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So you want to run the university like a business? Try making nice to the faculty.

By David Duffy, UHPA President.

In most businesses, it is elementary that a motivated work force is a productive one

Motivations can be financial, social or even minatory.  Businesses pay well and reward performance with bonuses, pay raises and corner offices. Medals and promotion are the currencies of the military. Unfortunately too many universities seem to be completely gormless when it comes to motivation and reward, beyond tenure and promotion.

I’d like to suggest some simple things that can work to motivate faculty

The easiest of course is money, as businesses have long known. Like everyone else, academics have families and need salaries that keep up with the cost of living.  Universities  may have mechanisms for merit increases, but too often blame the lack of awards  on unions and collective bargaining: “the unions won’t allow it”, often without even reading the faculty contract.

Many universities provide awards in recognition of productivity, teaching excellence and service

UH has all of twelve awards for its ten campuses and three thousand faculty.  Not exactly an inspiring commitment to recognizing excellence.

Even if funds are short, there are ways to reward faculty

Many universities bestow honorary titles like “University”, “Distinguished” or “Regents’” professorships.  Some of these titles are for endowed chairs, but many are not. Some are permanent, some are only of limited tenure. Chairs can be named after distinguished alumni, even if unendowed. Students, and their parents, may feel they are really getting their money’s worth, when taught by a distinguished professor. And when applying for research or other funding, such a title doesn’t hurt faculty, especially when they are up against competitors at institutions that shower titles on their own professors.

Even symbolic acts can be of benefit

At many universities, a senior faculty member, faculty senate president or other acknowledged representative of the faculty is among the leads at academic ceremonies such as graduations. This professor sits in the front row facing the audience.  While deans and directors merit respect, faculty do the teaching and award the degrees, so they merit a place of honor. Of course several thousand can’t sit in the front row but neither should they be consigned to the nose-bleed section behind the podium. It’s just a single seat but it has symbolism.


Many think that universities should be run more like businesses.  It isn’t always clear that such folks have ever had to make a payroll, but if they have, they should remember that businesses do better when their staff are working with them, not just for them.—David Duffy