Friday, December 2, 2011

Perverse Incentives in Academia

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Incentive Intended Effect Actual Effect
Researchers rewarded for increased number of publications. Improve research productivity. Avalanche of crappy, incremental papers.
Researchers rewarded for increased number of citations. Researchers do work that is relevant and influential. H-index obsession; list of references no longer included in page limit at many conferences.
Researchers rewarded for increased grant funding. Ensure that research programs are funded, promote growth, generate overhead $$. Time wasted writing proposals, inefficient use of public $$.
Maximum of two proposals submitted to an NSF program. Discourage over-submission. You’d have to be crazy to not meet your quota these days.
Teachers rewarded for increased student evaluation scores. Improved accountability; ensure customer satisfaction. Easy courses, inflated grades.
Teachers rewarded for increased student test scores. Improve teacher effectiveness. Teaching to the tests; emphasis on short-term learning.
Departments rewarded for increasing US News ranking. Stronger departments. Resources squandered trying to influence rankings.
Departments rewarded for increasing numbers of BS, MS, and PhD degrees granted. Promote efficiency; stop students from being trapped in over-long degree programs; impress the state legislature. Class sizes increase; entrance requirements watered down; graduation requirements watered down.
Departments rewarded for increasing student credit/contact hours (SCH). The university’s teaching mission is fulfilled. SCH-maximization games are played: classes are duplicated, turf wars occur over service courses.

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