John Warner, at Inside Higher Ed, counts the ways.
As a dispositional conservative, it troubles me every time we seek to remake or undo institutions that have served so many, so well, for so long. Centralizing power in a body with a supermajority appointed by the governor seems exceedingly foolhardy, as the university system will inevitably be yanked to and fro as the office changes hands.And yet, Mr Warner observes, the faculty -- properly the stewards of the university -- are in a precarious position for resistance.
The attacks are transparently ideological, political power plays cloaked in the language of populism, a repeat of Governor Walker’s neutering of the K-12 teachers’ unions in the state.
And it’s working. Public comments on what’s happening show a prevailing view of college professors as “elitists” who enjoy “jobs for life.” It is the “jobs for life” charge that seems most potent because obviously no one deserves a job for life, even though we used to live in a culture where many people worked for the same employer for their entire careers, retiring with pensions and security.
While most of these comments betray an ignorance as to the reality of what it means to be tenured, it is interesting that an argument that everyone should experience precarious employment is more powerful than the counter that more people should have security.
Changes to tenure, increased costs to students, narrowed curricular paths and consultant speak about “right-sizing” programs and making degrees “responsive” to industry demands, are all part of an increasing, perhaps now dominant viewpoint that access to higher education is a private, rather than public good.
I have to ask who is benefiting from these radical changes. It is not students who are paying more than ever, not faculty, not the schools themselves, and definitely not the larger public.
Education is now about providing “resources” for business, rather than opportunity for individuals.
For these reasons, I support the resistance to these changes.
I think it is a mistake to paint the tenured faculty at Wisconsin, or the other schools where something similar is inevitable, as victims who will be unable to continue to do their work without the protections of tenure.All too often, voting in department or committee or faculty senate to go along with a lesser administrative abuse rather than have a greater abuse imposed by fiat. That's understandable -- I get that I'm in an excellent position to have gone Galt and enjoyed the collapse on nights the Brewers aren't collapsing -- and yet in my final five years in the academy I don't recall anybody suggesting a strategy by which I could have moderated my dissent and yet the faculty could have dissented.
For one, how do you prove that tenure is necessary when a majority of your colleagues have been working without it?
I read that tenure protects the right for college faculty to speak freely, but where has that free speaking been during the decades-long process of adjunctification of their own profession?
But without the dissent, and with the academy's increased reliance on cheap and contingent labor (easier to swallow headquarters cancelling a tenure-line search and hire an instructor than to cancel sections) the remaining tenured faculty abdicates a defense for its status. Mr Warner:
When tenure was allowed to become a job perk, reserved for the few at the expense of the many, the argument that it’s fundamental pre-requisite to do the work of the university was lost.Here's Historiann, raising a counter-argument. "[I]f the quality of the teaching and the integrity of the workplace is in fact our priority, then why not tenure and lower teaching loads for all?" That's inspired by a longer post here.
In short, the normalization, over the last few decades, of using (and increasing the numbers of) adjunct and non-tenure-track instructors, at practically every college and university in the land, has had the effect of suggesting to outside observers—indeed, I’d say it suggests to anyone who thinks clearly about the issues—that collegiate education can be accomplished more cheaply and without tenuring the teachers. It seems important to try to say this without pointing a finger of blame anywhere. Cutting the UW budget and working to limit tenure there are simply obvious extensions of the notion that some teachers do not, in fact, need tenure, and that some teachers can teach for lower salaries. If some, why not all?But that's not the way the remaining tenure-track faculty roll.
And yet, in my experience, tenure-track faculty often seem to work harder to justify their higher position in a two-tier system of instruction than they do to work for the benefit of those caught in the lower (non-tenure-track) tier. It has sometimes felt as if they are concerned to police and patrol that border that separates tenure-track from non-tenure-track with particular diligence. This, of course, is exactly what’s rotten at the heart of academia: the game is already over, if we act as though some teachers (i.e., those on one side of this border) do not need tenure and can be paid but a pittance. If people in tenure-track positions accept the existence or necessity of non-tenure-eligible faculty lines, then they have already accepted that tenure is not really necessary, and they risk reducing the effect of their own arguments to “But tenure is really necessary for me, and for those like me”. Likewise with salary, and with teaching load: “Oh, I’m in a tenure line, I need to teach fewer classes and get paid more because my teaching is linked to my research.” As if some teaching need not be linked to research, as if teaching twice as many courses a term should not be expected to affect the quality of instruction. But if reasonable pay and teaching loads are good for some, why not for all?That's the down-side of go-along-to-get-along. It's rare for a department head to resign on principle or for a department to go on record as opposed to the failure of headquarters to properly fund and staff a degree program, perhaps on the grounds that even an etiolated degree program is better than none at all. (Insofar as the U.S. News rankings place value of strong academic reputations and the presence of advanced degree programs, administrators' threats to close programs may be substantially stronger than the execution.)
At Crooked Timber, Clay Shirky suggests the shake-out is only starting.
With the rise of contingent faculty, now decisively the majority, the price of attending college is increasingly divorced from the cost of supporting the people doing the actual teaching, undermining the most basic rationale for tuition. Inside the academy, this is treated as business as usual. Outside the academy, the taxpayers don’t even understand that it has happened.Somewhere, Charlie (Prof Scam) Sykes and Martin (Impostors in the Temple) Anderson are hoisting a Sprecher.
The fight to treat teaching as a valued activity, starting with treating adjuncts fairly, will require a revolution, precisely because it will require senior faculty to spend more time in the classroom, or it will require us to elevate contingent faculty, who do much of the actual teaching, to the status of valued colleagues. Neither is compatible with current norms.
That change could be gradual, as college continues its shift from being an elite to a mass experience, but like Daniel, I am betting it will be accelerated by uproar, as our insistence that we be subsidized then left alone, while grad students and adjuncts teach the teenagers left in our care, comes to sound increasingly scandalous when spelled out to the public.