disappointed” that few women have been offered tenure recently and committed himself to hiring and tenuring more women and minorities.

Kirby’s controversial proposals are part of a plan to increase the size of the faculty to 750 professors by 2010 and to 800 at a later time.

Under Kirby’s leadership, the size of the faculty has grown from 636 professors in 2003 to 672 professors at the start of 2005.

Kirby wrote he would focus future growth of the faculty in the category of non-tenured professors. To encourage the recruitment of young scholars, departments can label associate professorships as tenure-track positions, he wrote.
I doubt the 40 faculty members noted in the Task Force report are in addition to the 78 (750 minus 672) that were already planned for the next 5 year period.

See my earlier comments on the Summers controversy here, here, here, and here.

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1 comment:

JG said...

"And what does $50 million buy you? This astounding sum, offered by Lawrence Summers as a down payment on his absolution for mentioning the science of sex differences, comes without any explanation as to how he arrived at it or what it will purchase..."

Harvard has a $22+ billion endowment that's protected by raising tuition every year.

The "astounding sum" of $50 million is a bit more than a week's interest on it -- the Trustees' pocket change. It was determined, I'd guess, simply as being sufficient to buy off the girls with minimal inconvenience.

But if the ladies had any self respect they'd have demanded at least a billion.

(They're supposedly representing an entire half of the human race that has been discriminated against and victimized and had its feelings hurt by this institution, and they settle for two thousandths of its endowment?)

On a slightly related note, I've gotta say that it seems to me there's something fundamentally unhealthy about a school having a $22 billion endowment and an intention only to grow it.

It might lead, for example, to what are staggering sums by the measures of educational institutions being thrown around with very little or no regard for educational return on investment, for the convenience of those running the institution who think and act like investment bankers, for whom such funds are pocket change.

Henry Hansmann (Yale law & econ) has said that a Martian who came to Earth and observed the functioning of the major endowed universities would conclude that they are investment banks with small things called "colleges" attached to them for public relations and fund raising purposes (not to mention tax breaks).

From an investment banking point of view, bad publicity and unhappiness is bad for the flow of funds coming into the investment bank, er, endowment. To protect the flow, indulging a few million dollars worth of educational inefficiency on campus to make people happy again might be well worth it.

Hmmm ... I just took a look at the members of the Harvard Corporation who run the place:

Robert E. Rubin, Citibank and Goldman Sachs

James Houghton, former chairman Exxon-Mobil

Hanna Gray, director JP Morgan and ARCO

Conrad K. Harper, New York Life Insurance.

D. Ronald Daniel, Tricon Global Restaurants (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC), McKinsey & Co., and chairman Ripplewood Holdings

Robert D. Reischauer, Urban Intitute, Brookings and CBO

Looks like something of a slant towards the investment banking state of mind there, with the exception of Reischauer, who isn't exactly an educator.

Is there anyone who really knows about college teaching in the lot?