Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Credentialling


Comments from the end of the last BC thread.

James,
a culture of deferring to experts

One problem with Socialism as a cultural system is that ti debases expertise just as it debases the currency. Both rely on symbolic representations of value that are vulnerable to counterfeiting and inflation.

Have you seen this story from last week? Germany expands probe into Ph.D. bribe scheme. There are two ways to look at this. It could be an attempt by the regulators to justify their existence and by officials in the guild of degree granting institutions to limit access to the field by entrepreneurs. Alternatively, it could be as it purports an indication that less qualified applicants found a way to evade the traditional standards demanded to receive the doctorate.
In Germany, a Ph.D. is a highly-sought credential for those aiming for the top of their field. Professionals referred to as "Herr Dr." and "Frau Dr." are common in disciplines far removed from academia and medicine, such as politics and finance.

With the pressure to secure the career-elevating honorary so high, people are often willing to pay to expedite the lengthy process of locating a professor with the correct expertise and enough time to advise their doctorate work, said Matthias Jaroch, a spokesman for the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers.

"A doctor title is not only an earning advantage, it's prestigious," Jaroch said. "That's the source of people's willingness to pay for this, even by illegal means."
Americans are as fascinated by titles as Europeans are, maybe more so. We are impressed by a Baron or even a Baronet more I think then people who come from the places that produce such creatures. Our research universities of the 19th century were based on the German model and our devotion to the honorific "Doctor" approaches the germanic. At the same time the conditions of centralized bureaucratic administration that accompany a socialized government regulated society create powerful drives to increase credentialling.

The whole idea of the Civil Service is to remove the ability of politicians and by extension managers to subjectively evaluate people. Therefore there is an incentive to rely on theoretically objective criteria, such as academic credentials. What this really does is off load the evaluation onto the subjective opinion of the authority that granted the degree or certificate. The pay scales become tied to the accumulation of certifications and degrees. This results in an industry that provides government workers with courses and certificates that can be used to justify professional advancement. These can have little relevance to the actual work performed, which is as previously noted difficult to evaluate. There becomes a drive to actually allow this activity to replace the work for which the taxpayers hired these putative experts in the first place.

In the public schools in NYC teachers have mandated paid time for attending these courses and thousands are employed in producing these credentials. The doctorate in education (D.Ed.) from Teacher's College at Columbia, or from Nobody Heard Of It State, will boost the recipients income and promotability to a Superintendency as much or more then a Ph.D. that represents work of more intellectual merit.

Originally the academic degree granted by a law school was a bachelors degree (the LL.B.) which was not even required to enter the profession and which was considered a sign of a liberal arts education. However when the lawyers who established the federal pay scales realized that importance of possessing a graduate degree the humble Bachelors of Laws metamorphosed into the Juris Doctor (JD).

This pressure to credential is resisted within a hierarchy by the desire to be promoted of those who are not in possession of such externally awarded qualifications. This results in two competing dynamics. Those who rely on credentials and those who rely on tenure. The latter is known as "Buggins' Law" as in Buggins got here first so he gets promoted.

In the Federal government every job lists minimal qualifications for consideration. These include Knowledge Skills and Abilities (KSAs), minimum level of education for a pay grade and experience. With few exceptions service over one year in the next lowest pay grade qualifies for consideration for a promotion. Therefor consider two candidates, one has spent years at universities and has accumulated a BA an MA and a PhD. He is 28 years old and can apply for a position as a GS-9. His starting income will be about $40,000. Another candidate entered government service at age 19 with a High School diploma as a GS-3 and completed a BA from the local municipal college while being advanced in the normal course of service. Promotions from GS-5 up to level GS-9 are often not competitive and it is even possible to reach GS-11 without facing a review beyond general fitness for employment. Law enforcement jobs automatically promote to the GS-11 level or even higher. The even numbers do not really exist before the GS-12 level. It is possible that if he is minimally competent then before he is 30 he will be able to compete successfully for promotion to GS-11. There he will serve as the Supervisor for the entering PhD. The employee who entered at age 19 can then expect a total income, depending on locality, of around $80-100,000/annum. Obviously he is under some pressure to obtain certificates and degrees also, no matter if they are of lower objective quality, to increase his chances or promotion beyond the GS-9 level.

Robert Heinlein had Jubal Harshaw, MD JD refuse to use the honorific Dr until it will not be confused with a Playground Superintendent.

-------
JFSanders031,
(who would choose experience over credentials EVERY time)
Your point about the value of experience is well founded but my argument meant to focus on the defects of a centralized government bureaucracy in evaluating talent. In your private business you should be able to consider the strengths of all candidates for a job, both internal and external, and fit the right person into each position. My point is that in government both tools, credentials and tenure, are flawed and serve as improper substitutes for real managerial judgement. Once people who rely on these false criteria are promoted they produce flawed evaluations and countenance political manipulation of the HR process. This is either done covertly or can become codified under EEO processes. This decoupling of evaluations and promotions from honest managerial work related judgement is endemic in the government service. Even worse is that the government seeks through the legal system to force private employers to conform to government HR practices.

Aug 30, 2009 - 9:03 am

2 comments:

james said...

No, I hadn't seen that story. Interesting; not unexpected.

For years our group's computer manager was an uncredentialed man who had started work with us learning how to program on an old IBM they'd bought (for a DAQ) that didn't have a compiler, and had learned it all as he went along. Everybody else was PhD'ed, but the criteria was "can you do the job" and he did it well.

My complaint was broader than politics, though. We assume that a professional teacher can teach our children better than we can (not true), that a psychiatrist's advice will be better than your grandmother's (depends on your grandmother, but some of them are wise), that the architect knows what he's doing when he gives you the plans (we discovered otherwise when the department's building was remodeled), that a lawyer is the best person for designing laws ("we wonders, yes we wonders..."), and on and on.

james said...

No, I hadn't seen that story. Interesting; not unexpected.

For years our group's computer manager was an uncredentialed man who had started work with us learning how to program on an old IBM they'd bought (for a DAQ) that didn't have a compiler, and had learned it all as he went along. Everybody else was PhD'ed, but the criteria was "can you do the job" and he did it well.

My complaint was broader than politics, though. We assume that a professional teacher can teach our children better than we can (not true), that a psychiatrist's advice will be better than your grandmother's (depends on your grandmother, but some of them are wise), that the architect knows what he's doing when he gives you the plans (we discovered otherwise when the department's building was remodeled), that a lawyer is the best person for designing laws ("we wonders, yes we wonders..."), and on and on.