I’m still catching up on things I had been setting aside to read for the past month, and today came across a posting on the Tomorrows Professor Blog that referenced a posting on Inside Higher Ed called Tenure as a Tarnished Brass Ring.  It got me thinking about a number of things….

I’m really torn on the concept of Tenure.  It’s overarching goal of protecting academic freedom is a noble one, but its implementation really doesn’t seem to work anymore.  New faculty are run through their paces for between half and a full decade, working massive hours, focused strictly on publishing in higher ranking journals and getting funding, all to get a chance for every dingbat in the college who disagrees with them measure them against a standard that rises each year.  Activities that are valuable, both to the community and to scholarship, that do not result in such a publication are discouraged.  Teaching is a far-distant second place to most other activities.  The process is long, painful and often arbitrary, with ever-changing standards and no clear direction for those trying to meet it.

Moreover, I think the fact that so many newly minted PhD’s are forced into either post-docs (in the sciences) or adjunct positions (humanities and social sciences) is, in part, the FAULT of the tenure process.  No college wants to take on a new TT faculty member knowing the amount of added work that is going to come with having that person amongst their ranks.  It is easier and far cheaper to hire an adjunct to do their teaching load and, if they do research in their free time so much the better.  In the above article they reference a blog post by Lumpenprofessoriat that states the following:

There are lots of things that have hurt me in academia, but tenure is NOT one of them.

I
have been hurt by the lack of health care from my years as an adjunct.
I have been hurt by the uncertainties of working as migrant, contingent
labor in academia for more than a decade. I have been hurt by Deans,
Provosts, and by some of my colleagues who put time and effort into
delaying my start in a tenure track line and in further delaying my
final tenure decision for another decade. I have been hurt by decades
of debts and low wages that I may never recover from. I have grudges,
depression, anger, rage, and issues aplenty from my sojourn through the
academic labor market. But the one thing that has NOT hurt me is tenure.

I think this is a misphrase.  What has never hurt hir is HAVING tenure.  However I think the institution of tenure has hurt hir extensively.  All of those painful experiences before and during are related to the institution of tenure and would not exist in their current state if tenure were not still considered such an important part of the academic job market. 

Once you have it, tenure as amazing.  But the process of getting it, heck even the availability of positions leading to it, is rapidly becoming more trouble than it is worth.

This does NOT mean the academics should not have academic freedom or that everyone should be adjuncts.  And I understand that the time table of an academic doesn’t allow for the yearly review of a normal professional.  But in my day job I have an ongoing relationship with my company that assumes periodic reviews and sets out reasonable causes for dismissal.  Unionization and long-term review cycles could mimic this in academe while protecting young and old scholars alike.

None of this means I would turn down a TT job if/when one is offered.  Beliefs about what a system SHOULD be should never stop one from dealing with the system as it is.  But I have to agree with Tenured Radical  – I would far rather have a 5 year renewable contract that protected my academic rights regardless of where I am in my career than go through this painful, humiliating process.

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