Ask the grumpies: Postpone sabbatical to try for funding or not?

Lisa asks:

I’m curious about your experiences being on leave. I am supposed to be on sabbatical in the spring, but the sabbatical funding I applied for did not pan out, and I have been so preoccupied with the mess [in my department] that I have been unable to make an alternate plan. I’m trying to decide whether to cancel/postpone my sabbatical or go ahead with it and hang out elsewhere as much as possible. I won’t be able to offload everything, but could offload some of it. But I hate to “waste” a sabbatical and don’t think postponing would be a problem (the Dean is well aware of the mess and the amount of involvement I have with it). It sounds like the leave has been good for you even if you’re not really “gone”.

I would definitely see what the rules are on postponing— Ours are competitive and we’re not allowed to postpone.  Also if you get a sabbatical after X years, does that mean your next sabbatical won’t be until X+1 years?

I knew the department head in another related department and just asked if I could have a desk over there.  It’s in another building.  He said yes and wrote me a letter of support.  They had space to give me a desk in an office with a window, which I wasn’t expecting.  There’s even a couch although it’s a bit musty.  (Everyone remarks on how cool the couch is but nobody actually sits on it.)  I changed my parking permit over and informed my current head that those were the dates I was no longer doing service (though I actually did process a bunch of course waivers after that date, and of course I also did the promotion and tenure stuff I wasn’t allowed to not do).

You should be able to offload everything. The best part of sabbatical is breaking service ties and starting fresh when you get back. (I won’t be able to this time— the chair has kept my spot for me as program coordinator and we’re now hiring for 6 new positions instead of just the 5. And adding I don’t know how many new programs without any thought put into them because the new college president values speed over anything else.). If you can’t do that it might make sense to wait until you can.

For academic readers– saving up for a half-paid full year leave is wonderful if you can do it. The first time we were able to do it, DH really got why savings might be useful.  Before then I think it was just something he did because it made me freak out less.

I’ve definitely felt more “away” when I’ve actually been in another state and my time away has been more respected in those instances.  But also we haven’t had to deal with finding housing or renting out our house, so that’s something.  Currently our furnishings are probably too worn to rent to people and there’s that awful Trump flag across the street.

Grumpy academics:  What are your thoughts on local vs. away sabbaticals and on postponing a year?

Things I haven’t told you about work this year

  • I’m actually on leave this year.  I can’t go anywhere because DC1 is a high school senior, so I’m hanging out in another department.  This is very nice.
  • They screwed up my salary by giving me a full paycheck the first paycheck in October.  Then no paycheck the second paycheck (I still owe them $44).  This has screwed up my retirement because I have a set amount extra taken off and because there was no paycheck last month, I didn’t get it.  I don’t think with my half salary (plus extra fees) that there’s enough money to fill up my accounts even if I try to max them out if I only get the November paycheck.  I’m not sure if the December paycheck counts for 2022 or 2023 (it’s supposed to be disbursed Jan 1, but is always disbursed the last business day before that).  If it counts for 2022 I think I can max out both, but if it doesn’t, I can’t.
  • Despite being on leave, my department head put me on the promotion and tenure committee for the guy who is currently suing the department because he wasn’t promoted the last time he went up, despite not having any new publications since tenure except in teaching journals (the kind where you say here’s a classroom exercise you can use in your classes), and not a whole lot of them earlier.
  • I said no, I will not do this, but I can be on the committee for the junior faculty member I’ve been mentoring (she does work that has a lot of intersections with my areas of expertise) and have read all the papers for.  The chair ignored that email and I got one from the head of the suing guy’s committee trying to set up a meeting.  I replied all and refused because I am fricking on leave.
  • It turns out that the suing guy refuses to work with any department member who denied him full in the past, so he refused to be on the committee of the person I mentored so I ended up being on her committee anyway.  The department head wrote me a kind of jerky email saying that zie had discussed with the dean and provost about whether I was still obligated to do service while on leave and they had said yes, the department head could force me to do service.  But because I had more knowledge of the junior member’s cv, zie was graciously allowing me to be on that committee instead of the suing guy’s (they didn’t replace me).  No mention of the other guy taking himself off the committee (and why was he allowed to do that but I was not?) and needing that slot to be filled.  But the other committee members informed me and were grateful that I was there, especially since I was able to write up the research statement for the committee (everyone gushed about what a great job I did after… which is both nice and makes me cringe because doing a good job is rewarded with more service but not more time or money).
  • I was supposed to get a $2000 additional payment (along with a plaque– currently have a printed paper award that’s supposed to be a place holder) for a small awards thing I was awarded in September and I thought that might fix up the retirement problem, but it has not yet come.  I should probably check on that.
  • Did I mention that I am the only full professor without a fellowship, professorship, or chair?  This includes the woman who is similar to me but does zero service, doesn’t answer student emails, has been here less time than I have, and has a slightly higher google scholar count than I do (she has also been out 3 more years than I have and has gotten a number of sweet deals to not teach).  But she does research in the same area as the chair who likes her more than me even though zie can’t “trust” her on committees or to teach classes.
  • Brainstream:  I think the chair might have a fixed mindset.  It’s weird though because the professor in question used to teach just fine.  It’s just that after starting a field experiment she stopped being able to do anything other than research.  And yet, I did a field experiment before she did (my NSF grant ended just as hers started) and was able to still meet my other commitments.  Still, it seems to me the solution is not to protect her research time at my expense but to get her to go back to doing the minimum for teaching and to start actually doing service.
  • Brainstream:  The department head has trouble about thinking about gestalt fairness.  Zie tends to think in terms of “we have to have everyone teach an undergraduate course and core course” rather than thinking about the entire teaching/service package.  So some people get really lucky in some areas or really unlucky but then get the average load in other areas, which as a whole ends up being extremely unfair.
  • Brainstream:  Zie also takes the wrong message from things.  I got angry about being told to do an additional small service (straw/camel — this was reading over a master’s thesis for an award committee) after dying of service that year and being promised that I would be done for the year after the last thing zie begged me to do (I had said, yes, I will do this but it has to be the LAST thing you ask me to do this year), so instead of taking the lesson not to renege on promises, zie took the lesson that I never wanted to read over masters theses for the award and this master’s thesis committee is so terrible that it should be equivalent to half of the two course reduction that people get for paternity leave (they are supposed to get additional service to make up for the class reduction since we don’t have real parental leave).
  • The other professor does some service external to our university (again, as do I and earlier) so she can’t actually be incompetent.  She just doesn’t care.  And why should she?  She’s getting rewarded for selfishness.  The department head is worried she will leave, but she has been on the market every year since she got here and nobody has hired her yet.
  • I had a fellowship very briefly but I lost it upon becoming a full professor.  This information was not in the letter when I got my fellowship.  Also nobody in admin noticed.  So for a month I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t reimburse a $50 journal submission fee.  I think I may have already complained about this.
  • The one competent person in admin services recently moved to a different state, so she’s not there anymore.
  • I’m very worried that I will never be able to leave because I don’t have a top 5 journal publication.
  • Being on leave is such a contrast to being in the department.  I have a high teaching load compared to other economists (average or low compared to humanities profs– I don’t know how you guys get any work done!)  I have an insane service load compared to even people in my department, including a lot of things that I get zero credit for (I have complained about this in the past).  I was worried that I was becoming stupid and would never have any good ideas or time to get things out again.  But I am thinking deep thoughts!  I am being productive!  I am happy and meeting people and giving keynote talks that go over really well and I’m getting grant proposals out and papers under review.  I’m excited about research and both new and current projects. It’s like I’m back to being me.  My department overload and feeling unappreciated and not being given time or money was seriously hurting me.
  • I went back over to the department yesterday and the people who are competent at service are dying.  They haven’t washed their hair.  They’re frazzled.  They told me about all these stupid directives coming from on high admin that the head isn’t slowing down or pushing back on.  (Hardcore!)  And that’s going to continue into next year except other competent people are going on leave.  I don’t know how I am going to be able to honor the research commitments I’ve made this year in that situation, especially since I’m also supposed to be teaching a new prep.
  • I think I need to have a discussion with the department head before I go back about how this is untenable.  My counterpart in another field who also does outsized service is feeling the same way (but will be on leave next year), so maybe we can approach hir as a united front.  We’re both program coordinators, and the only program coordinators with the full teaching load, even though we’re coordinating the two biggest programs (the other coordinator has a center and does no research anymore, just public outreach).
  • There are a couple of professorships and one chair available, but the dean has decided to take them from our department to distribute across all of the departments in our school (we recently had a re-org).  So I will continue not having a fellowship, professorship, or chair.  These have been open for some time and we were told to apply for them this summer (previously they were just appointed by the department chair) and there would be a committee that would make the decision.  But a couple months after that, we were told in a lengthy email that they would be open to being reassigned to another department, and there would be another committee (headed by someone from the other department), oh, and btw, I no longer have a fellowship and it was going back in the pool too (this was in the email sent to everyone, thanks).  That was almost 2 months ago and still no decisions.  But at least I have a bursary now.
  • IT says that we can’t work from home unless we use a department laptop because we are not allowed to do university business on our own devices.  Except dropbox is still broken on my computer in my home office because when they update it it often (but not always) defaults back to a drive that has no space in it.  I wouldn’t have to download so much stuff, except that the computer in my office is too slow to download on the fly and use stata.  What’s really weird is that the computer in the office I’m using now in the other department has no problem– it’s fast and logging on is fast and dropbox works and is fast.  It just works.  Also we’re not allowed to get reimbursed for software using grant funding.
  • Another irritating thing is that the dean just assumed I had a professorship, which I never did.  We got into an argument about the IT bullet above (which probably wasn’t a great idea on my part since having a dean disliking you isn’t great) and he made a comment about using my professorship funds.  Which I have never had.  Another full professor also thought I had a professorship because she assumed I got one when my colleague who is a substitute for me but does no service got one.  It’s like not getting maternity leave all over again!  Everyone assumes you got the benefit you didn’t get, which is worse than just not getting the benefit.
  • Was this cathartic or did it make things worse?  I don’t know.  I just know I’m dreading going back to work next year and it’s only November.  And if I hadn’t gone in yesterday I could have ignored it.

Ask the grumpies: Will your kids be paying a portion of their college costs?

bogart asks:

[Are] people are planning to have their kids pay a portion of college costs and if so, how much.

Background: I have 1 kid and expect to be able to afford to send him anywhere (this is more a function of an employer’s tuition benefit than household wealth, though we are not comfortably off). Both I and my stepkids (whose college I also helped pay for) graduated college with some debt, not an obscene amount (let’s say 1/3 of our first year’s anticipated salary had we gotten an entry-level college-graduate job). I’m inclined to expect roughly the same for my DC, with him either working summers (or whatever) and/or taking on (sensibly financed) student loans. But at this point that’s just a vague notion, not an actual plan. I’m interested to learn what others’ thoughts are on the pros/cons of college kids investing some of their own current/future $$$ on their education, with a note that I definitely know that needing to work lots while in college creates lots of problems for lots of people and don’t want that for DC. And also whether DC does or doesn’t cover what I’m (vaguely) thinking of as a reasonable amount isn’t going to have a big impact on our household’s financial well-being one way or the other. And that I realize I’m lucky and frighteningly privileged to be able to say that.

Related posts: Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?  You can read this deliberately controversial post for why we think the argument that people won’t care about their own education unless they’re paying for it themselves is not a great one.

We are planning on paying full tuition, basic living expenses, and textbooks/etc. expenses for our kids in college.  Probably we’ll also pitch in for one of those overpriced refrigerator/microwave units for the dorm room.  If there are any loans, we will take them on.

I figure they can pay for any extras (meals at restaurants… not sure what else… concert tickets?  plane tickets to visit significant others?  stuffed animals?) out of their earnings, either summer earnings or work during the school year.  My friend whose kid is at Brown is paying for full dining hall PLUS multiple restaurant nights a week, though she just had a conversation with him about that.  (But Mommmmm, the restaurants are so good here!)

Not sure about masters degrees– we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I graduated with my parents paying the 0% interest subsidized loans they’d taken out on my behalf (we were very low income).  DH graduated with 10K of unsubisidized debt at ~8% interest that we scrimped like crazy to pay off ASAP.  I worked for spending money for extras during the school year and DH worked over the summers.

Paying college tuition is a great way to transfer money to the next generation while avoiding gift/inheritance taxes.  It also doesn’t have the problem of creating more expenses like giving someone a house downpayment would nor does it teach people to live large when they can’t really afford to like giving them cash or a fancy car would.  So if you can afford it, why not?

Leah adds:

I was super grateful that my mom helped me graduate debt free by picking up extra shifts nursing. I think the path to take depends on your family. I totally understood the value of what my mom did for me. I worked hard in college. I had a work study job, got extra scholarships each year, and worked for the school newspaper. There’s more than one way to teach being fiscally prudent. Do what works for your family.

Grumpy Nation:  Those of you who partook of higher education, who paid for it?  If applicable, what do you plan to do/did you do for your kids?

Dream job not happening

Everything went great until my last meeting. The dean was late as is his usual, apparently.

Then he made a small amount of small talk about his son going to the school. Then he asked me if I wanted to work there and why. Then he was basically like, you do not currently have an R01, therefore I will veto anybody that wants to hire you.

And I’m like, NIH doesn’t fund the work I do. Does it have to be NIH? I’m between grants right now, but I’ve been getting NSF funding more recently. And he said NSF was fine, but it had to be government funding, foundation funding doesn’t count. But the next two grants I’m scheduled to submit are both foundation (and he’d never HEARD of one of them, which, dear readers, many of you have likely heard of because there are celebrities involved with the larger organization). But he said, no, overhead is important and he wants 67% overhead, not 15%. (My colleague who works there says the majority of her funding comes from this specific foundation so the dean has definitely heard of it.)

Then he said that he’d decided not to do a targeted hire and there would be a job posted with a search committee and I was welcome to apply and the search committee was welcome to do what they wanted, but he was going to veto anybody who was not bringing in government funding with the appropriate overhead rate. It’s an equity issue, he said.

NSF deadline is in January, they say what is being funded sometime in the summer. It usually takes two tries. This is not going to happen.

Also he said, this is probably illegal for me to ask, but what does your husband do? When I was on the job market the first time I told off two guys at Berkeley (for a post-doc that I did not get) who asked me that. He’s not a coal miner, there are jobs for anybody in Silicon Valley.  (And yes, they only asked women with rings that, and they did stop the next year.) This time I answered, but I HATE it when people do that. It’s not a state school, where doing that actually would be illegal in this state, but I’m willing to bet they have guidance that they’re not supposed to ask.

Unless I move over into health, it would be very difficult for me to keep up a steady stream of government funding and also get publications out. My work is of strong interest to foundations right now and they are much faster to fund. But they don’t allow more than 10-15% overhead. Even though this job is hard money, I just don’t think it is a good fit for me. I can think of a couple of people it would be a good fit for, but they’ve recently just moved to other jobs that are hard money without the additional funding expectations.

So, a nice visit, but I shouldn’t have spent so much time looking at housing and schooling in the area. It’s not going to happen.

Ask the grumpies: Academic jobs tricks

CG asks:

Jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general.

I like the, “Yes, but…” when it comes to service.  Yes, I will do this service thing, but I have to stop doing this other thing.

Staying out of fights about molehills is another one.

If you want to get something done at a faculty meeting, talking to people one-on-one before the faculty meeting to get them on board.

If you’re running a meeting, make sure you have an agenda.  Also start the meeting on time even if only one other person is there.  Once you have a reputation for this, people stop wandering in late as much.

Grumpy Academics, what are your jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general? 

Ask the grumpies: FL fascism in higher ed

Rose asks:

Anyone wanting to comment on FL and declaring political affiliations of professors/teachers and students? Any one believe there will be no retaliation? Will proof be required? How can proof be given if a private ballot is involved? How does tenure get impacted?

Apparently this was an urban legend started by a Salon headline.  University of Florida professors/teachers are not required to declare their political affiliations.

However,

Florida House Bill 233 requires an assessment of the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at state colleges and universities.

So professors were asked about their political affiliation in an anonymous survey.  This will no doubt be used for evil political purposes to cut funding to universities and to keep students from going to college (“too liberal”) and maybe to funnel public money into evil private institutions like Liberty University.  Who knows.

So… it’s bad.  But also it’s not attaching a person’s political affiliation to their name anywhere.  Other, than, you know, where it’s already attached if you vote in primaries or donate to political candidates.

How to determine you need an equity increase and how to argue for one at a US state university

Disclaimer:  We are not financial or legal professionals.  Consult with an actual professional who has your interests in mind and/or do your own research before making any important decisions.

If you work at a state university in the US, your salary information is public information.  For many state universities, the data are available online– you can just google the name of your school and “salary” and click on the links.  For schools where the information is not online, and even those for whom it is, you can also get salary information by asking the university librarians.

If you don’t know what the other people in your department are making compared to you, try googling and see what you find.

Note that not all of the places online report data the same way.  Some report 9 month salaries separate from summer money.  Some include summer money in the numbers you get.  If you get summer money you can look and see what they think your salary is, otherwise you may have to ask someone or just or just skip directly to the library.  Some online places report calendar year instead of fiscal year salaries which is annoying.  The university library should report the fiscal year salary and will separate out 9 month from additional earnings even if the online places don’t (and for some states, there are multiple places that report salaries and the different websites sometimes report them differently!).

Once you have an idea what your salary is compared to people in your department… are you underpaid?  How do you compare to people who have worse cvs than you do?  How do you compare to the people making more than you are?  Are you a research active full professor making less than an associate professor?  Comparisons where the other person has not gotten an outside offer are especially compelling, but you shouldn’t let outside offers stop you– if a person has a higher salary from an outside offer and they’re not as productive as you are, you can still make the argument that your salary should be higher.

Who you compare yourself to is important– in my case, there’s a guy who never had an outside offer who was hired the year after I was who has a less impressive cv, fewer citations, fewer papers, equal quality etc. etc. etc. and it was very easy to use him as a comparison.  (The argument being that his best papers hit during years with raises, and my best papers hit during years without raises.  Or maybe they’re sexist.)  But my friend in a sister department has used several comparisons, some with outside offers, some without.  That way she could say, yeah, this person had an outside offer but this person didn’t, this person was hired a different year, but this person wasn’t.  And it made it very clear that her salary was the one out of whack, not a single comparison person.

Then write up your justification for a salary increase using these comparisons.  Put in charts or tables to make it easy to parse and to make your argument obvious.  My friend and I included this with our annual progress reports, but there’s no need to wait until then if you just found out about the equity problem now for the first time.  Your department head or dean may need extra time to figure out how to get equity increases and to lobby on your behalf.

On the other hand, universities, particularly those who have been through NSF ADVANCE, may have a system in place specifically for equity bumps.  Our uni, for example, runs everybody’s statistics in each department (not publications or grant money or anything like that) and sends each department head a graph of a linear regression that makes it clear who the department outliers are.  The department head then can look at the underpaid outliers and decide if they are outliers because of low publications, for example, or if they want to request equity adjustments from the central university.  Department heads like this because they get money from the university, and there’s no system in place for lowering outliers from the other direction, so nobody gets upset at them.  The department head still has to write up a request though– if you write up that memo for them, it will make their life easier and they will be more likely to put forward the equity request.

I’ve also seen people who don’t have good comparisons at their own university (ex. people in interdisciplinary departments/fields) find comparisons at other schools of similar ranks to theirs (you may also want to include any schools your university considers to be “aspirational”).  Here again it’s important to determine if a salary listed is 9 month or 12 month, and you can either email the person in question or you can call up *their* university library– you don’t have to be at the university to have access to the internal salary data.

I’ve gotten 2 equity bumps in my time here, each about 10% (though I was still underpaid after, despite promises– it’s easy here for them to request a 10% bump but more difficult to request a larger one).  My friend just got an ~$50K/year equity bump and will no longer be underpaid.

University peeps at state schools:  Have you googled your salary info?  Are you underpaid compared to your colleagues?

Ask the grumpies: teaching tricks

CG asks:

The Chronicle forum used to have a section Jedi mind tricks for making your teaching easier. We could do something like that for teaching . I came up with a good one this semester because of online teaching.

My favorite is “let others do the work for you”– meaning if there’s something you don’t want to do, think about if there’s a way you can make it an appropriate assignment for the students.  For example, I find lecturing about the characteristics of government programs to be really boring (like, what’s their budget, what’s their purpose, etc.) and things have to be updated each year.  It makes a really great student assignment– they get to research a program and practice presentation skills and they usually add cute graphics and it’s just not as boring as me writing dry facts on the board in a monotone.

Otherwise I really love everything in Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov (Amazon link so we get a small kickback).

Here’s some posts on teaching tactics.

Here’s some posts on teaching just generally.

I am now a full professor

I should have gone up 5-6 years ago.

Here’s my recommendation for all you associate profs:

  1.  Go up when you have double or a little more than double what you had to get tenure AND
  2.  when you have evidence that you are a leader in the community (ex. you are an associate editor at a journal) UNLESS
  3.  your university/department has different guidelines

Don’t put it off– the procedures may have changed from when you got tenure, and the longer you wait the more likely they are to have changed.  That means they may want information that you didn’t have to put in your tenure packet.  Which you will have to dig up.

Also when you have more stuff you have to enter ALL that stuff into various forms.  And find things.  And figure out where your PhD students ended up.  And there’s just so much info to dig up and put into a long form.  And the forms are a pain.

In any case, I put it off because the department was being sued and because I didn’t want more full professor responsibilities and because I was supposed to get a chair that can only go to associate profs.  And there was an equity bump that I was supposed to get and did get.  None of those were good reasons– I got excess responsibilities anyway, I didn’t get the chair and they gave it to someone else because they thought she was going up for full first (we went up at the same time), and I shouldn’t have done a favor for the department (even though the chair specifically asked– but the chair isn’t my friend)… and they could have given me a equity bump at the full professor level instead.

I still don’t know what my salary bump is.  Our re-employment letter for the year had the old salary on it (along with us not needing to sign it and a bunch of boilerplate that sure makes it sound like they want to make it easier to fire tenured people) and the email that sent it said we would be finding out our new salaries after the semester starts.  It’s supposed to be at least 10%, but who knows what will actually happen.  Three of us went up for full this year and succeeded and that could go either direction in terms of resources (smaller bumps) vs. equity (potentially we all get a large bump).  I’m hoping it won’t matter too much for me, but I can’t get my hopes up too much about job markets!

Ask the grumpies: Big controversial research questions in your field

CG asks:

Big research questions in your field that are controversial or have mixed evidence (thinking about the minimum wage issue, and there are plenty of examples in my field). Maybe we’ll get some good research ideas out of it.

Well, yeah, minimum wage is a big one.

What else do economists not agree on yet… hm….

We don’t know a whole lot about a lot of monetary policy.  I was trained in Keynesian stuff, but there’s disagreements there.

Structural models for labor economics and public finance.  There’s some other modeling things that are much smaller and tend not to actually matter (I was trained in Cambridge-school instead of Chicago-school beliefs about these, but I have colleagues who were the reverse).

There’s still a lot of old-school people who believe that women and minorities are doing poorly because they’re playing the game wrong, not because they’re playing a different game than white dudes are.  That’s beginning to change, but it’s an uphill battle.

#2 can’t really add to this because she’s keeping her social science secret and it would be obvious.

Grumpy Nation, what are the big controversies in your respective fields?