Deflating the faculty
After I read the committee report on grade inflation, it dawned on me that there might be other significant kinds of inflation. Has the percentage of full professors among the faculty increased? Is the entire width of the scale from instructor to professor still being utilized?
I chose 1965-66 as the base year because I remember being surprised that Fred Vine held the rank of instructor (two notches below assistant professor) at Princeton in 1965 when he published one of the fundamental papers that led to plate tectonics. Counts from the 1965-66 and 1997-98 catalogs gave:
It looks as if instructors and associate professors have been replaced by full professors. Are the faculty getting any smarter?
There are some big-time heavyweight names on that 1965 faculty list; it might not be possible to argue that our present faculty is at all superior. It looks as if we have suffered from both rank inflation and rank compression. If we were to follow the committee's words and seek to "distinguish the excellent from the competent" and to "differentiate routinely good from really outstanding performance," we would do well to recenter the faculty ranks.
Of course it helps to have a concrete proposal on the table for discussion. We could let Toni Morrison, Eric Wieshcaus and Joe Taylor retain the rank of full professor. Everybody else would automatically move down one rank. Right away, the title of associate professor at Princeton would regain the prestige that it used to have. An instructor might again publish a landmark paper. Gradually, faculty could be promoted, but it would be slower than it used to be. Never again would we want to suffer from the ravages of rank inflation. Kenneth Deffeyes '59 Professor of Geology (for now)
Kathleen Deignan, Associate Dean of Student Life, attacks Tomas Amorim '99, LGBA President, in yesterday's front page article "Knight to resign as LGBA liaison." She accuses him of a "breach (of) confidentiality" in regards to his statement that Knight's hiring "did not reflect the concerns of the leaders of the LGB community invited to be involved in the selection process."
Maybe that is true. But it is more upsetting that a committee was formed of students, staff and faculty only to have their recommendations ignored. This is equivalent to selecting a jury for a criminal case and then for the judge to say, "Well, I find your verdict of 'not guilty' really interesting, but I'm going to convict him anyway." These people took the time to interview candidates and make recommendations based on what they felt would be best for the LGB community. But the administration didn't want what would be best for the LGB community. They wanted what would be "best for Princeton" – i.e., a puppet figure with no real power or authority which wouldn't stand out or make waves. And that's what they got. Shelby Hatch GS