Alice Dreger offers a defense of academic tenure against the yahoos.
[H]aving lived through the decline of tenure, I can see clearly that universities in which the majority of the faculty feel unsafe in terms of job security become places where no one feels safe to do anything that might risk upsetting someone.

And that’s a recipe for generally useless research as well as impoverished teaching.

When researchers get the message that they better not produce data that might offend the powerful, they end up telling us not what is true, but what we want to hear. Policy separates from reality, and we end up with waste and poor outcomes in education, healthcare, economics, and the justice system. Good policy cannot be built on comfortable fantasies.
What happens when the comfortable fantasies are the commonplaces of the common room?  Put another way, what happens if what passes for academic research is simply validation of Governance by Wise Experts?

What happens when the quest for tenure is a quest for producing methodologically correct minimal publishable units?  Who among the tenure-trackers is going to have the audacity to challenge entrenchments?

It's not the business interests, dear reader, who are making the faculty, whether tenure-track or contingent, reluctant to get students out of their comfort zones.
When teachers get the message they can’t push or challenge students, we end up with fellow citizens, neighbours, and co-workers who are inflexible, threatened by difference, and lacking in critical-thinking skills. Parents may think they want comfortable intellectual spaces for their dear college-age children, but if they really want their children to grow into strong, capable thinkers, they want professors who feel safe to host unsettling conversations, to provide unexpected lessons, and to go where students need, rather than want, to go in order to develop.
That's also the message of making accommodations for unprepared students, and calling it access, or inclusion.  Professor Dreger might be questioning the conformist corporate mindset, but she might as well be calling out the conformist snowflake mindset.  Give her credit, in her summation, for noting the role of all those destructive forces in undermining faculty.

Academic tenure, however, influences the risk profile of potential faculty.  Does the prospect of a job for life (perhaps with lower pay, perhaps with little intellectual challenge) attract the kind of person who would bet his career on a few high-profile projects, let alone the kind of person who might risk losing a billion dollars on a startup?

1 comment:

Jeff said...

What struck me most about her piece was that of her three proposed culprits, she names only two. The first, comprised of Republicans and the Koch Brothers and other such boogeymen, seems insufficient to me, since the same rapid adjunctification has happened in bright "blue" places where there's nary a Republican or libertarian in sight. Her second culprit, shrieking and oversensitive progressive activists, seems to me to be the smoke from an entirely different fire.

But then she gets to "the corporatisation of universities," which oddly has no face, no name, and is nothing more than a disembodied process, as uncontrollable as weather. No one ever seems to want to name-and-shame the university presidents and provosts and various other flunkies who all went along with the corporatisation and adjunctification of the university. Nobody ever wants to condemn those dubious links with sports-licensing firms, sports cartels, bookstore monopolies, federal agencies, credit-card companies, or software developers. It's as if the blame has been so finely distributed across huge bureaucracies that no one is really responsible.