Two universities in Saudi Arabia have engineered a rise in their international rankings by offering lucrative short-term contracts to high-profile researchers. As reported in Science, sixty researchers listed in ISI’s highly cited list have changed their affiliation to King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. In return, they receive adjunct professor appointments and about $72,000. In addition, they are expected to spend a week or two a year on campus and supervise a research group.
Gerry Gilmore, a British astronomer who added KAU to his affiliation on publications, brushed off criticism of the deal by noting that, “Universities buy people’s reputations all the time. In principle, this is no different from Harvard hiring a prominent researcher.”
It’s not clear how much of the research in KAU’s name occurs on its campus or how much contact the star faculty have with colleagues and students. Of course, rankings and reputation rely on research productivity and impact, but by reducing faculty members to their citation counts, a university risks losing sight of its overall educational mission.