Speaking Out

On Postdoctoral Benefits

How disappointing were the recommendations, or more correctly, the implications of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Policies for Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Associates. Again, we see the typically enlightened, but clearly laissez faire attitudes we have come to expect from our University. Do everything we can to improve the conditions of two of the most poorly treated and ignored groups at Penn (a response I whole-heartedly support), but be sure that it doesn't cost the University. The currently dreadful conditions under which Postdocs and Research Associates function have produced a permanent underclass of peripatetic scholars.

More timely promotions of Postdocs, as recommended by the Subcommittee, is truly a worthy suggestion. But, what if the promotion requires a doubling in total compensation (a modest raise in salary and the addition of fringe benefits) that can't be covered entirely by the grant? Must the Postdoc be fired? Is Penn willing to contribute some money? It is clear that the many tens-of-millions of extramural research dollars that pour into Penn annually are dependent upon the University's overworked and underpaid Postdocs and Research Associates. Is not the discovery of new knowledge the primary mission of a great university, or is it now the function of the NIH, NSF and private foundations, and for the university to be "hired-out" like so many Hessian troops? It would appear that scholarship is no longer our raison d'etre, but our means of support. Our junior researchers (unfortunately, some only junior in name) contribute more to the mission of our great University than many of the plethora of "baby" Provosts, Dean-lets, Vice Presidents, Directors, Subdirectors and Subsubdirectors who not only receive the full support of our coffers but require full financing of their growing armies of assistants, associates, facilitators, specialists, coordinators, counselors, managers, analysts, organizers, etc. This, in contrast to our junior scholars, who must obtain their own salaries, fringe benefits and overhead. The entire $1 1/2 million budget for the Research Foundation would be hard pressed to support just one subunit of an administrative division.

I realize that the disgraceful and often desperate condition of our non-faculty scholars is a national scandal, but it is time for one of the country's leading research institutions to address the real problems faced by Postdocs and Research Associates with comprehensive remedies that could serve as a model for other universities. Enough Band-Aids, there are just so many patches that can be applied to a leaky hose.

--Bernard Shapiro
Professor of Biochemistry (Vet)

(Response from Dr. Cebra)