Are generous salaries impacting our professional ethics? How should we ‘give back’?

It strikes me that a significant portion of the ethical concerns emanating from the academy are the result of activities involving reputation that directly impact  our own professorial pocketbooks. In an Op Ed piece in the NY Times, Frank Bruni points out that stellar salaries are not unique to Wall street, but have permeated the University environment.  University presidents commonly receive seven figure salaries, as do University sports directors and certain academic ‘superstars’.

When I consider some of the lengths colleagues go to in order to achieve yet another star publication (sometimes, unfortunately, crossing the ethical boundary lines), I can’t help but think remuneration is somewhere in back of their mind as a motivating force. I have met colleagues who evaluate each other directly according to the lines on their respective CV’s. And yet, there is no Nobel prize for management scholarship, and short of airport book notoriety (and perhaps the associated financial residuals), few of us are likely to attain the top .05% of wealth. Yet, we routinely make decisions, good and bad, as though each article provides yet another stream of income, another opportunity to leverage speaking engagements, research grants, and bolster our small army of hard working graduate students. Are we simply the sum total of our A* publications? Is that all that ‘matters’ to us?

At some point, I suspect our collective failure to acknowledge responsibilities beyond our own financial concerns are driving us ever further from science, from making important social contributions, and from advancing management as a field. When we make professional decisions based on how it affects our own financial situation, we are assuming that we are engaged in a zero sum game, perhaps one with winner take all, in the sense that only the most recognized bring home those super salaries Bruni complains about.

In some preliminary research I conducted with a colleague, we longitudinally analyzed professorial salaries in management. Changing institutions was one of the largest factors impacting salary raises. Regrettably, citation impacts were of little insight in the models (but numbers of publications were). So the message is clear – focus on ‘number one’, at the expense of institutions, play the numbers game of quantity over quality, and one’s salary will appreciate faster than the stock market.

Of course, none of this addresses some very important roles that we, as professional scholars and academics, are meant to oversee. Mentorship, community contributions, field contributions, institution building – these do no typically generate the salary enhancements that drive some of us so mercilessly.

So, here is a professional challenge. What if each of us pledged to dedicate a portion of our time – let’s say 10% – toward community betterment that would NOT appear on our CV? How would this impact our professional field? Would this help move us toward a more balanced role of individual performance and social welfare? Might it lead us toward a heightened ethical view of our roles that might reduce some of the tensions that have resulted in various ethical compromises? Am I just dreaming – or could some sort of ‘gold’ standard of professorial behavior become established in our profession?





One thought on “Are generous salaries impacting our professional ethics? How should we ‘give back’?”

  1. There’s a choice here between actually incentivising “community betterment” and getting everyone to pledge to do un-incentivised labour. I guess we might ask how you plan to incentivise taking the pledge. Remember that if the people who take your pledge don’t get tenure their service to your cause will be short-lived.

    There is a chance that the mystique of A-journal publication will pass and tenure and salary committees will begin to to look at others aspects of a scholar’s competences. If you ask me, this is already happening. I think the well-rounded “entrepreneurial” academic, who is able to establish research units, get funding for them, and organise people in common efforts, is increasingly being rewarded. In fact, I sometimes worry that ambitious, hard-working academics are crowding out the curious and intelligent ones. University administrators are increasingly impressed with researches who can “get things done”, and the idea of actually discovering truths about how the world works is coming to seem a bit quaint.

    All that said, you are right that one of the impressive ways a scholar can get something done is to publish (or get their name on a publication) in an A-journal. I’m just saying it’s by no means the only way.

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