November 21, 2005

Discussion Topic

So I was all set to compose my post on why putting a car customization shop next to a dance studio is a very bad idea, but there was rain, and traffic, and mucous-induced yogurt vomit--though, thank God, the Batman shirt was spared--so I'm punting, although only a little bit, because I find this topic interesting.

Here's your topic for the day:

The tenure review process as it stands is too susceptible to corruption and bias.

Discuss. And here's what brought this on.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at November 21, 2005 11:16 AM

I completely don't get tenure.

It's like you have to refrain from expressing yourself in any way outside some established norm to get it, then you never have to show any restraint or discretion the rest of your life.

And what, pray tell, does this have to do with academics?

BTW, I can't think of a workplace outside academics or journalism where people aren't encouraged to keep their political views to themselves.

Posted by: Laura at November 21, 2005 11:06 PM

The problem is that tenure exists at all.

It calls for a marxist tenure analysis, in fact.

There's a dissertation topic for you.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at November 22, 2005 02:29 AM

I'm wondering if they'll end up getting rid of it entirely, just because economics are forcing colleges to hire adjuncts instead of tenure track faculty--if they can't afford to pay the tenured class, and adjuncts do the job just as well...

Of course, my analysis is based on experience with the humanities. Sciences are always different because of the funding side.

As an aside, I think that the general public understands the difference between academic freedom and "getting played by a fraud or paralyzed by a blowhard," and so I seriously doubt that colleges are going to be able to use that excuse for the importance of tenure much longer. Which is sad, but the definition of academic freedom has become so skewed that a backlash wouldn't surprise me.

Posted by: BAW at November 22, 2005 09:49 AM

Had a class discussion on the topic of tenure when I was teaching an ed class to ed majors.

General concensus: tenure should be awarded after 2 years if you're a good teacher. Reason: it ensures that the teaching position is yours and that you won't be replaced by a cheaper, newly graduated teacher.

However, tenure should be reviewed every set number of years (lengths mentioned of 1 to 7 years) Reason: to make sure the teacher is still teaching and not just skating.

Of course, my big question is how Temes conducted his protestations. Were the conversations outside of the classroom or during class time? Were the body counts posted in his office area or a general departmental area? Were his flyers put in appropriate areas on campus or handed out in class?

For me, a difference of opinion isn't that big of an issue. It's behavior that counts.

Posted by: di at November 22, 2005 10:47 AM

I agree. As a doctoral student hoping to move into a faculty position in the next year or so, I really do not understand the need for tenure. What kind of benefit does this really give for continuing to produce material and inspire students? Faculty members know they have their jobs forever and can just spend the next couple of decades coasting on the work they did in the first few years. I have held "real" jobs (outside the academic world) and people tend to keep those jobs by continuing to be good employees and productive members of the organization. I don't understand why a university is different.

(And, I fail to understand the general whiny attitudes of so many faculty about EVERY LITTLE THING! They seem to have missed the idea that this is one of the best jobs imaginable and they are lucky to have their jobs! But that is a rant for another day.)

Posted by: Mary at November 22, 2005 10:47 AM

Tenure is supposedly to protect brave professors from retaliation when they espouse views heretical to the Powers That Be. In fact, the PTB use the lengthy period before tenure eligibility -- during which the hopeful scholar may reveal his fatal quirk, become maddened with the minutiae of Academe or decide to get a job in the real world -- to weed out those with any tendency to heresy.

Mind you, I think the man's opinions are pernicious, but the case is a classic example of the misuse of tenure to promote conformity rather than to protect nonconformity.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at November 22, 2005 12:51 PM

"And, I fail to understand the general whiny attitudes of so many faculty about EVERY LITTLE THING! They seem to have missed the idea that this is one of the best jobs imaginable and they are lucky to have their jobs!"

It is a characteristic of human nature that the more comfortable we get, the more we complain.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at November 22, 2005 08:44 PM

um, may I defend tenure for a moment? (disclaimer: I am a fairly newly tenured prof. And regardless of what some profs say, I love my job and I enjoy doing research and teaching students). I regard my tenure as a great and precious thing; it allows me to focus on my work without the stress of potential "downsizing" or without having to adjust my area of research interest to the prevailing trend.

The way I see it (and I may be in the minority), being awarded tenure is like a vote of confidence. It's not "okay, you can shut down now" but rather "you're doing fine for our institution; now just keep up the good work." That, and I don't want to jump out a window any more if I happen to get a manuscript rejected. (Seriously: being up for tenure can be a major stressor. I can't imagine going through that kind of annual performance review every year. We have "performance reviews" but not to that degree).

It's kind of a perk - in some fields, it's considered an inducement to get people to work for less pay (and possibly longer hours) than they'd work in industry. (at least that's the ideal.)

Also, there's the slim but real chance that you may have an administration who are very market-oriented and who say "You know, the BIG money these days is in computers. Let's fire the English and Foreign Language departments and hire more computer guys" (I realize that is a hyperbolic example but there are areas - for example, organismal biology during the heyday of molecular genetics - that ran the risk of being ashcanned were there not people already in place who knew that information). I suppose the argument can also be made that it protects people who have unpopular views except these days those folks generally don't get hired in the first place. It's not so much Administration v. Brave Prof any more as it is Rest of the Department v. Brave Prof.

I don't have a problem with post-tenure review (my institution is developing a plan for this) so people can't really slack, or let their True Monster Nature come out after tenure, but when people talk of abolishing it altogether and leaving higher education purely to market forces, I start to get a little worried because, you know, there might be some knowledge out there that could be lost that might come in handy in the future. (And I'm not talking buggy-whip manufacture. I've seen some uni administrators make some really bonehead decisions and could envision someone proposing a university with a large Department of Popular Culture studies but with just a few lone chemists left in what used to be Physical Sciences - well, at least until the accreditation stuff hits the fan)

That said, if I were doing something and my department chair said, "if you don't stop that you won't get tenure" I'd sure as shooting stop doing that thing.

Posted by: ricki at November 29, 2005 03:22 PM