The Trouble with Tenure

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The Trouble with Tenure

The case of Marc Lam­ont Hill, the social jus­tice war­rior at Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity, is a clas­sic exam­ple of what’s wrong with tenure, which guar­an­tees a life­time job in academia.

Hill engaged in hate speech in a pre­sen­ta­tion to the United Nations. He got fired at CNN, where he worked as a polit­i­cal gab­ber. At Tem­ple, how­ever, some of his col­leagues sup­ported his First Amend­ment rights, while the Board of Trustees only “con­demned” his state­ments. For some back­ground, see http://​dat​e​chguy​blog​.com/​2018​/​12​/​04​/​m​y​-​c​o​l​l​e​a​g​u​e​-​m​a​r​c​-​l​a​m​o​n​t​-​hill/

My col­leagues ref­er­enced some non­sense about a right-​wing con­spir­acy against Hill and oth­ers. See http://​fea​ture​.polit​i​cal​re​search​.org/​w​a​r​-​o​n​-​t​h​e​-​i​v​o​r​y​-​tower

Sim­ply put, tenure saved Hill’s bacon. With­out tenure, he would have been fired for his out­ra­geous state­ments – as would have hap­pened in any other job out­side of acad­e­mia, the fed­eral judi­ciary, and per­haps pro­fes­sional sports. The First Amend­ment would not have pro­tected him. Tenure did.

The tenure sys­tem in the United States and Canada is a rel­a­tively recent prac­tice, which dates roughly to the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury. Fast for­ward to World War II when a short­age of col­lege teach­ers existed as thou­sands of GIs entered higher edu­ca­tion. That prob­lem led uni­ver­si­ties to offer life­time jobs to professors.

It’s not easy to get tenure. But once some­body gets it, it’s almost impos­si­ble to get rid of him or her.

Here’s how it works in most cases. Some­one gets a doc­tor­ate by the age of 30 or so and gets a job as an assis­tant pro­fes­sor on a tenure track. To get tenure within seven years, an edu­ca­tor usu­ally must pub­lish a min­i­mum of two arti­cles a year in obscure aca­d­e­mic jour­nals that are reviewed by his or her peers. Almost no one out­side of acad­e­mia reads these articles.

For pro­mo­tion and tenure, the indi­vid­ual must be a rea­son­ably decent teacher, although research holds far more weight. That’s where the famous “publish-​or-​perish” meme comes from.

The indi­vid­ual must per­form ser­vice, includ­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in uni­ver­sity com­mit­tees. Nev­er­the­less, these tasks are far less impor­tant than research and teaching.

Once some­one gets tenure, he or she is sup­posed to con­tinue research­ing and teach­ing well. But there are few checks and bal­ances except to limit pay raises and pro­mo­tion from asso­ciate pro­fes­sor to full pro­fes­sor, which means more pres­tige and more money.

The bot­tom line: some­one in their mid-​30s has won the aca­d­e­mic lot­tery, with job secu­rity until retire­ment when­ever the indi­vid­ual decides to quit. About the only rea­son some­one can be fired is when they make stuff up — such as Ward Churchill at the Uni­ver­sity of Col­orado — or the depart­ment in which he or she works gets sig­nif­i­cantly down­sized or eliminated.

Apart from these instances, a tenured pro­fes­sor can do almost any­thing, includ­ing express­ing the party line of ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions like Hamas — as Hill did.

Uni­ver­si­ties have got­ten around some of the prob­lems of tenure by hir­ing more pro­fes­sors on con­tract. But that cre­ates a two-​tier sys­tem in which non­tenured fac­ulty often are treated as second-​class citizens.

More impor­tant, the tenure sys­tem has a stran­gle­hold on ele­men­tary and sec­ondary edu­ca­tion in many states as the struc­ture seeped into K-​12. Many of these tenured teach­ers have left­ist views that influ­ence many young people.

As a full pro­fes­sor with tenure, I admit that I am being a tad hyp­o­crit­i­cal here. I won’t give up my job secu­rity until forced to do so. It’s an awfully good deal.

Nev­er­the­less, the tenure sys­tem needs sub­stan­tial revi­sion because it has cre­ated per­ma­nent jobs for many who don’t deserve them and a plat­form to spew the phi­los­o­phy of social jus­tice war­riors and hate groups with­out any sig­nif­i­cant reper­cus­sions. Unfor­tu­nately, any changes about tenure are unlikely any­time soon.

The case of Marc Lamont Hill, the social justice warrior at Temple University, is a classic example of what’s wrong with tenure, which guarantees a lifetime job in academia.

Hill engaged in hate speech in a presentation to the United Nations. He got fired at CNN, where he worked as a political gabber. At Temple, however, some of his colleagues supported his First Amendment rights, while the Board of Trustees only “condemned” his statements. For some background, see http://datechguyblog.com/2018/12/04/my-colleague-marc-lamont-hill/

My colleagues referenced some nonsense about a right-wing conspiracy against Hill and others. See http://feature.politicalresearch.org/war-on-the-ivory-tower

Simply put, tenure saved Hill’s bacon. Without tenure, he would have been fired for his outrageous statements–as would have happened in any other job outside of academia, the federal judiciary, and perhaps professional sports. The First Amendment would not have protected him. Tenure did.

The tenure system in the United States and Canada is a relatively recent practice, which dates roughly to the beginning of the 20th century. Fast forward to World War II when a shortage of college teachers existed as thousands of GIs entered higher education. That problem led universities to offer lifetime jobs to professors.

It’s not easy to get tenure. But once somebody gets it, it’s almost impossible to get rid of him or her.

Here’s how it works in most cases. Someone gets a doctorate by the age of 30 or so and gets a job as an assistant professor on a tenure track. To get tenure within seven years, an educator usually must publish a minimum of two articles a year in obscure academic journals that are reviewed by his or her peers. Almost no one outside of academia reads these articles.

For promotion and tenure, the individual must be a reasonably decent teacher, although research holds far more weight. That’s where the famous “publish-or-perish” meme comes from.

The individual must perform service, including participation in university committees. Nevertheless, these tasks are far less important than research and teaching.

Once someone gets tenure, he or she is supposed to continue researching and teaching well. But there are few checks and balances except to limit pay raises and promotion from associate professor to full professor, which means more prestige and more money.

The bottom line: someone in their mid-30s has won the academic lottery, with job security until retirement whenever the individual decides to quit. About the only reason someone can be fired is when they make stuff up—such as Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado—or the department in which he or she works gets significantly downsized or eliminated.

Apart from these instances, a tenured professor can do almost anything, including expressing the party line of terrorist organizations like Hamas—as Hill did.

Universities have gotten around some of the problems of tenure by hiring more professors on contract. But that creates a two-tier system in which nontenured faculty often are treated as second-class citizens.

More important, the tenure system has a stranglehold on elementary and secondary education in many states as the structure seeped into K-12. Many of these tenured teachers have leftist views that influence many young people.

As a full professor with tenure, I admit that I am being a tad hypocritical here. I won’t give up my job security until forced to do so. It’s an awfully good deal.

Nevertheless, the tenure system needs substantial revision because it has created permanent jobs for many who don’t deserve them and a platform to spew the philosophy of social justice warriors and hate groups without any significant repercussions. Unfortunately, any changes about tenure are unlikely anytime soon.