Wednesday, July 7, 2004

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A primer on the elite academic job market

Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K's market value:

Never, it seems, has a coach had such an upper hand in a relationship with a university president as Krzyzewski has at Duke. Confronted with the prospect of Krzyzewski's departure, Brodhead essentially begged him to stay. He took Krzyzewski to dinner to tell him, as he later recounted, "how deeply he was valued here and how much I hope he'll stay ... [and] of my personal respect for him and our deep hope that he'll serve out the rest of his career at Duke." He joined a rally outside Duke's basketball arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, to chant "Coach K, please stay!"--even locking arms with students to form a big human "K." And, of course, he approved unspecified "modifications" to Krzyzewski's lifetime contract with the school--which had been signed in 2001--that, while certainly falling short of the Lakers' $8-million-a-year offer, no doubt cushioned the steep opportunity cost to Krzyzewski of staying at Duke. It's hard to imagine Brodhead doing all this for a star history professor tempted by the Ivy League.

I'll grant Zengerle that an indoor rally is highly unlikely for a star history professor. However, the other two measures -- personal schmoozing by the president and matching an Ivy League offer -- would actually be quite likely from a private university with deep pockets --i.e., Duke.

In fact -- even for social sciences like history -- the academic job market strongly resembles baseball after free agency. Star academics flit from institution to institution, or threaten to do so unless their demands are sated. For example, last year the New York Times Magazine ran a story about New York University's latest recruitment drive. One tidbit from the story:

Academic wooing makes other forms of romance seem straightforward in comparison. It begins in rumor and often ends in abject spurning; its convolutions occur somewhere near the juncture of Freudian psychology and economic game theory. Academic economists appear to have a peculiarly keen interest in continually testing their market value by flirting with interested schools. Yaw Nyarko, who has been at N.Y.U. since 1988, says ''it's taken for granted'' that some advance their salaries by getting the school to match an offer from somewhere else. As such, a department in the suitor's role often finds itself expending time, energy and self-esteem on what turns out to be an elaborate tease. According to economics department chair Douglas] Gale, a typical batting average in senior faculty recruitment is about .200 -- that is, two hires for every 10 offers.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM


Notice, for example, where Stan Fish is now. Hint: it ain't Duke. A lot of the other people Duke brought in at great expense to build a "world-class' English department have moved on too. Henry Louis "Skip" Gates didn't last two years, before Harvard offered him more money -- lots more money -- to move on.

The difference between them is that Coach K, unlike Stan Fish, pretty much brings in enough endorsement and alumni money to pay for his program

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

This reminds me of macroeconomist Robert Barro's near move to Columbia, which was followed by an extremely generous, some would say exorbitant, counter-offer by Harvard. Barro got something along the lines of control of 8 grad students and a few hires, in addition to cash and prizes.

See "Harvard Economist Robert Barro to Join Columbia" (, a page that also links to "Follow-up: Barro to Remain at Harvard").

That episode was unusual in that Barrow accepted the offer and then went back on his acceptance.


posted by: Angry Bear on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Two rules on seeking offers:

1) Don't go to the well too often. Eventually deans get tired of being blackmailed. Also, one can get a reputation for teasing and then schools become strangely unresponsive to one's hints that one would be interested in moving.

2) So, don't bluff unless you are prepared to have your bluff called. It does happen that a dean, faced with a an offer, remarks, "Well, we'll be sorry to lose you, but I am sure that you will like X. There are some good people there. Good luck."

posted by: Acad Ronin on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

I'm no academic but there is no way an 8 million dollar NCAA basketball coach is an argument for the free market. It's a monopolist's wet dream.

I could field a better team at Adam Smith State if I could pay my 12 recruits a fraction of the total money that Coach K "earns" at Duke. The NCAA ban on payments to college athletes in the name of amateurism is a whore's false virtue designed to maintain monopoly profits. Coach K can command such a salary because the players he coaches are more akin to indentured servants than free market labor. How much more do elite players make compared to elite coaches in the NBA? How do you explain the difference at the college level where coaches make millions and players get a scholarship valued at maybe $50,000 over 4 years?

Cash cow Division I Basketball and Football have nothing to do with the academic missions of the schools that participate. The University of Central Florida cut night classes because they had no funds and students held bake sales to try and keep the classes open. At the same time, UCF was building premier athletic facilities with some of the highest student fees in the country. Free market my ass...big time college sports are bread and circuses for stupid alumni who learned so little in college they happily go along with the charade. The free market doesn't pay the Army football coach more then the Centcom don't allow for that kind of foolishness. Jay Berwanger must be rolling over in his grave.

posted by: joejoejoe on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Back when I was a Chicago undergraduate, I worked in the photocopy center in the Social Science building, and we got all sorts of letters to copy, which we were not supposed to read, but of course did. They included all sorts of "here is my offer; match it" letters, and they were not very polite. They play rough in the big leagues.
This is not confined to the big leagues. Valuable minority faculty play the same game, and it is not very subtle either.

posted by: William Sjostrom on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

"I'm no academic but there is no way an 8 million dollar NCAA basketball coach is an argument for the free market."

Coach K doesn't make $8M, he was offered that by the Lakers. According to ESPN he makes about $800,000 from Duke, though he is expected to get a raise now.

This *is* an example of a free market, the market for coaches is a free market, the fact that the market for players is not free is irrelevant.

posted by: george on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

No doubt wooing professorial talent was precisely where Broadhead honed his pitch. And give the guy a break, Yale's never had a guy like Coach K. Walter Camp?

posted by: praktike on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Consider that around the time Coach K arrived at Duke, it was a very good, largely regional university that could occasionally sneak a student or Professor away from the top schools. Now, Duke is consistently in US News's top 5, competes with the best for faculty (even if they lose some as well), and seems to be heading nowhere but up. Something tells me that their basketball success has had a lot to do with Duke passing Emory, Rice, and Vandy as the preeminent private university in the South.

posted by: Patrick Barnette on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

Picking up on joejoejoe's point, good players make money for the school because they bring in revenue but don't get paid (though they do get scholarships). A good deal of a college coach's off-season is taken up by recruiting, convincing those revenue producers to attend. Since the student-athletes (ahem) don't get much of that money, the coach does.

Since there is a competitive market for coaches, they wind up getting a fair amount of the net profits.

posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

From The Herald-Sun:

"Duke will not disclose financial terms of Krzyzewski's contract, which has to be renewed annually after 2011. But according to IRS documents, he commanded a base salary of $800,000 and total compensation of $875,048 in fiscal 2003. Coupled with his Nike contract, he reportedly makes more than $1.5 million and is one of the highest-paid coaches in the college game, if not the highest, according to a Duke source."

Above, George says "the fact that the market for players is not free is irrelevant." So Labor costs are not an input to the final value of a product? The product is Duke Basketball. Coach K is in a position to reap a larger share of the market value then he is due because labor (player) costs are effectively zero.

posted by: joejoejoe on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

One really significant difference between free agency in baseball and the market for history professors.

In baseball, performance is generally measurable along a set of widely agreed-upon dimensions, and skill in those dimensions is generally rewarded. In history, there is no generally agreed-upon set of dimensions, and even among those who agree on the dimensions, there is considerable disagreement about how people rate. As a result, the system is almost entirely political.

posted by: TedL on 07.07.04 at 11:36 PM [permalink]

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