Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yardley Report: External Consultant Evaluates Marquette Ph.D. Programs

There has been a bit of a buzz among the Marquette faculty, in recent weeks, about something called The Yardley Report, an evaluation by an outside consulting firm of the University’s Ph.D. programs (and one proposed program in Political Science).

(We have had a copy for a few weeks, but have declined to publish or discuss it here, since there is an insuperable conflict of interest when a faculty member uses as blog fodder a document he got because of his faculty status. On the other hand, we will gladly publish anything of interest that somebody leaks to us.)

But Daniel Suhr, of GOP3.COM, noticed a brief mention of the Yardley Report in the Tribune, and obtained a copy, which he has now published.

The Report is scathing in its evaluation of Marquette Ph.D. programs. Some examples:
  • In the end we must agree, in the context of the competitive landscape in which Marquette University operates, with the prevailing faculty view that it is untenable to hold each of these factors -- research, teaching, and societal impact -- as an equal imperative. To do so has created a significant confusion of identity and operation for the University and has resulted in a tendency to give short shrift to that factor that is most vital to doctoral programs -- research -- and to the doctoral programs themselves.
  • . . . the research and doctoral missions of most departments in the University are fragmented and half-formed, and so long as this is the case, the University will not achieve national prominence.
  • It is clear from our interviews with faculty that many programs are losing potential doctoral students to some of the country’s best Catholic universities.
  • . . . the ratio of research grants to overall funding is excessively low for a research university, and adherence to this model prevents scientists from competing for funding, a scenario that is both financially unviable and scientifically harmful.
  • As a result of these factors -- isolation from the field because of lack of grantsmanship, a disproportionate percentage of faculty who are research-inactive either by choice or because of conflicting priorities, the inability to integrate research into the ordinary work of faculty and the academic units, and structural impediments to the conduct of research -- Marquette is lagging behind in some of its chosen areas of research focus.
  • There is no question that faculty teaching loads at Marquette are too heavy to facilitate greater research orientation.
  • There are aspects of the “Marquette way,” however that are detrimental to the University’s research mission. Part of this is a rigid adherence to the traditions of the institution, which have not, after all, included serious attention to doctoral education and research. The more troublesome aspect is the tendency to be isolated within the institutional community, to be unaware of or resistant to ideas, practices and conventions that come from the outside. This kind of isolation can be fatal to a research profile.
We could go on -- and on and on.

But is this criticism justified?

Doubtless some of it is, and doubtless Marquette could change some of its policies to improve research.

But there is a fundamental problem with Yardley. The firm’s view, in spite of some polite nods to other parts of Marquette’s mission, is that Marquette should be a research factory.

External research funding is the be all and end all for Yardley.

Daniel Suhr has noted the “smoking gun” on this issue: footnote 30 of the Report. It says:
We have a particular concern about the strategic goal of the College of Arts and Sciences to increase the number of core classes taught by regular tenure-system faculty. . . . [T]here is no question that it would decimate the doctoral programs and keep research faculty productivity low. Ultimately, we think that expense will force the University to come to grips with the notion of fixed term instructors and adjunct professors. The American Association of University Professors released a report . . . that indicates that overall, nearly half of all faculty are off the tenure track, and in some disciplines, this figure is as high as 65%.
Marquette, in Yardley’s view, has been spoiling freshmen and sophomores by allowing them to be taught by faculty who are (in some cases) star scholars, faculty who publish in top scholarly journals, and faculty who get invited to national and international meetings.

And the Arts & Science College is hoping to spoil them even more!

Yardley, in other words, has a problem with “the vision thing.” It’s not that they don’t have a vision. It’s that it’s a vision of mediocrity.

It would be much easier for Marquette to become a mediocre teaching institution than for it to become a top research institution. If the administration tries to “mess with success,” we are likely to achieve the former but not the latter.

And academia is awash with institutions what, while they soak up big bucks in research funding, aren’t particularly prestigious. That’s because the research is routine, and the faculty aren’t particularly illustrious. You don’t become Harvard merely because you double the dollars you get from the National Science Foundation.

Daniel Suhr nails it in his post.
There are already universities out there that do research. The University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities are two such institutions. Certainly the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign or the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor are also such mega-research institutions. But Marquette students, who primarily draw from the Midwest, did not choose to go to those schools, even though they could have done so for significantly cheaper tuition, half or less. Marquette undergrad students chose to pay $10,000 or $20,000 more to come here.

They did so because they wanted an excellent, personalized education in a Catholic setting where they have options. For my own mind, Marquette offered all the resources and opportunities of a major national institution - exciting DI athletics, leading faculty, lots of academic and extracurricular programs - with the promise of individual attention and classes taught by professors, not TAs.
There is no doubt that a better and more prestigious Marquette can be built, and that Marquette will do better research -- and maybe bring in more external research money. But it will come about by building on strength.

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