24.6.15

HIGHER EDUCATION BREAKS THE SOCIAL CONTRACT.

William Voegeli, "Tenure, Kipnis and the PC University."
Northwestern’s bizarre, egregious treatment of [professor Laura] Kipnis strengthens the case against the credentials-industrial complex that [Minding the Campus] and other critics have been making for years: zealots, frauds, and cowards are turning the citadels of academic freedom into indoctrination camps.

The Kipnis story didn’t cause, but strongly reinforces, growing popular contempt for higher education and its denizens, whose vast self-regard rests on academic ideals they do so much more to flout than uphold. That contempt, in turn, makes it possible, even irresistible, for politicians to curtail prerogatives that serve academics’ private interests but no longer advance the public interest in ways voters can discern or believe.
And thus the Republican legislature in Wisconsin striking first the academic inquiry and then the tenure from the statutes establishing the University of Wisconsin.  Hence Mr Voegeli twinning Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Despite its president’s platitudes about valuing self-expression, Northwestern’s risk-averse faculty members will inevitably self-censor rather than increase their exposure to such investigations.

The fact that Kipnis has tenure belies Wisconsin professors’ claims about the impossibility of speaking freely without it. Tenure, as understood by one of the country’s most prestigious universities, is no longer a sufficient condition for exercising freedom of speech with confidence there’ll be no professional drawbacks.

But l’affaire Kipnis shows, strangely, that neither is tenure a necessary condition for free speech.
Never mind that the pursuit of tenure has deteriorated, for a number of reasons, into a pursuit of minimal publishable units, which are more likely to find an outlet if they don't challenge existing discourse practices or commonplaces.  But tenure is political ... any number of scholars with solid publication records and excellent teaching evaluations don't get it ... and, as with anything political, getting along means going along.  And thus does higher education antagonize the public.
What is, then, both necessary and sufficient to speak your mind in the modern academy without risking career turmoil is to affirm, rather than question, the reigning, strengthening political-identity orthodoxies. That reality mocks the pieties about tenure’s societal benefits, created when professors have the confidence to express their ideas boldly and pursue their work freely. And that reality reduces academic tenure to a job-protection racket sustained by tax and tuition payments from people who will never have guaranteed lifetime employment. Until academic life and governance is re-principled, the Wisconsin vote against tenure is likely to be the first of many.
When that job protection racket fails to deliver the promised higher learning, the anger is only stronger.

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