Thursday, 7 February 2008

Eagleton to get booted?

Just read this Guardian article, where it is suggested that Terry Eagleton may be forced to leave the University of Manchester on reaching the age of 65. The article approaches this from the angle of Eagleton's 'feud' with Martin Amis. While both these characters are employees of the University of Manchester, and therefore technically colleagues of mine, you're not likely to see them hanging around the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. In the case of Amis, you're not that likely to see him in Manchester, given his contracted 28 hours a year (at £80,000).

While the 'feud' was moderately entertaining, I'm more interested in how all of this fits in with the university's 2015 plan. This is highly ambitious, and sees the university as one of the world's top 25 by 2015. One of the targets is, apparently arbitrarily, to employ five nobel laureates by 2015. I'm a little cynical, and wonder if the university was taking a bit of a gamble on Amis winning the Nobel in the near future. Certainly, Amis is a high-profile addition to the university, but could that £80,000 a year have been better spent than on 28 hours work and some (not entirely positive) publicity?

Eagleton, whether you agree with him or not, also enjoys a high profile. Surely it can't be smart for the university to force him out at 65. I get the impression that universities in other countries will look askance at an institution that discards a professor decribed as "the best internationally known literary critic this country currently can boast" in such a cavalier fashion. Certainly, the work of my department is enhanced by the presence of eminent scientists who are long past the retirement age.

While 5 Nobel laureates would be a nice headline figure, it's not at all clear to me that it will improve the research and teaching at the university, especially if those nobel laureates only work 28 hours a year.


badchemist said...

This reminds of DCs post on publication metrics. Trying to buy yourself a higher profile as that's what the RAE and other metrics look at. In reality it doesn't necessarily improve anything.

Pushing people out the door at 65 is just plain daft. You can understand it for those with tenure that have been deadwood for years, butwhen people are still active and leading their field why would you want them out? Oh yeah, they're expensive...

Paul Wilson said...

It seems from the article that expense has got something to with it. I've got no idea what Eagleton's salary is, but I doubt it's as much as £80,000, and I expect he has more impact on teaching and research than Amis's 28 hours.

It is related to DC's points, I think. Targets and metrics inevitably have perverse results.

George Walks said...

If they get the five and then someone else gets one do they get booted out then?

Ageing Uni hack said...

Not sure about the salaries - I would think it quite likely that Terry Eagleton is on something near to £ 80 grand a year or even more. He would have been at the top of the University Fellow's pay scales in Oxford - having worked there until he was 60 or so - so I doubt he would be on peanuts at Manchester. Remember that the Russell Group's Senior Lecturer/Reader scale runs from about 42 K to 56 K, and the "Professorial minimum" will be at around the same (56 K) figure. Given this, 80 K comes to seem pretty mundane for a full Professor, especially a "name" like Eagleton. BTW, according to the last set of stats I saw a couple of years back Manchester had more than a hundred Profs on over 100K a year.

As to the reasoning behind not keeping TE on, I suspect it IS partly the money (there are freezes and cutbacks on all over the place). I suspect they would have offered to make him an Emeritus Prof, but while that would give him office-space it carries no salary. Of course, they have now "scored" the RAE points for him so don't need him to be a paid (RAE-returnable) employee, which as people have said no doubt has a bearing.

I also suspect the decision carries an element of thinking TE is arguably more trouble than he is worth. TE is certainly an eminent critic, but he is also a famously prickly and difficult customer, of which the public fight with Amis is just the latest example - by repute TE is not happy unless he has someone to pick a quarrel with.

Paul Wilson said...

Cheers for this: I hadn't appreciated the points you make on salary. Having seen the pay 'spine', I was assuming that the top pay for a professor would normally be around that £56k mark: an invalid assumption, as it turns out.

Still, £80k would be enough to hire a full-time professor, or three post-doc research associates, who would do something other than give good PR. Possibly Amis is worth the investment in terms of the number of students attracted to the program?

It does seem that Eagleton has a reputation for being a unhappy unless he's picking a fight, but then again, he's a critic! It's surely not unexpected that he would pick fights?

ageing uni hack said...

Professors' pay is a very dark mystery, Paul. They negotiate individually, and no details of individuals' salaries are released, though some overall stats do appear, usually in the THES.

The only time you ever find out definitively is when you see it on a Full Economic Costing grant application, or more likely when one Professor is whingeing publically about the Professor down the hall earning more than him. But I would be amazed if ANY science Professor with a Programme Grant was on less than £ 80 K.

Back to Amis, I suspect the lure for the Uni is partly "splash value" and press coverage, and partly to try and push some sort of Creative Writing MA that will generate fee-paying students. Though I think Amis does do some free-form seminars with the BA undergrads, mostly "discussing famous books and what they say to me as an author".

Really, Amis' "appointment" is not comparable in any meaningful way to a Professorship, no matter what it is called. It would be more accurately called "a series of personal appearances by special guest discussant" ... Martin Amis.

In this vein, one story I read in the Torygraph made the interesting point that when you look at it that way £ 80 K is about the going rate if he turns up eight to ten times a year. Celebs cost money - e.g. a personal appearance by Martin Clunes cost £ 6-10 K.

Actually I doubt the Uni sees the Amis decision and the Eagleton one as even vaguely related. Note that it was Terry Eagleton himself who made the connection, which is just the kind of mischievous dig he is famed for.

Re Eagleton, he is reaching 65, remember, which is normal retiring age under the present rules. The "staying on to 67" is a sort of special dispensation in the gift of the management.

BTW, John Sulston is reliably rumoured NOT to be taking a salary at all for his post - just expenses when he comes to M'cr from his home near Cambridge. He is supposed to have told them to spend whatever they would have offered to pay him on funding PhD students and research fellows. It would be in keeping with the man, so I can believe it.

Paul Wilson said...

Thanks for this: interesting stuff.

"John Sulston is reliably rumoured NOT to be taking a salary at all for his post - just expenses when he comes to M'cr from his home near Cambridge. He is supposed to have told them to spend whatever they would have offered to pay him on funding PhD students and research fellows. It would be in keeping with the man, so I can believe it".

That would indeed be quite impressive...

I'm sure you're correct that 'staying on to 67 is a sort of special dispensation in the gift of the management', but I wonder if Eagleton could stay on as an emeritus professor? As such, I understand he would be unpaid (but would still use resources such as office space).

Ageing uni hack said...

Yes, I mentioned the idea of Eagleton becoming an Emeritus Prof in my earlier post. One would imagine that, despite the savings drive in M'cr, Eagleton is eminent enough that they would want him to be still connected as an Emeritus Prof. Though even Emeritus appts have to be voted on by Faculty managements, since they do cost something (indirectly).

Se here's a (purely imaginary) scenario:

TE "I would like to stay on post-65"

Univ: "Well, we would be happy to consider making you an Emeritus Prof, Terry"

TE: "Well, I am not ready to retire... so I am happy to keep working for my usual salary"

Univ: "Hmmm... We are under pressure to cut back... and 65 is the retirement age.. we think perhaps Emeritus Prof is a better fit to Dept and Univ priorities..."

TE: "You smarmy *!*!s! You're are paying that racist !*!* Amis wads of cash for turning up eight times a year!"

Univ: "I'm sorry you feel like that, really there is no connection with the Amis appointment... and even Emeritus status for you has a financial cost to us.... well, let us know if you wish to reconsider"

-- Door closes --

TE (on phone): "Is that the Union? Did you know the !*!*s here want to give me the boot? At the same time as they've hired that !*!* Amis for !**! knows how much? What!? He's getting HOW MUCH an hour? The *!*! Listen, do you know any journalists?"

Paul Wilson said...

Hm, yes, it does seem as though events may have unfolded something like that...

Many thanks for your comments, by the way, I've learned a lot from them. As an early-career post-doc, the world of university politics often seems like an impenetrable mystery.

ageing uni hack said...

There is one immutable rule of Univ politics, at least in the sciences, that I'm sure you will already have twigged, Paul:

Loadsa-(grant)-money = They think you are "an asset", stroke you, worry you will leave, promote you, pay you more, let you teach as little (or much) as you want/are prepared to etc etc.

No grant money = they think you are a useless git and try to work out how they could get rid of you.

In the Russell Gp at least, research trumps teaching every time, and anyone who tells you different is talking b!*!s. It is an oddity, in some ways, since teaching accounts for 40-90% of the total income in the Russell Gp. Univs, depending on which one you are discussing. But there it is.

[The obvious explanations are:

i) research income is "adjustable" via quality rankings (RAE) and indirect (fEC) grant costs, while teaching income is (student) bums on seats, hence largely invariant;

ii) "Reputation" is seen to depend on "research spin", so attracting the best students is argued to depend on research prowess. ]

Your own Univ has been one of the leaders in pushing the primacy of research, although they are currently having to have a bit of a re-think as they have been finding this is rather an unpopular line with "stakeholders" - most notably (and unsurprisingly) the students.

Anyway, if you are going for job interviews for academic (lectureship) posts around the research-intensive Unis, bear in mind that they want to be convinced you CAN teach competently. But they want to be convinced that you WILL generate research funding. The difference is all-important.