Andy Yao and Franco Preparata sat on a panel at Brown about globalization. Andy Yao said that the US system of higher education was the best in the world, for the following reasons.
- Indirect evidence from the results. US institutions of higher learning train the best scientists and the best engineers, he said. I would say that it is an indicator of the quality of the PhD and Masters programs, but not necessarily of the undergraduate programs.
- Merit-based decisions for admitting students, hiring faculty, and promotion to tenure. Andy Yao specifically praised the tenure-track system, that, by putting new hires on probation for 6 years, prevents hiring mistakes from having life-long consequences. As someone who has greatly benefited from the French tenured-upon-hiring system, as a friend of women who have avoided the stressful tenure-track phase by spending the early part of their career in industry labs, and as a witness of women who wait until tenure before having children (at 35, the age when fertility starts to decrease significantly and the risk of genetic defects in babies rises), I see the great personal cost of the tenure-track system and am reluctant to consider its advantages.
- Franco Preparata added the 9-month salary system: US universities only pay faculty for work 9 months of the year. That gives professors both freedom and incentive to go elsewhere for the remaining three months: visit another university or industry lab. The arrangement promotes the exchange of ideas and cross-fertilization between different places.