Το παρακάτω άρθρο και επιστολές είναι από το Nature (10 Nov 2006 & 2 Feb 2007). Ίδια προβλήματα με εμάς: αναξιοκρατία, εσωστρέφεια, inbreeding, φωτογραφικές προκηρύξεις, κτλ. Επίσης κοινός είναι ο προβληματισμός για το πώς η αυτοτέλεια πρέπει να συνοδεύεται από υπευθυνότητα και λογοδοσία. Μου άρεσε ιδιαίτερα το τελευταίο γράμμα που τονίζει ότι η ύπαρξη κινήτρων για αξιοκρατία είναι πολύ πιό αποτελεσματική από τη θέσπιση λεπτομερών διαδικασιών, αυτό δηλαδή που γίνεται και στην Ελλάδα.

Spain Reconsiders Its University Reform Law

BARCELONA—Eight years ago, astrophysicist Antonio Ferriz sued the University of Salamanca, charging that it violated hiring rules by passing him over for a local candidate. The case, and several similar ones, drew widespread publicity to complaints that Spain’s system for appointing professors was flawed and inbred. The government paid heed: It reformed the law in 2001 to open up academic hiring, imposing a national system for vetting candidates. But now a bill being debated in Spain’s Parliament would give more leeway to universities
in hiring, and the academic community is deeply divided. Some academic leaders are pleased, but critics such as Ferriz say it could be a step backward. Spanish universities rarely seek talent from afar when they hire professors. “Some people say that the Spanish system is particularly inward-looking,” says Ferriz, a professor at the University of Vigo who is currently a visiting scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gšttingen, Germany. “I think this is a very soft description of reality.” Spain’s university system “operates like a mafia,”he fumes. Under the old system, Ferriz says, advertised positions were sometimes so narrowly def ined that “only the preselected candidate fit.” The 2001 law sought to break this grip on academic posts by creating a centralized habilitation system to pass judgment on the quality of job applicants. However, the change proved unpopular among professors and administrators. Former education and culture minister Maria Jesœs San Segundo and others proposed a model reform plan, which was approved early in September by the Ministerial Council and is now being debated in Parliament. The proposed law would still require candidates to submit their curriculum vitae for evaluation by “commissions made up of professors with a renowned teaching and research prestige.” But universities would be free to pick and choose candidates. The law would also create new posts for assistant professors and postdocs; permit mixed research institutes involving universities, the Higher Research Council, and private companies; and mandate gender equality in university decision-making bodies. It could also lead to academic evaluations like the U.K.’s “research assessment exercise.” Critics such as Jose Vicente, a professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Murcia, say the new plan is no reform. It “simply consists of proposing the worst system for contracting with professors,” he says, adding that universities will be able to hire accredited researchers “after a pantomime competition before an ad hoc panel.” Less than 10% of successful professorial applicants in Spanish universities are outsiders, he says, predicting that “inbreeding will now increase up to 100%.” Others are more optimistic. Eugenio Degroote, a professor of mathematics at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, says that the first accreditation stage will be selective. Unlike in the past, “bad or mediocre researchers will be eliminated,” he argues. The parliamentary debate on the new law is expected to conclude with a vote before the end of the year. –XAVIER BOSCH

Problems with University Hiring in Spain
SPAIN HAS COME A LONG WAY IN THE PAST 30 years, but in regards to science and technology, the country is suffering from growing pains on its way to claiming its proper place as one of the top 10 economies of the world [Spain ranked eight in total GDP in 2005, according to the World Bank (1)]. The abuse suffered by Antonio Ferriz (“Spain reconsiders its university reform law,” X. Bosch, News of the Week, 10 Nov. 2006, p. 911) would be inconceivable in a system where merit is the principal factor for hiring faculty. Although in recent times, the top universities in Spain have followed well-established procedures in the selection of faculty, the process is riddled with irregularities at smaller universities, which are managed by local governments that place a low priority on research. Increased autonomy for universities must come with increased responsibility. Not hiring the best candidate available constitutes dereliction of duty by university officials. They are responsible to the community that maintains the university. The new university reform law represents a step forward in the process of qualification of candidates, but there are no incentives for universities to hire the best possible candidates. Inbreeding and ethical violations are likely to continue at all but the best universities in Spain until autonomy and responsibility run concurrently.
JUAN J. MANFREDI
Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics, University
of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.

ALTHOUGH DISCUSSION OF THE PROBLEM OF inbreeding in Spanish university hiring practices is welcome (“Spain reconsiders its university reform law,” X. Bosch, News of the Week, 10 Nov. 2006, p. 911), it is frustrating to see the debate so narrowly centered around the regulations related to details of hiring procedures: The present system is focused on controlling the procedures (not unlike other European systems) instead of the outcomes. It is sadly true that if universities were left to their own devices, too many decisions would be plainly wrong. But legislating to force academics to make the right choice is a poor remedy for a deeper illness. The real questions are why universities are making poor hiring decisions, and how to reverse this tendency. The answers must be based on the current reality that the general interests of a university and its drive toward excellence are at odds with the interests of its members. A Spanish academic nowadays benefits much less from hiring a world-class, independent new colleague than from promoting a less-qualified subordinate already at the university. This is the heart of the matter and where the debate should be focused: not how to force academics to act against their interests, but how to align these interests with those of their universities. A culture of excellence sinks in very slowly, and growing numbers of excellent academics are thriving in Spain by swimming against the tide. It is time to turn it. If temporary measures are necessary, they should be clearly identified as such, distinguishing them from the final model, in which universities and their members face the consequences of their decisions, as in any other sector of society.
EMILIO ARTACHO
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge,
Cambridge CB2 3EQ, UK.

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