Research? Con qué se come eso?!

Researchus Olvidatum Est

Researchus Olvidatum Est

Next up in Education Week, we hear from María Isabel Puerta, a Professor at Universidad de Carabobo in Valencia.

When I share my struggles at the Universidad de Carabobo (UC), I always get the same look as if: «do you really think you’re the only one?» Everybody has a rough start, reaching Tenure most of the time takes years, spent largely waiting for the eluisive Competitive Contests – concursos de oposición -needed to secure tenure. There’s simply not enough money to call concursos in the terms the Law requires; and so, as I patiently waited for one, I made my way through Graduate School – which is expensive if you only live of your insignificant adjunct prof salary.

I decided to stay here rather than going abroad for my Master’s Degree so I wouldn’t miss the Competitive Contest. And after I got Tenure, I didn’t have the time to apply for my Doctoral studies abroad, so I had to do that here too. I must say that the UC waived my tuition, but the investment I made just in books tops that.

I still thought it was worth it, you know, I was a Professor just like my Dad… only without the financial security he had from the beginning of his career back in the days when it was very attractive to be a University professor. Universities were a symbol of the transformation of Venezuelan society, the apex of a mass education system that did so much to aid social mobility for so many.

Maybe I’ve always idealized the University, but when you get to know the real stuff that lies beneath, it’s just plain cruel. My dream was to teach and research, which I naïvely thought was the core of our role here. But, that’s not the common perception. There are very few with an affinity for research, and thank God for that, because there is so little money to fund that even the few of who do it struggle to support it. There’s a tiny set of enchufados that gets the juicy grants while the rest of us, not so blessed by relations and connections, end up financing our own research.

The other aspiration I had, was to go to every possible academic event, seminar, conference and congress I could get near, to try to make up for some of the isolation I accepted by staying here. But nope, that’s not how it works. In my University, the UC, we’re allowed to receive financial aid from our Research Counsel (CDCH) every two years. You’d cry if you saw the Per Diem Scale for trips abroad. It’s a joke, and not one in good taste. So, you end up paying for a lot of expenses, at least in my case. This year I have another Congress, in Bogota, and that too is on me.

I bet you’re asking yourself, so if it’s so bad, why do you keep doing it? I’ll tell you, it’s not for the thrills. I’ve given up trying to publish here, because the resources are scarce and connections are much more important than quality of research. I’ve focused on publications from other countries and, so far, I’m doing better abroad than at home.

And that’s the lesson I’ve learned. Trying to change this, it’s not an easy task, and it’s much worse if you try it on your own. So you learn to live with it. And that’s what scares me the most. It’s not just the Government that doesn’t invest in Research; it’s the University itself that cares very little about it. So, that’s why many of our Professors are leaving, and those of us who never imagined we would have ended up considering it. Sad thing is, at this point, I’m not feeling a bit guilty about it anymore.

50 thoughts on “Research? Con qué se come eso?!

  1. Hi, María. Great to read from you. My dad was a professor at the UC, my sisters studied there (medicine and engineering) and they are in Venezuela and don’t want to leave it in spite of all we know.

    A question: is it possible to get budget information for Venezuelan universities? I mean: is that something that other people beyond the rector and his team can actually peruse, browse? What goes to what?

    Kudos to you.

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    • Hi Kepler, thanks. I think here: http://www.uc.edu.ve/presupuesto_dia.php you can find some information. Not so sure about the OPSU, I haven‘t checked, but they should publish it (given the concern they have with universities not handling adequately their budget).

      I‘ve always said that our biggest problem is that we don‘t inform opportunely, but in this specific case, in Research, with a small budget to handle, I get it, the less people know, the less you have to share. The long-time Researchers always have the best opportunities, and those of us starting our careers, have to wait for a place.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  2. Good article! I join Kepler in asking if there is some concrete info you could share about salaries, and university budgetting. How much does a professor make as compared to other benchmarks? Are departments funded strictly based on thenumber of registered students? etc.

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  3. Great article, Mari. Nothing substitute the heartfelt tone of who is inside the trenchs. Being a faithful twiter follower of yours, I have witnessed you are in the line of defense in front of the chavista “final solution” for the autonomous U in Venezuela. I would like to ask you what is your take on this conflict, and how you think the University can get the obviously needed reforms? can the U reform itself? Should we use the Constituyente moment to do somthing about it?

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    • Thanks Omar, (I‘m one of your faithful ones too). I have a lot of mixed feelings, the University is my life, my Dad was a University Professor, thanks to that I lived in the USA, because his University (UCLA) sent him to Texas to get his MBA. For that very reason, I know too much the University, good things and not so good ones. Our problems in autonomous universities are not to be endorsed to chavismo only, but they have contributed to the decadence, given the indifference towards the situation.

      We have huge problems, leadership is one of the biggest. We don‘t choose suitable authorities, mostly they‘re not academic people, the‘re just politicians and they act just like the ones we know. Right now we‘re undergoing a similar situation of political hunt because of the Strike. And the ironic thing is that publicly I‘ve maintained my disagreement with that decision, but I respect our Professors Federation. One authority is attacking me, through “Professional Students“ that pose as Leaders, and he‘s in a personal hunt of all of us who are public about this issue. And that‘s the way our university handles things. See, our lack of leadership is showing in the worse moment.

      Reform? We need it, sure but first, we need individually to reform our views about the university, we can‘t go on making the wrong decisions, because those politics influence Promotions, Scholarships or any other related to our carrers, and that has to stop, this is an academic Institution, not some ministery.

      I‘m not really sure that a Contituyente could help, I‘m pretty sure the ussual suspects in the university would handle it in their interests favor.

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  4. Thank you. About salaries, you can check this:

    (1) http://notiadmin.ucv.ve/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Tabla-de-salarios-parte-1.pdf
    (2) http://www.fenasinpres.org/documentos/Beneficio%20salarial%20y%20socioecon%F3mico%20del%20personal%20docente%202013.pdf

    About budgetting, in the UC: http://www.uc.edu.ve/presupuesto_dia.php this could give you an idea.

    About the comparison, you could see this: http://www.gbba.usb.ve/node/32

    The criteria of the structure, in our case, does not respond strictly to that reason. Sometimes you have courses with a 100 of students when the limit is 60. It changes a lot with the period; in our faculty we have a semester regime, in others is yearly. We have three schedules: Morning, Afternoons and Night and the enrollment depends on that too. At Nights is were we have the majority of students (we have Business studies here), not the same case for Medicine or Engineering Schools.

    Thanks for your comment.

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    • Maripuerta, on another subject: what about costs for things like books and magazines?
      I remember reading from friends at the USB they had problems with even buying those items and that was years ago.
      What about that?

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  5. Well, in my case, between the books I bought (credit of course) for my Master and Doctorate, I can say I have a fortune, some I had to buy in Amazon, because they‘re so expensive, that are not sold here.

    Magazines, I‘m not suscribed to any of the ones I‘m interested in, those 400$ are not elastic, the UC has some Journal Suscription‘s, very limited, but in my area (Political Science) is really scarce. We have Medicine and Engineering Schools, and the ones that manage Research Institutions are of course from that area, so the influence is big. In Social Sciences in general, there‘s not much.

    Library, I could cry. Don‘t even mention it. My students, when they want to read, use copies of my books. In my course, Public Administration, there‘s only the Allan Brewer-Carías book, and that‘s it.

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    • You could, but of course you need sponsoring from your own institution and sometimes, that‘s not very easy. What we‘ve tried is Government funding, like FONACIT or PEII, but in my case, because I‘m in the area of Political Science, and so, excluded from the national priorities, I don‘t get official funding, only from CDCH, that has given me support in a project, ironically, about Consejos Comunales.

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          • Do they usually deny it? Or is it merely paperwork? Sorry to ask so many questions but I am really curious about the alternatives available for funding. I know in your field the amount of money for social science research in the private sector must be really hard to come by anyway.

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            • Once CDCH denied funding for a project, but that was just some unfortunate misunderstanding, rookie stuff (paperwork). After that, I got my resources and currently finishing the project. But, I can only apply to those funds every two years. On the other side, with Public funding, I have no possibility, I‘ve tried but my area of interest (Political Theory) is not for consideration.

              I‘ve had the opportunity to work in other people‘s projects (Carlos Mascareño in CENDES, I did the field work for a FONACIT Project he had in 2005 and for Michael Coppedge in the University of Notre Dame, I was responsable for Venezuela in his V-Dem Project). What we‘ve decided (I coordinate a Research Group) is that with the lack of funding, we‘ll carry out our research, with Institutional endorsement and no money attached to it. And I think that‘s what we‘ll be doing for some time.

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  6. I agree with your points about the plight of Venezuelan academics when it comes to financing research or even just make enough money to live, that is, without question, deplorable. But I can’t help to comment on something:
    Venezuelan universities are the only ones I know of that hire assistant professors without a PhD or doctorate, sometimes even without a master’s degree (such as yourself, the author of this article). No higher education institution of prestige does this, not even in our embattled Latin-american neighbors. I’ve always seen this as a big measure of the decadence of the university in Venezuela. It fails to appeal to highly qualified individuals.
    Forgive me for being blunt, but I can’t believe you expected to reach tenure without a doctorate.

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    • In my case, when I was hired, I already had a Graduate title, I have three of them, two after reaching Tenure. And there is no requirement for the entry level of a Doctorate or PhD, only for Associate or Titular.

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      • Alright, I’m not disputing the requirements for an assistant professor position in Venezuelan universities, I know they don’t require a PhD. Maybe this is not an issue in the social sciences, but to demonstrate research skills and pro-efficiency in the natural sciences and engineering, a PhD is a must.
        All I’m saying is that this should be changed. A PhD or doctorate should be a must at any research institution.

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        • But that‘s not the case, not only in Venezuela. For Doctorate or PhD studies, it should be Full Time, given the research activities required. Here in Venezuela only under the figure of Tenure that is possible, either with a Scholarship or in our case, a ‘Plan Conjunto‘, that is about the same. The problem is that the Contests are for Teaching rather than for Research, so those of us interested in research have to adjust. I didn‘t have to wait for Tenure because I didn‘t have the Doctorate, it was because of there were no resources, the Budget for Contest was not available. Whe I finally made it, I had to teach 12 hs weekly, take my Doctoral seminars, and do research, simultaneously. I speak for my faculty, those that recently got Tenure, that are already Doctors, is because they‘ve been Hired Professors for more that 10 years. And the same thing happens at the UCV, where I teach at Grad School. Doctors after their 50‘s. Many of them almost retiring.

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    • Reaching Tenure doesn‘t depend on a Doctorate, that‘s no the case here, but I don‘t know in the rest of Universities in Venezuela. Reaching Tenure considers other criteria. After you‘re in you have the right to apply for funding so you can continue Graduate studies.

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    • Oh I forgot, the problem with reaching Tenure was the Budget, resources depend of OPSU and the University has to deal with that in order to make the Calls for the Contests. When I finally got Tenure, I was starting my doctoral studies after being hired for seven years. The Law says it‘s every two years.

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    • “Venezuelan universities are the only ones I know of that hire assistant professors without a PhD or doctorate, sometimes even without a master’s degree (such as yourself, the author of this article). No higher education institution of prestige does this, not even in our embattled Latin-american neighbors.”

      Really? Check out the list of faculty at the Universidad de los Andes (Chile). There are “profesores” who do not have PhDs. In fact, I think that one of them is a writer on this blog.

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        • Fine. I tried to be careful when I worded my first comment. I did say “Venezuelan universities are the only ones I know of…”. I’m not surprised there are others, especially in Latin-America. But in the USA this is very very rare and in the case of the natural sciences and engineering non-existent.

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          • Please be careful with your sweeping statements. There are professors that do not have PhDs in the US, including some in the natural sciences, math and engineering. Look-up Professor Casson at Yale…..

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            • I think we‘re all missing one point: the intention of hiring a Professor with very little or any Graduate studies at entry level; that is because the University has to supervise de development of the Proffesors career. If you read our Statute (http://www.uc.edu.ve/archivos/ESTATUTO_DOCENTE_UC.pdf0, you‘ll find the commitment of the Institution with our career development. I should be planned, according to objectives aligned with the needs of the Institution.

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            • Andres is being quite careful with his statement. I fully agree with it. It just boggles the mind that in this day an age, at the entry point for faculties in our Universities there is still not a requirement for a PhD (at least in the non-humanities).
              That this is the reality we live in does not make it right. In fact, I submit that this is at the root of many of the issues and complaints other people have put forward as the plight of the underpaid and under-appreciated professor in Venezuela today (Obvious underfunding issues aside).
              Having had plenty of experience in the Venezuelan University system (and then at IVIC) since the late 80’s, I know that this system was set up in the early phases of of the development of the modern Venezuelan University for two key reasons. First, as a way to keep up with student massification that grew exponentially in the 50’s and 60’s: Hire the most promising students (Licenciados) and offer them the possibility of working towards their advanced degrees while keeping their position once they return to the University. Second, the complete absence of PhD programs in the country.
              However, this might have been a somewhat valid strategy 60-70 years ago… But for goodness sake! Let’s join the modern world!
              We will never break the quagmire Venezuelan universities find themselves in as long as we keep treating them as a simple continuation of high school.
              By the way, try to apply to a faculty position at Yale (Or Princeton, or UNAM, or any modern university abroad) without a PhD… Let me know how far you get in their “concurso de oposicion”…

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              • I have a Specialization, a Master‘s and a Doctorate… And I‘m an Associate Professor. I have colleagues who don‘t even have the first I mentioned, and they‘re Titular Professors. Find out how many of University Authorities have a PhD or Doctorate. Many of the don‘t do Research.

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        • Sorry, but in the US you do have to have an advanced degree (PhD, JD, MD, or any with a D) to be a tenured professor, except in some very unusual circumstances or schools like Business Schools and International Studies and Public Service schools where years of experience can count toward you being hired (but you still have to put in your time getting tenure).

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          • Including Casson, for instance. He is a genius, basically, so there was no need for him to finish his PhD when he already had job offers.

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          • Last week I met a girl, finishing her Masters and going to teach at Princeton. I didn‘t say it was in every case, but it does happen because I know of several, at least in my area of Political Science.

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            • Maybe she will work as a TA? I´m sure that around 10-15 people are graduating from Princeton’s poli sci PhD program this year. And every single one of them will have better credentials than this person.

              And it’s not like poli sci is a particularly sought after degree outside academia, so competition for a position at any decent college/university is cut-throat, let alone an Ivy league like Princeton.

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              • From what I got to know about her, she‘s starting her PhD, as well as teaching and researching. The problem we have is precisely that one, Social Sciences in general are very competitive in Academic institutions because in the outside we have limited options.

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          • In the humanities/socscience departments, every associate/assistant or full prof I have run across has had a PhD. In B-school, it was split about 50-50 with PhDs in Finance/Econ/Management or MBAs/MACCs/MAs (Finance). Almost universally, those with masters had 10-20 years of experience in the relevant areas, typically at a senior executive level (managing partner at a hedge fund, founder/CFO of a tech company, etc.) whereas the PhDs had spent almost their entire careers in academia with some outside consulting.

            Two things really stuck out to me: ideologically, the academics are far more left-leaning/marxist (American marxist…not chavista) whereas those with the professional experience are highly fiscally conservatives and social moderates Also, the former managers-cum-professors are far more brutal graders; their outlook is that if you fail the class/exams, students will likely fail at applying what they are taught to their jobs and thus not be employed for a terribly long time.

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  7. The situation Maria Isabel describes is indeed very sad. I have myself left Venezuela to seek academic opportunities abroad… and find it unlikely I will return to Venezuela, at least in the short- to mid-term. Even as an undergrad I found it difficult to have access to the necessary materials for my studies, and I was blessed with a job in a law firm that allowed me to use their very resourceful library!
    As for the PhD-requirement to obtain teaching jobs… It was not usual in the past to obtain teaching positions without PhD degrees. I know quite a few teachers/professors, across all disciplines, who do not hold PhDs. They have, however, an impeccable academic publishing record more than making up for the time taken to write a PhD.
    I have found that today it is nearly impossible to get a teaching job in the UK, where I am based, without a PhD. In my field, at least, it is not necessary to hold a PhD to get a teaching job in the US: a JD will do. Or, if a PhD is necessary at all, then not one in law… the weird ways of academia.

    For my studies abroad, I was lucky enough to find out about a scholarship for Venezuelan students that I applied and, thankfully, received.
    If anyone finds this useful, I’d like to let you know of three studentships and scholarships for Venezuelan students within the University of Cambridge (one of which I currently have… but only for two more months!):
    1. The ‘Maria Luisa de Sanchez’ Scholarship, at Girton College Cambridge; for graduate studies in any discipline (http://www.girton.cam.ac.uk/for-graduate-students/graduate-fees/graduate-research-awards)
    2. The ‘Vargas’ Scholarship, at Darwin College Cambridge; for PhD degrees in medicine and related fields (http://horace.dar.cam.ac.uk/drupal7/sites/default/files/downloads/DEANERY_Awards_Bursaries_Scholarships_Prospective%20Graduate%20Members%202013-14.pdf)
    3. The ‘Menca de Leoni’ Studentship, at Newnham College Cambridge; for graduate degrees in any subject–though for female Venezuelan students only (http://www.newn.cam.ac.uk/postgrad/)

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  8. Sorry, slightly off-topic, but I’m confused… How does tenure work at this university and Venezuela in general? It looks like you got tenure before having a Masters or a PhD. How long had you been an (adjunct) professor?

    I ask because I find it a bit odd. Here (in the States), you only see professors getting tenure after a long career at the university with multiple significant contributions, etc. It seems like you were still pretty young when you go it? Is “tenure” the same over there as it is here?

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    • The Law says, after two years as Adjunct, you have a Competitive Contest (for Tenure), in general, there‘s no requirement for a Masters or PhD (unless the Call/Profile does demand it), because the University must (or so its says in the Statute, that given the finacial crisis, is not applied in this matter) give you the opportunity to go to Graduate School for that purpose.

      I got Tenure after seven years as Adjunct Professor (which shouldn‘t be the case, according to Law). I already had a Graduate Degree (Specialization), and was finishing my Masters Thesis-starting Doctorate studies when I won my Contest, but that‘s not the most common case. Most of Professors reach Tenure before they get their Doctorates, in some cases, the‘re almost retiring when they do so. We‘re the “young“ generation, and we have Doctorates before the ususal time, because the Law requires you to be a Doctor to get a Promotion to Associate or Titular (the two final classifications for Professors here), there are few Doctors in my Faculty. Some retire without that degree. I‘m currently an Associate Professor, I‘m 44, and got my Doctorate last year.

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      • As I am reading this, I found that the problem here is not just the lack of funding for the “Concurso de oposicion” that you mentioned, that by law it should take place every two years, but the low bar set for this concursos de oposicion whereas some professors get tenure without a PhD. As you mentioned, you are part of the “young generation” who mostly have Masters and/or PhDs before winning this tenure, but that is a function of the financial crisis of the universities, not of the rigorous requirements for achieving this tenure.

        Don’t you think that this low bar, and not just the funding, is also part of the problem?

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        • Oh, boy: the problem is more fundamental. The vast majority of Venezuelans finishing their undergraduate studies have a worse command of their language at a written level than Germans or Dutch at age 10. The gap for maths is not as dramatic but it is bad enough. There the difference is bigger when it comes to Venezuelans without university studies.
          Do you need PhD people to correct this? Fix primary schools firstly.

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          • Yes, we need to fix our primary and secondary schools, but part of the process of fixing them is to improve the quality of our teachers. If the process used to chose the faculty at the institutions that will train them does not make the case for improving quality, how can we ask the same from the future teachers at our high schools?

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            • Pope, I agree that’s bad but Maripuerta can explain a bit of the issue. It is not optima, but I think that if at least we can get graduate students to a certain level, you can get the primary fine. This is not the chicken and the egg. I got my PhD but seriously: a PhD is not necessary for a lot of things and one of them is to have some decent teachers for primary and secondary.
              We have to start with something.

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              • I‘m not in that area in particular, I‘m at a Business School, but unfortunately, I know the case of the Education Faculty and it is a lot worse. When kids get their High School diploma, they want to study a career that gives them economical and social improvement, Medicine, Law, Engineering or Business. Education is their last choice, I‘d like you to see the scores for Education, at least in my UC. That is indeed our greatest problem and not addressed. The best students go to Medicine School. They should also go to Education, but they don‘t.

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        • Here’s my take; not only the Law makes no requirement for it (only for Associate or Titular, the last two scales), you also have Chairs or Dept Head’s that don’t have a PhD, so yes in some cases, the low bar is an issue; but on the other side, these studies: Masters and Doctorates, are very expensive, if you don’t have the financial support from the University, very little chance you might find a Doctor in the market willing to be a Full-Time Professor. Even the Statute (ours does) guarantees you at Entry level, the institution will cover your Graduate studies.

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          • Is tenure a sort of protected employment in Venezuelan universities? or does it work differently than in other parts of the world? Serious question as I really do not know how it works.

            But if it is a sort of protected employment, shouldn’t the concursos de oposicion be used to pick who gets support for Graduate Studies, and IF (a big IF), they successfully complete them and teach at the university, THEN will get tenure? It seems that the current system (the statue you refer to at UC, even though it is no apply because of lack of funding) sets a pretty low bar of who gets tenure.

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            • It‘s protected. You reach Tenure through a Competitive Contest, several Tests: Credentials, Psicological, Teaching Skils and Knowledge. After you have Tenure, you may (if you don‘t have any) continue Graduate Studies. The Law says you have two years, as an Adjunct, after that, you must go to a Competitive Contest (open to the Public).

              I do think there is a low bar, but you have to consider that Graduate Studies are very expensive, if your Institution doesn‘t sponsor the Tuition, how can you pay? Most of the Professors don‘t hold a Doctorate or PhD degree. One of the reasons, I think is, that we tend to favor Teaching instead of Research. With 12 hours per week of classes, it does take a lot of time, and of course, many of our Professors only teach for that very reason, but that‘s precisely the model. Low bar or just plain obsolete.

              For those of us who teach and research, is very hard. I gor my doctorate, while I was teaching (12 hours a week) and doing research. Four years of that rhythm got me into trouble with my health. That‘s not the way you should get a Doctorate. But that‘s the way it is, under this model.

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              • Everything has a price Maripuerta, at least it should, otherwise we don’t earn what we obtain.’Hard’ means growth ; it means we have to grow in order to achieve.This is good.
                But regardless of what we have obtained, resting on our laurels with insider protection makes for a pretty poor open education.It only closes that which has been obtained and encourages political corruption.

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              • I understand Tenure is intended precisely to protect. I don’t think it is a problem, and the cause for setting low standards. If that should be the case, not only Venezuela would be in that position.

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