In 1989, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) was created with the hope of creating a local competitor to the University of Queensland. The resources given to it by the community have been immense, with real estate and subsidies worth many billions. With its prime location in the very middle of the city, next to the parliament, it has the basic resources to be the best university in Queensland. Let us have a look whether it has become a serious university by seeing if it is a place that is serious about whom it calls a professor.
One of the hallmarks of a real university is that you don’t get called a professor for being a high level administrator: you have to have been a serious scholar with some degree of national and international recognition before you get the highest academic title a university has to offer. Whilst it is thus quite normal in many universities that high-level administrators are not academics because the job requires different skills, serious universities will only hand out academic titles based on academic merit, not administrative merit. After all, professors are supposed to embody and profess the quality of the academics in their university! So the reputation and quality of these publicly funded universities stands or falls with how easy or difficult it is to get an academic title. I will let you judge the case of QUT.
Let us start at the top of the university, made up of the Vice Chancellor and 6 Deputy Vice Chancellors. All 7 of them are professors. The 2 people just below the VC on the QUT management website, the ‘Senior’ Deputy Vice Chancellors are Professor Carol Dickenson and Professor Peter Little. Let us look at their achievements and those of the others using two standards every other academic has been judged by in recent years in Australia: whether they have published in good journals and conferences, and whether their peers have cited their work. For publications we can turn to the rankings used by the journal lists of the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, wherein publication outlets have been ranked from high (A* and A) to low (B and C). For citations, there are various possible sources, but let us take the very generous and easily accessible Google Scholars information, a resource frequently used and recommend in Australian grant applications.
A complication is that one cannot find the CV of any of these DVCs online, which is unusual because normally academics are not afraid to let you know their achievements. Yet, QUT helpfully has a reprint facility and Google Scholar finds almost every paper from the last 50 years. Also, the QUT website does tell you whether they have a PhD and where it is from, so there is enough information to trace people’s academic careers from these sources. To be sure the results are not biased, the DVCs were individually approached to see if publications and citations were overlooked in this search (none responded with information on additional papers or citations).
Professor Peter Little has a PhD (from Bond university). He has one publication in 2001 registered at QUT (co-authored with two others) in a journal that is not on the ERA 2010 journal list. He has another paper from 1998, also in an un-ranked journal, with a total of 31 Google Scholar Search cites (including self-cites) up to 31.
Professor Carol Dickenson has 17 cites generated by two papers, one of which is a report from a ministry and the other in a B-journal on the ERA journals lists.
What about the next four DVCs in line then: Professors Scott Sheppard, Suzi Vaughan, Arun Sharma, and Tom Cochrane?
Professor Scott Sheppard doesn’t have a PhD, has no publications to be found anywhere and has been a diplomat most of his life.
Professor Suzi Vaughan comes from an art background. In terms of publications, she has two book chapters, an un-ranked journal paper, two conferences (see here), and 14 citations on Google Scholar. On top of this is a 2003 ‘art work’.
Professor Arun Sharma is still producing as an academic, with an A*, 6 A’s and 2 B’s to his name in the 00’s alone, as well as some serious conferences. He has 40 citations from his QUT-registered publications.
Finally, Professor Tom Cochrane. He does not have a PhD. He has one B and one C publication on the QUT repository . His main publication is called ‘making a difference: implementing the eprints mandate at QUT’ and has been cited 21 times, bringing his estimated total number of Google Scholar cites to 44.
Let us for comparison look at the publications and citations of senior professor-administrators in other regional universities in Queensland: the University of the Sunshine Coast and the Southern Cross University.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Sunshine Coast has hundreds of citations and dozens of articles, praised on his own promotional website. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Pro Vice-Chancellor International, and the Pro Vice-Chancellor Research, all seem to be solid academics with hundreds of publications combined. Indeed, they are still publishing and are encouraging some of the lower managers, who primarily have worked in government, to write papers too. The one person on the management team who is clearly not an academic is also not called a professor.
At the Southern Cross University, meanwhile, the VC, the Deputy VC, and the Pro-VC look very solid academics too. Together they have about 500 publications (papers, book chapters, etc.) and thousands of Google cites.
Let us now take a different comparison and look at what is normal within QUT, the school of management in the faculty of Business. Let’s look at the lecturers first for they are at the bottom of the academic hierarchy. One of the lecturers there had 5 publications, including an A on the ERA 2010 list. And at the senior lecturer level, the standards are higher: this senior lecturer for instance has an A and an A* and a whole list of further publications. Another senior lecturer has several C’s, B’s and an A* too, on top of 165 Google citations, which is more cites than all 6 DVCs combined.
What is normal at GO8 universities? Well, senior professors at GO8s typically have thousands of citations and dozens, if not hundreds, of articles that are in the ERA rankings. In economics at GO8 universities, it would be hard to even get tenure as a lecturer without at least a couple of A/A* publications. Professors with less than 500 Google citations are rare. I don’t know any professor at a Go8 without a PhD.
What are the criteria at QUT for being a professor? Well, the official QUT criteria for professors is that they demonstrate “leadership and authority in research and scholarship”. Judging by some of the DVCs this apparently does not include the need for either a PhD, journal publications, or citations. Who judges, you might ask? In the end, at QUT it is all up to the Vice Chancellor whose word on this is final according to its criteria.
Do these DVC professors then accept a lower wage as compensation for getting an academic title with their levels of academic output? Not quite: they get huge salaries of around 500,000 dollars each (see pages 44 and 45 for their salaries) and average ‘bonuses’ of 271,000 in 2011!.
I have not looked at all the Deans and other ‘lesser managers’ at QUT, but from a quick glance at ‘Creative Industries’, the situation seems the same as higher up. You might want to browse their list of emeritus professors who are supposed to be top scientists.
I think it is up to the reader to judge whether QUT takes academic titles seriously or not. Personally, I am amazed at the ease with which administrators there get professor titles. I want to see QUT adopt far higher standards and find myself wondering, whenever I meet a QUT professor, whether they are a real one or not.
Disclaimer: the views expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer (UQ). Previous writings on related topics are here, here, here, here, and here.