Tenure?

Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass wrote a post on tenure.

One reason people want tenure is for academic freedom. If you have tenure, the theory goes, you can oppose the administration politically at no cost to yourself.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

If you are opposing the administration, are you really going to wait until you are tenured? No, you’re not. And as a result, you won’t get tenure.

If you are opposing someone at no risk to yourself, isn’t it possible that you will oppose them out of vengefulness, pettiness, or simply desiring to be annoying? Yes, it is.

So tenure = academic freedom is a “get out of jail free card” for teachers who just want to make the administration miserable. No, everyone doesn’t do it, but some of them do. You probably know one or two.

Then there’s the idea that tenure rewards hard work. As my grampa used to say, “The reward for work well done is more work to do.” If a teacher is teaching (and researching, at a research institute), then they will be rewarded. No administration in the world wants to have to pay to go look for candidates to replace good people they already have. And they’re not going to do that, most of the time. Yes, sometimes someone gets in a squabble and maybe it isn’t the teacher’s fault, but most of the time this won’t happen.

My high school had tenure. (Yes, you read that right.) And there was a Spanish teacher who didn’t teach anything in her classes. She had tenure, so she didn’t have to. Now, there were forty teachers in my high school and only one wasn’t doing her job. But the 39 who were doing their job, would have done it without tenure. And the one who wasn’t, could have been let go without tenure.

On the other hand, if there’s no tenure, then full-time faculty may be increasingly replaced with part-timers, or, more likely, as new teachers are needed, only part-time faculty will be hired.

How can we get around that?

adjunct-bag2First, schools who are hiring lots of adjuncts don’t have high standing, in their communities or in academia. And, believe it or not, all schools want to have a high standing. So why are they hiring mostly adjuncts? It’s financial considerations. And tenure or not isn’t going to change the financial considerations for most of those schools.

Next, what about fixed term contracts? My SLAC has three-year fixed term contracts. Most of the teachers there have been there for the last twenty years on those contracts. They haven’t needed tenure to have job security, because they and the school fit each other.

Now, however, there are differences coming, and some of them may not have notice the changes in the wind. The SLAC is moving towards being a research institute. So without publications and presentations, a person won’t get hired there. I would not be surprised if, eventually, the school starts letting go people who don’t have the publications they want. But that won’t be soon. Remember what I said earlier? It’s way easier to keep what you have than to get something new. So even with the winds of change blowing, most of those teachers will keep their jobs for multiple more contract terms without needing to improve their publication/presentation rate. And those who want to stay on and who people want to keep, they’ll get the idea (either themselves or through a nudge) that they need to get to work.

Therefore, I am for fixed year contracts over tenure. I don’t think tenure does much for a school and I don’t think it really does a lot for the teachers.

Of course, I’m speaking from the outside, as someone without tenure, without a full-time position, so some may discount my opinion. But I think it makes sense. And I think we are moving towards that model in academia.

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