Monday, May 15, 2017

Faculty, Not for rent

Every semester, the equivalent of at least three full-time tenured faculty members are released to work on various grants and projects. Only a small number of these is officially “ours.” We receive no indirect revenues, and very little recognition for such projects. Many others work on overload or in summers: on other colleges and organizations’ grants, as individual consultants, etc. In theory, this is a positive thing for us. Our name gets recognition, we cultivate relationships, help the community in many ways. Yet the situation is far from ideal. It looks like we’re renting our faculty out for cheap, and do not capitalize on their work. Faculty is by far the most valuable resource we have, and we need to find a way of leveraging it. In very simple terms, we need to build a brand in the world of consulting services, and build a revenue stream that can be used to further invest in faculty.

Here is what should happen. When someone asks you to help (consult, train, evaluate, speak), you would say – talk to my business manager. We will negotiate a higher rate for you, take care of financials (so you don’t worry about your taxes), link your project with others, and let you use existing resources and materials, use the project to promote the College’s brand, to build a wider client base, and sell other services to it. We will also figure out a way to convert your one-time gig into a product that can be offered to a wider market.

Of course, we will always have projects not for fame or money, but because we want to help. This is totally fine. However I have discovered that sometimes another organization actually does receive significant funds, does get the recognition, does enhance its image, and we’re just helping them (and the public) altruistically. We can be altruistic to underprivileged children, but not to a consulting firm, or to a publishing house, or to another state agency. What I have learned over the years is that if someone can get you to work for cheap, they will thank you, but won’t respect you.

To get there, we, of course, need to build such a capacity, to develop the incentive for faculty to go through the College, rather than go it alone. However, we will also need a change in faculty attitude. Because, let’s be honest, you are invited to consult in part because you work at Sac State, not just because you are so brilliant. And I have a hunch that most of you have little business acumen, and don't really know what your services are worth, or how they can be sold differently. We may have to forgo some really cheap gigs in favor of more advanced, more complex, and more expensive services. However, to get to that kind of reputation, we need to band together, be strategic, and play hardball.

Every grant we’re involved in must be more than just a pass-through. From every one of them, we need to retain something tangible and valuable: a curriculum project, a consulting product, a publication, a new measurable expertise, an opportunity to promote our College, something.

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