Professor for life?


Earlier this year, the “horrific” idea that professorships should not be granted for a lifetime raised more than a few eyebrows in Denmark. The proposal, raised a few months ago by a Danish politician, suggests that after an initial ten-year contract, individual professors should successfully complete an evaluation process every five years in order to maintain their position as a professor. The proposition was designed to ensure that only the most qualified professors would assume the leadership of an academic institute. Unfortunately, I have not heard much of the proposal since it was first introduced, but the idea is nevertheless appealing in many ways.

Making a professor subject to such an evaluation would empower students as well as taxpayers, who are the primary source of funding of a professor’s salary, and would ensure that professors who once excelled at their work when first hired but no longer contribute to their subject do not prevent brighter and more energetic candidates from rising through the ranks of the academy. Such evaluations would allow professors who neglect their duties to be kindly removed from public budget.

I find the idea of an evaluation to be an excellent one, though I would argue that there exists an even more transparent and efficient way of handling the issue than an administrative appraisal. Though the proposal did not specify how such an evaluation process would proceed, I believe that taking both the professor’s research and student evaluations into account would be the fairest way of appraising a professor’s performance. Instead of proceeding with a conventional regulatory structure to supervise professors, which inevitably leads to more people in the public sector, student evaluations could be published on university websites. As most academics are quite keen on advertising their academic performance, the publication of student evaluations would not only fill a missing gap in this information, but would also provide prospective students with better information on where they can obtain an education best suited for their needs and goals. Instead of further regulation, the dissemination of information about “customer satisfaction” would aid prospective students and educational institutions, and would decrease professors’ insulation from market forces.