Friday, February 9, 2018

Metric mania and threats to academic integrity: Rent-seeking, power plays, and collaboration

Universities, as modern capitalist organizations, reproduce practices of exploitation that are often obfuscated by the gloss of projected images.

Metric mania, the drive toward simply counting in the game toward rankings, is reflected in the blind allegiance in such Universities globally to measuring dollar values of grants and numbers of publications in varieties of tiered journals (tiering itself is a form of categorization that reproduces exploitative practices).

One of the effects of this neoliberal obsession with metrics is its role in (re)producing cultures of academic practices that threaten the very nature of academic work.

Academic integrity is sacrificed to the accelerated quest for numbers.

One such threat to academic integrity is reflected in rent-seeking behaviors of senior academics. What is projected as the academic culture of collaboration driven by faculty in senior ranks within institutions is often driven by practices of exploitation (Of course, there are many forms of collaboration that are generative and nurturing, more on these in a later blog entry).

Driven to claim credits on these metrics established by managers, these senior faculty develop practices of collaborating with junior colleagues, which often turn into exercises of exploitation, creating "use-and-throw systems" where junior scholars become expendable labor in circuits of exploitation.

For instance, Professor X running such-and-such lab expects any junior colleague using an equipment in his lab to include him as a co-author. Without doing any intellectual or material work, Professor X simply adds numbers to his CV by virtue of securing a grant that funds an expensive equipment or an entire laboratory.

In other instances, such exploitation can take grotesque forms such as Professor X asking a first year Assistant Professor Dr. A to list him as the Principal Investigator (PI) on a grant written by Dr. A based on an idea Dr. A has developed.

Professor X might even simply then take the idea and write a number of manuscripts based on the idea, taking Dr. A out of the picture.

Professor X might convince Dr. A, already occupied with anxieties about navigating a metric-heavy system that listing Professor X as the Principal Investigator (PI) on the grant would get Dr. A funded.

Such unethical practices in academe are reproduced by the inequalities in distribution of power within academic institutions and the anxieties that are tied to these inequities in power. The Dr. As in academe, often the expendable labor in circuits of academic reproduction, are simply "thrown out" for not having produced original work. Institutional processes, ensconced within circuits of power, are unavailable to junior colleagues to file complaints and to secure access to justice.

In the meanwhile, Professor X goes on to develop patents, win awards, secure additional funding based on ideas that were developed by Dr. A.

Rent-seeking culture among corrupt senior academics is typically rewarded and reproduced through the structures of metrics, whose obsession with metrics does little to actually consider questions of ethics, integrity, and misconduct.

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