3.4.05

MORE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT TENURE. Stephen at Vodka Pundit has yet to make up his mind.
I'm still agnostic on the issue. Now that we have 24/7 news and a growing blogosphere to help keep it honest, I worry less and less about entrenched institutions. Universities can keep tenure if they so choose - but they can no longer avoid close public scrutiny and loud public derision.
Max Boot is less reserved.
The rigid ideological intolerance of American universities makes a mockery of tenure's primary justification: It is supposed to allow scholars to pursue their work without outside pressure. Professors like Churchill are all too happy to take advantage of this freedom to mock off-campus pieties. But few dare to disagree with the received wisdom of the faculty club, where the political spectrum runs all the way from left to far left.
That's a common, yet erroneous, conflation. John Silber, in Straight Shooting, provides a history lesson at p. 145.
The transformation of tenure into near sinecure was not the original intention of the [American Association of University Professors] but, rather, the inadvertent result of a number of maladroit efforts to defend and protect academic freedom. The history of the transformation of academic tenure into near-sinecure is ... worthy of study by our best historians ... a sketch must suffice. At a time when the public was hostile to and intolerant of evolutionists, secularists, economists, psychoanalysts, sociologists, or indeed of any professor whose views differed from local public opinion, the [Association] perhaps decided that the successful defense of all members of the academic community from capricious dismissal was impossible.
Plus ca change. (There's an entirely different story about the consequences of not protecting some members on biases in research and temptations to become a Big Red Subway university.) Tenure is neither necessary nor sufficient for academic freedom. As long as people continue conflate the two things, I shall continue to point out the conflation. Back to Mr Boot.
This helps to explain some of the dysfunctions that mar big-time universities, such as the overemphasis on publishing unintelligible articles and the under-emphasis on teaching undergraduates.
Oh, that explains my problem. I do research on real world problems and I teach undergraduates. Such a lousy existence I lead at this bowl-winning mid-major ...
Armies of junior faculty and graduate-student drudges have been enlisted to assume the bulk of the teaching load because most of the tenured grandees think that instructing budding stockbrokers and middle managers is beneath them.
So below my dignity that I've been named a remorseless Academic Ninja, presumably for expecting those stockbrokers and middle managers to be able to think clearly. Might be a few of the C students who'd rather have one of those drudges they could mau-mau into handing out inflated grades. Sorry. That dog won't hunt.
Abolish tenure. Subject professors to the discipline of the marketplace like almost everyone else. But of course this is an idea too radical to be seriously entertained on campus.
Bad analogy. Silber, pp. 140-41:

We also know that in every business minor and major failings are tolerated at all levels, from executives to janitors. Except in times of severe financial strain, corporations and family businesses retain their employees -- particularly high-placed employees -- by overlooking or resigning themselves to their various shortcomings. ... When a man [c.q.] is fired, we can assume either that he had been with the firm a short time, that he had been detected in flagrant wrongdoing, or that his firing will be seen as irresponsible or unjust. [Superintendent's note: don't bring that right-sizing stuff around here, as I have plenty of evidence that such companies have hived off valuable institutional memory.] Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is, in part, an indictment of the callow inheritor of a family business who met none of the obligations his father owed to older employees. ...

So much for the myth that in business "a man like Professor X would be fired." ...

Properly understood, tenure is a relevant aspect of all human relationships -- an expression of the human need for order and certainty, and a condition of the fulfillment of responsibilities reasonably expected, not only of institutions, but of individuals.

That's the reasoned argument. I've also found a good Fisking of Mr Boot's column at Blogs For Industry, a site making a case to become Company Mail.

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