Working together to keep SLU honest, open, and ours

A SLU Economics Professor on SCAER Hiring

A November 27 listing from the SLU Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research (SCAER) requesting applicants for post-doctoral fellows now appears in Job Openings for Economists (JOE). The listing raises serious issues that need to be addressed. Recruitment and hiring activities by the SCAER should be put on hold until the issues are adequately addressed.

Visiting Scholars

Although the title for the listing only specifies post-doctoral fellows, the text of the ad reads, “We are interested in hiring post-docs and visiting scholars in the fields listed below” (emphasis added). Visiting scholars are treated as faculty members by the SLU Faculty Manual. Given the nature of the SCAER, it is inappropriate for the SCAER to hire faculty, including visiting scholars.

Mike Podgursky was originally slated to be named the Sinquefield Professor of Economics and Director of the SCAER at SLU. However, it was pointed out that the process—or lack thereof—used to hire Podgursky as a SLU faculty member violated the Faculty Manual. The administration was forced to acknowledge this fact and announced that Podgursky would instead be hired as a staff member, so that his hiring would not fall under the auspices of the Faculty Manual. The SCAER is thus not directed by a SLU faculty member.

It was also originally announced that the SCAER would be housed in the Chaifetz School of Business. However, in a September meeting with Chaifetz School faculty, Interim Provost Chet Gillis announced that the SCAER would no longer reside in the Chaifetz School. (No explanation was provided.) It was subsequently revealed that the SCAER would instead be housed in the OVPR (which is not directed by a SLU faculty member), so that the SCAER is not part of an academic department, school, or college at SLU.

Because the SCAER is not directed by a SLU faculty member and is not part of any academic department, school, or college at SLU, it is inappropriate for the SCAER to hire faculty, including visiting scholars. (It is also inappropriate for any department, school, or college at SLU to hire visiting scholars on behalf of the SCAER, as no department, school, or college has any formal relationship with the SCAER.)

The SCAER is a strange creature that cannot be considered a legitimate academic research center. A legitimate academic research center that hires academic personnel, teaches classes, and conducts research must be led by a faculty member of the institution and established within an academic department, college, or school led by faculty and directed according to accepted norms of shared governance and academic freedom. Indeed, academic norms require a legitimate economic research center to be housed in the Department of Economics (or at least the school or college in which the Department of Economics resides), so that it can be adequately overseen by faculty with the requisite expertise. Unfortunately, the administration allowed Rex Sinquefield and his hand-picked ally Podgursky to establish the SCAER at SLU without meaningful faculty input, and housing the SCAER in the OVPR further allows the center to escape appropriate faculty oversight.

Post-Doctoral Fellows

It is also vital to clarify the rights and responsibilities of post-doctoral fellows hired by the SCAER. Because the SCAER is not directed by a SLU faculty member and is not a part of any academic department, school, or college at SLU, it is inappropriate for SCAER post docs to teach classes (as post docs sometimes do). Furthermore, because post docs are not faculty per se, they will not be covered by all of the protections and responsibilities that pertain to faculty in the Faculty Manual. It is thus crucial to articulate the protections and responsibilities relating to academic freedom that will apply to post docs hired by the SCAER (especially given the concerns articulated below).

Ethical Obligation

Another issue relates to SLU’s ethical obligation to fully inform potential applicants of the nature of the SCAER. The money from the Sinquefield “gift” to SLU is not directly controlled by SLU; instead, it resides in an external legal entity—the Sinquefield Center for Research, Inc. (SCRI). The agreement with the Sinquefields stipulates that individuals hired by the SCAER will be treated as SLU employees; however, it also states that their salaries and benefits will be exclusively reimbursed by funds from the SCRI made payable to SLU for the benefit of the SCAER.

Furthermore, the agreement stipulates that the Board of Directors of the SCRI (of which the Sinquefields are members) has the sole discretion to decide which SCAER research projects receive funding from the SCRI. Although individuals hired by the SCAER are employees of SLU on paper, they are effectively employees of an external entity controlled by financial donors, the SCRI, which must provide approval for the funding of all research projects for SCAER employees. Potential applicants need to be aware of the influence afforded to financial donors over research at the SCAER.

The relationships between the SCAER, SLU, and SCRI raise concerns relating to conflicts of interest as well as the independence and integrity of academic research. In the interest of SLU’s institutional integrity, I hope that the new SLU Vice President for Compliance and Ethics will address these concerns. In any event, SLU has an ethical obligation to make potential applicants aware of the control that an external entity governed by financial donors has over the funding of SCAER positions and research projects—potential applicants concerned with the independence and integrity of academic research should know what they are getting into.

Summary

The SLU administration needs to do the following:

  • Make it clear that because it is not directed by a SLU faculty member and is not part of an academic department, school, or college at SLU, the SCAER will not hire faculty, including visiting scholars (and no department, school, or college at SLU will hire visiting scholars on behalf of the SCAER). Accordingly, the JOE ad will be amended to remove visiting scholars.
  • Make it clear that because of the nature of the SCAER, post-doctoral fellows hired by the SCAER will not teach classes at SLU. In addition, carefully articulate the rights and responsibilities of post docs hired by the SCAER regarding academic freedom, in light of the fact that the SCRI has final approval for the funding of all SCAER research projects.
  • To satisfy ethical obligations, amend the JOE ad to inform potential applicants that individuals hired by the SCAER will have their salaries and benefits paid by an external entity (the SCRI) controlled by financial donors and that the external entity has sole discretion to determine which SCAER research projects receive funding.

Until the issues raised in this post are adequately addressed, recruitment and hiring activities of the SCAER should be put on hold.

David E. Rapach, Professor of Economics, John Simon Endowed Chair in Economics, SLU

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *