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Dean's Corner: Can Business Schools Learn Something from the Sciences?

September 2014

M. Moshe Porat, PhD, CPCU
Dean, Fox School of Business
Temple University

Hiring young professors is one of the most important academic decisions a dean has to make. It is also one of the biggest investment decisions. While much has been written about the lack of adequate preparation of undergraduate and graduate students before entering the workforce, the same can be said of rookie business professors. And yet we grant continuance beyond the third-year review, or grant tenure to new professors in the sixth year–with incomplete information.

Six-year tenure evaluations are common. A rookie professor's first year is usually spent getting to know the culture of pedagogy, research, and service in the new school, and getting self- and family-adjusted in a new setting. In effect, this shortens a rookie professor's three-year review to just two. This problem is often worsened when deans recruit outside the discipline. For example, economics professors are sometimes hired to teach finance, or psychology professors to teach human resources. The lack of domain knowledge means new professors often have to learn about the area in which they are asked to teach and publish. Preparing syllabi in a new area–while understanding a university's IT nuances–takes time. Failure to do so could lead to poor evaluations, which are detrimental to employment.

With regard to research and publication, six years is not enough time nowadays to get enough high-quality articles published in the top-tier journals necessary for promotion and tenure. Often it takes two-or-so years to get an article accepted in a top journal, and in some cases it takes three or more. Given the virtual loss of the first year to adjustment issues, the time period to submit a dossier for P&T review usually becomes less than a full six years. And, with regard to service leadership, deans never get a chance to observe this component, since many young professors are absolved of service responsibilities given pressures on quality teaching and research.

This current format allows for one of two scenarios: Young professors are allowed to continue beyond their third year and eventually to tenure status, or they are simply let go, based upon incomplete assessment of their abilities. If they are let go, the investment in the candidate–which could be hundreds of thousands of dollars for one faculty member–is lost.

Why does this happen?

Many top-tier schools do not allow doctoral students to teach, and many students are not mentored adequately due to demanding schedules of top professors. When it comes to research and publication, many schools have a sink-or-swim philosophy. Thus, students do not learn the art of positioning, vetting, and publishing top articles. Also, they are hardly tested for service leadership capabilities during their tenure track years. The overall result is a young professor failing to make the grade. He or she then goes on to the next school, which reaps the reward of the prior school's investment, or the candidate starts a career reset, perhaps compromising his or her aspirations.

My proposition: Business schools should borrow a system that has worked in other fields, one that is attractive to both the school and the entry-level scholar. My proposal is to try some version of the science post-doc or medical residency model.

With this system, a new faculty member can enter in a non-tenure-track capacity for a short period at a salary slightly below market. The school saves some money as a rookie professor learns the art of teaching with the help of sound mentors and the school's teaching and learning centers. The same goes with research. The young professor can receive mentorship in the art of positioning papers and vetting in conferences before submission to top journals and before the tenure clock is ticking.

In the process, the school gets at least a first- or second-round read on the articles sent. Department chairs and deans get a better idea of the new professor's publication potential. The new professor can be mentored in leadership and change management. The school gets to observe the rookie professor for a longer period. Schools get to know a new professor's work ethic and whether he or she will be a collegial citizen of the school. If the professor is making progress after the second year, they can be put on tenure track, with their salary elevated to market. If a school does not feel positively, it can let the professor go.

At least the school can make a decision with more data.

From a rookie professor's perspective, this model is also advantageous. Young professors, especially graduates of prestigious schools, often think articles can be easily published in top journals. My model would offer a chance to settle and work without the pressure of a ticking tenure clock, and the students–our most-important constituents–will benefit from scholars who have better honed their teaching, research and service skills.

The post-doc/residency formula has worked elsewhere in higher education. Why not try it in business schools?


M. Moshe Porat, PhD, CPCU, Dean, Fox School of Business, Temple University

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