I'd offer the counterpoints that:
a) Even at high levels, professors are rarely teaching the absolute cutting edge. With the exception of my AI/ML courses and some of the upper-level CS, I don't think I've learned very much that a professor 10-20 years ago wouldn't have known. And I would guess that CS is very much the outlier in this regard: I would be mildly surprised if more than 5-10% of undergrads encounter, say, chemistry, economics, or physics that wasn't already mainstream 50 years ago.
b) Ballpark estimate based on looking at a couple specific schoo... (read more)
Hm... I seem to have mistaken "flexibility" for low hours and underestimated how much professors work. Is "teaches math at Stanford" really viewed much lower than "researches math at Stanford" (or whatever college)? It seems like universities could drum up some prestige around being a good teacher if that's really the main incentive.
Update: someone IRL gave me an interesting answer. In high school, we had to take a bunch of standardized tests: AP tests, SAT and ACT, national standardized tests, etc. My school was a public school, so its funding and status was highly dependent on these exam results. This meant that my teachers had a true vested interest in the students actually understanding the content.
Colleges, on the other hand, have no such obligation. Since the same institution is the one administering classes and deciding who gets a degree, there's super low incentive for them to... (read more)
I'm not fully convinced by the salary argument, especially with quality-of-life adjustment. As an example, let's imagine I'm a skilled post-PhD ML engineer, deciding between:
Jane Street Senior ML Engineer: $700-750k, 50-55hrs/week, medium job security, low autonomy
[Harvard/Yale/MIT] Tenured ML Professor: $200-250k, 40-45hrs/week, ultra-high job security, high autonomy
A quick google search says that my university grants tenure to about 20 people per year. Especially as many professors have kids, side jobs, etc. it seems unlikely that a top university really... (read more)
I agree that this is the case (and indeed, a quick google search of even my worst professors yields considerably impressive CVs). I don't understand why that's the case. Is it, as ErickBall suggests, simply cheaper to hire good researchers than good teachers? I find that a little unlikely. I also find it unlikely that this is more profitable--surely student tuition + higher alumni donations be worth more than whatever cut of NIH/NSF/etc. funding they're taking.
My question is who this system leaves better off? Students get worse professors, good researchers... (read more)