Old lows, new highs

May 4, 2007

The article "Competition swells ranks of professors" (April ) asserts that there is "a danger of 'grade inflation' taking place so that the title could begin to lose its value as a mark of academic excellence and leadership". Really? As opposed to the "good old days" when some professors were appointed after a dinner with the vice-chancellor?

Since moving to the UK, I am continually shocked to come across "professors" who do not have a PhD, haven't published a book since the 1970s and are in academic departments in which they have absolutely no qualifications in the subject concerned. Although they are in a minority, is this the "academic excellence" we are now in danger of sacrificing through the proliferation of new professors? It is often these very people who mutter about the decline in standards.

The types of professors you are seeing now, fast-tracked due to research assessment exercise pressures, possess at least basic qualifications and have often published more in their relatively short careers than those who possess "academic excellence and leadership" have in their entire lives.

Most younger staff have also undertaken courses in teaching as well as other self-improvement initiatives.

What really devalues the rank of professorship is anyone, young or old, who treats the job as a sinecure. With the current dynamics in place, this is less likely to happen than before.

Ian Taylor
St Andrews University

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