by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(3), 6-7. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

More than one half of the state colleges and universities in the country are operating on reduced budgets. In order to survive in tough economic times, many campuses are targeting programs for reduction. The process of identifying programs for reduction using a cost benefit analysis is quite simple. However, the politics of the academic environment make it quite difficult to eliminate costly, counterproductive programs. If a cost reform initiative is to be introduced to state colleges and universities, it will likely come from outside, (e.g. from the legislature, trustees or others with strong financial leverage).

Academic research is one activity that does not stand up well in a cost benefit analysis. Academic research absorbs enormous resources with a questionable return on investment. While some academic research has substantial value, vast amounts of research serve no other purpose other than to advance the careers of those who publish it. Robert W. Clower, former editor of The American Economic Review, surmised that most of the scholarly papers that came in to him represented "absolute dullness, the lack of any kind of new idea." Clower concluded that "most papers would have been better off if they had not been written."

To Sowell, a well-known conservative Afro-American scholar, the most efficient strategy to improve the quality of teaching is to eliminate the "publish or perish" objective of academic employment. A drastic reduction in academic research would bring more professors back in touch with the students. The net result would be a better learning environment and a higher quality education. [Sowell, T. (1992, November 27) 'Publish or perish' slights students. The Herald-Sun, Durham, NC.]


This article represents an increasing perception by the public that the emphasis on research and publication adversely affects the quality of the learning environment. This issue, which has been argued vehemently on university campuses for decades, is increasingly visible on editorial pages and audible in the halls of legislatures. If the argument is not resolved on campus, it may be resolved in the state-house; mandated teaching loads and class sizes may well be the result.

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