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Neither Cheap Shots Nor Free Agents Are Free

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The Star-Tribune - of the Red Telephone - Editorializes

Editorial: A glimpse of academic 'free agency' at U April 22, 2008

Recruiting isn't just restricted to University of Minnesota athletic teams. While coaches woo talented athletes, the academic side is essentially doing the same, hoping to lure the best and the brightest new professors.

In search of marquee faculty for its new bioinformatics programs, officials landed a husband-wife pair of superstars from Georgia Tech.

But the couple now find themselves in a dispute with Georgia Tech. The Atlanta school contends that the two never really left and are "double-dipping" by drawing salaries and expense reimbursements from two institutions at the same time.

While it's too soon to draw conclusions about the allegations, the case offers an intriguing glimpse of a rapidly changing academia -- one increasingly modeled after professional sports free agency.

In their world, Jacko and Sainfort are top athletes. Their expertise in a critical, if little understood, field can pull in research dollars, create spin-off companies and lure new ones here. Health-care informatics, at its simplest, utilizes computing power to compile and use health data.

Jacko and Sainfort, though, came at a price. Together, their salaries top $500,000. Are they worth it? Only time will tell.

While a few professors earn big salaries in a star-based system, many don't. Nationally, 68 percent of those teaching in college classrooms are not tenure-track professors, compared with 43 percent in 1975.

What's the impact in the classroom and the overall quality of education? How much will universities have to shell out to keep their stars? Like the Jacko-Sainfort case, only time will tell.

I hope the spin meisters of Morrill Hall are on this. Bob, Tom?

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