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Texas A&M Has a Data Problem

September 16, 2010

There are many ways to use data. Good ways. Bad ways. And downright ridiculous ways. Texas A&M has taken the use of data to a new level of absurdity. Here, check out this fun article:

Faculty members at Texas A&M University are, by and large, generating more money than they are costing the university, although some of the most prestigious professors would appear to be operating in the red, according to a controversial report prepared by the university system as a move toward greater accountability.

Here’s the actual spreadsheet. It’s worth your time to flip through it.

At the end of the day, these are just numbers; and numbers that are stolen from a timeslice in the life of Texas A&M. All around, they’re a ridiculous measure of competence and contribution to the overall university educational mission.

IMHO, it’s not that this approach is “potentially very dangerous,” as the article above suggests, but that it’s downright the wrong measure for a university administration to be tracking. What’s particularly interesting, for instance, is that it would appear that if you want to make money as a university, you should hire lots and lots of professors in history, political science, performance studies, psychology, and communication. Maybe a few in philosophy and economics, but they’re not as cost effective. Nor are the sociologists. The hard sciences are an overall drag on the university, so basically, they should be ejected, except for mathematics, biology, and chemistry, which are cheap and which are required courses for almost all undergrads, thereby generating a lot of money for the university.

Within philosophy, if you follow the prescriptive implication of this report, the University would do well to eject their hotshot superstars like John McDermott. He’s just a drag on the department. Who needs big names in philosophy anyway. Better to go with cheap, young non-tenure-track faculty.

What an astonishing abuse of a spreadsheet.

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4 comments

  1. You don’t happen to have a copy of the spreadsheet do you? Predictably, they’ve taken down the link you supply, citing “feedback” and the need to make “corrections.” The whole thing is a debacle.


  2. Damn, really? It didn’t even occur to me to try to save it.


  3. Okay, I have it. Mine was cached. Write me a private e-mail and i’ll send it to you. Address is bhale (at) colorado.edu


  4. Actually, I think it’s back up online. They’ve just added a cover page with the disclaimer.



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