Relative Value (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Apr. 7, 2014 12:00 am  

I got into a war of words a couple of weeks ago with the managing editor of KFSM-TV, Channel 5, in Fayetteville over his online-only story about a University of Central Arkansas journalism professor who had been selected by majority vote of a committee of tenured faculty to head up the University of Arkansas’ Center for Ethics in Journalism.

Managing Editor Larry Henry failed to reveal that his mother-in-law was on the losing side of the selection committee, which was very bad journalistic ethics indeed. But he really sent me into orbit by comparing the job offer to Donna Lampkin Stephens, a Ph.D. who has been teaching journalism at UCA for 14 years, to the hiring of Jessica Dorrell, Bobby Petrino’s 25-year-old mistress who was fast-tracked over more than 150 other applicants at his specific request.

Henry said — I think I can fairly represent his position, nonsensical as it was — that the Dorrell and Stephens cases are comparable because neither of these hires fit the advertised qualifications perfectly. My audience of business executives will join me in shrugging this off. Most people who have done any amount of hiring will have departed from the strict list of ideal qualifications in order to hire the most promising candidate available at the time, especially after interviews and reference checks. That’s something entirely different from ignoring established employment procedure in order to hire one’s mistress.

I don’t know Donna Stephens very well, but I know that her career path doesn’t deserve to be compared with Jessica Dorrell’s.

The job for which Ms. Stephens was selected and the job for which Ms. Dorrell was hired really were similar in one respect — salary. An experienced professor with a terminal degree hired to teach ethics to aspiring journalists is worth $60,000 to the University of Arkansas. A “student-athlete development coordinator” for the Razorbacks football team, a job described as the point person for recruiting visits to the Fayetteville campus, was worth nearly $56,000.

The realization that a campus visit coordinator is worth almost as much as a tenure-track professor with a Ph.D. makes me queasy, or maybe that’s the residual effect of Larry Henry’s hatchet job. (Living here in a glass house, “hatchet job” is not a term I use lightly.)

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Regular readers of this space may have detected that the question of value — what something is worth — is a common theme with me. My CEO, Olivia Farrell, says this is because I persist in a futile search for rationality in the marketplace, and I know she’s right. Things that should be highly valued, in real dollar terms, often are not, and teaching is one of those things. (News is another one. And checking accounts.)

The further from the actual classroom an academic gets, the more valuable he or she seems to be, and that relative value is reinforced — at least in state-supported colleges and universities — by the insidious nature of across-the-board raises that deliver a $4,000 raise to an administrator already making $200,000 and $800 to the instructor pulling down $40,000.

I didn’t pull that number out of a hat, by the way. Arkansas State University-Beebe, for which my husband is currently teaching a single course as an adjunct, recently advertised for a full-time English instructor. The maximum salary with a master’s degree was less than $40,000, less than $50,000 with a Ph.D.

You would think that just the effort and expense of getting a master’s degree or a Ph.D. would make the few who have them that much more valuable. But I’m starting to realize that, in the marketplace, education is sort of like home improvement: That great new kitchen that cost you $100,000 may not add $100,000 to the resale value of your home, and it may take a long time — or never — for the cost of getting a graduate degree to be recouped in salary.

Meanwhile, the cost of higher education just keeps going up, and the money is going somewhere. That’s another subject I’ve also been giving thought to, mainly when I pay my son’s tuition bill.

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I’m sorry KFSM dragged Ms. Dorrell’s name back up. She made a personal mistake that became very public, but she’s a young woman who deserves to move on with her life. I wish her only the best.

Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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