Important conversation about academia

I know I’ve been AWOL on my OT:FTW posts, but the recent tragic shootings over being denied tenure have sparked a variety of interesting reflections on tenure, academia, publishing, stress, and so on. I thought it merited more than a sidebar.

http://chronicle.com/article/Reactions-Is-Tenure-a-Matter/64321/

Thoughts?

  • CEF

    Thanks for bringing this up. I have had questions for some time if the cost/benefit ratio of tenure has been addressed/studied. Do you know of such studies? And if so, what was the out come?

    I think the costs are self-evident, but what about the benefit? Is it really needed in a society of the ubiquitous six o’clock news.

  • Nitsav

    CEF, I’m unaware of any relevant studies, but my situation is such that I simply wouldn’t have encountered any, nor have I sought them out.

    I’m uncertain how tenuring professors relates to “ubiquitous six o’clock news.” Can you flesh that out for me?

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    CEF,
    I am entirely sure that studies of tenure have been done. If you want a quick introduction to a lot of the arguments surrounding tenure (largely, but not entirely, with a law school focus), you can check out any of these posts.

    Like Nitsav, I’m not sure what you mean by the “ubiquitous six o’clock news,” but, if anything, the ease with which a person’s statements can fly around the globe seem to argue in favor of tenure. If a professor could be fired for saying something unpopular that makes the evening news, she would have every incentive not to say unpopular things, even if those things advance knowledge somehow. (At the same time, among the posts you can get to from my link are people arguing that tenure does not, as a practical matter, serve to allow professors to make unpopular statements.)

    Ultimately, you say the costs are self-evident (which, frankly, they’re not) and ask about the benefits. But the question needs to be more specific. Are you curious about the benefits to tenured faculty? untenured faculty? universities? society at large? There is arguable benefit and detriment to each of these parties, but the benefits and detriments may be different, and may even conflict.

  • sister blah 2

    The concept of tenure is a sore spot with many feminists. It is structurally sexist. It requires the most effort during exactly the years when women are childbearing, with the carrot of relaxation at exactly the time when women would be ready to finally really kick into productivity high gear (kids born and off into kindergarten). Unlike work that pays per hour, it is hard to gracefully go part-time during pre-tenure or take time off, even if you’re totally ok with not getting paid during that time. No matter how much you try to tell the committee or outside reviewers that you were “supposed” to be fewer hours, they’ll still consciously or subconsciously see you as less than full time, no leave peers.

    See, e.g., http://chronicle.com/article/The-Academic-Motherhood/64073/

  • sister blah 2

    (I picked that as the most recent piece I’ve seen, not necessarily the best)

  • sister blah 2

    “…see you as less WORTHY than full time peers.”

  • Owen

    I get the quantity over quality argument, but on the other hand, for most people the only way to get to quality is through quantity–each paper is an attempt, a part of a larger thought process. If you always wait to try to publish until you’ve got the perfect idea…you don’t publish. Just like learning a foreign language: if you wait to open your mouth until the phrase is perfectly formed in your head, the conversation has usually passed you by.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris Henrichsen

    “each paper is an attempt, a part of a larger thought process. If you always wait to try to publish until you’ve got the perfect idea…you don’t publish.”

    In my department (and the larger college as well), the main issue is where do you publish? They have to be a top journals or it does not count. Publishing in mid to low tier journals hurts you. This is how quality is measured.

    I am visiting, so none of this applies to me.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris Henrichsen

    sb2,

    I think the process (starting with grad school) is just unfriendly to people with families. Indeed, this impacts woman particularly hard.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    If a professor could be fired for saying something unpopular that makes the evening news, she would have every incentive not to say unpopular things, even if those things advance knowledge somehow.

    I get that people (particularly professors) feel that professors are the guardians of knowledge and intellectual progress for society at large, but I am still struck that the statement above applies equally well to a whole host of other people who have opportunities to say unpopular things to advance knowledge but who are not protected by tenure. Political correctness exists many respects to ensure that people from all fields are fired or otherwise discouraged from saying unpopular things which make the evening news.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris Henrichsen

    “I get that people (particularly professors) feel that professors are the guardians of knowledge and intellectual progress for society at large…”

    That is because we are.

    Political Correctness, does not fire anyone. It is a silly term and little else.

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    Jacob J,
    “I get that people (particularly professors) feel that professors are the guardians of knowledge and intellectual progress for society at large, but I am still struck that the statement above applies equally well to a whole host of other people who have opportunities to say unpopular things to advance knowledge but who are not protected by tenure.”

    Ah, but there’s a difference—a professor generally has two job-related duties; one is to teach, and the other is to advance knowledge, especially (though not exclusively) through research and writing. There are very few jobs out there with that second objective.

    And that’s not to say that other professionals don’t advance knowledge; but generally, that’s not their endgame. They are also expected to produce something profitable. For the most part, unless he or she does something really egregious, the profitable employee will keep his or her job, regardless of what he or she says or believes. (And yes, I know there are examples of non-academics being fired for their opinions. But having known high-level attorneys and bankers, you can espouse opinions that are plenty unpopular and still keep your job.)

    Professors, on the other hand, are generally not profitable. (Some scientists or humanities superstars may be big enough draws or get large enough grants that they represent a profit center, but most don’t.) At the same time, they’re supposed to come up with interesting, new, and sometimes provocative ideas. Without the possibility of tenure, that strikes me as a potentially tough conflict.

    Tenure’s hard in the K-12 world, too. But another aspect of it is, it’s part of the pay package. In private industry, I could make a lot more than I do in academia. But in academia, I enjoy my work more, and have the potential of an unfireable position. Maybe someday I’ll be important enough that that I won’t value that tenure (that is, because losing my job, I could easily pick up another, or because I write a book that is so wildly popular—unlikely in my field—that I can live without a job). At that point, I should probably demand a higher wage, in return for which, I’ll give up my tenure (that is, I would give up the tenure that I hope to get in a few years). But for now, that potential is part of my total compensation, along with my health insurance and transit pass paid for with pre-tax wages.

  • CEF

    Sorry for being so slow to respond. Perhaps I should have asked questions instead of trying to give answers.

    So from the responses so far, I think I do understand why the teaching profession wants tenure. So as I said, I can see why and the benefits of same. But at what cost?

    My reference to the news, is what I see as a means to level the playing field between employer and employee. I have always smiled at the prospect to having 60 Minutes show up at my door step. I don’t think either the school or the teacher would enjoy that kind of encounter, unless of course you think you are the victim in the event. At which time one could plead their case.

    As a non-academic, I only know the side of what the public sees as a very difficult and very expensive endeavor to try and remove a teacher that has tenure.

    So my question is: is tenure really needed to make our experience at school the best bang for the buck?

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    CEF,
    I still don’t get your 60 Minutes reference; what school and what teacher are you talking about? Moreover, I’m not sure what the “bang for the buck” you’re looking for is.

    But assuming that I’m a good professor (which I’m going to assume), the possibility of my getting tenure is pretty important in getting me to the classroom. If not for that possibility, I’d have to be paid significantly more, which would raise your tuition costs. That is, it makes it cheaper to get good teachers.

    That said, it puts a lot of pressure on determining quality in the pre-tenure period. But universities have several years to make that evaluation before awarding tenure.

  • CEF

    Sam, I apologize for being so obtuse. The 60 Minutes comment had to do with the ability of either the employer or the employee having access to the news media. The news will show up for any news worthy event. As in a school/university or a teacher/professor taking a stand that impacts their community. Both, school/teacher have equal access to the news, thereby, in my opinion, making the playing field fairly level.

    I had the case in mind of some professor in Colorado, (Churchill ?) I think Bolder, that said something most people would think very over the top, as in stupid.

    It seems like, and I could have this all wrong, that the university was not going to do much about it, until Bill O’Reilly got hold of it.

    At that time, felling they (university) had the support of the public on their side, decided to remove him from the school. I am sure the professor sued to try and keep his job, I do not remember hearing the final outcome of it all.

    I am sure had the professor been in the right, someone like O’Reilly would have taken his side and I would like to think, the university would have backed down.

    Bank for the buck, simply is a way of saying, how can we get the best education for our kids with the least amount of money spent. I have always thought the free enterprise system makes that happen. I would think tenure stands in the way of free market conditions, impeding such from happening.

    I found your comment to the contrary interesting. I have heard of professors that make more money doing things in the private sector than they do from the salary paid by the university. Perhaps I am wrong about this.
    I
    By the way, I am sure you are a great teacher.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris Henrichsen

    Yes, the unversity was going to protect the academic freedom of Churchhill, until the demagogue O’Reilly strirred up the masses. How did people know what to get mad about before Fox News?

    While some academics make money off of their creations, this is usually not folks in the humanities and social sciences, the people usually making the controversial claims. Few political philosophers or religious studies scholars are getting rich because of tenure.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    Political Correctness, does not fire anyone. It is a silly term and little else.

    Brilliant. Glad to know you are protecting knowledge for the rest of us.

    For the most part, unless he or she does something really egregious, the profitable employee will keep his or her job, regardless of what he or she says or believes.

    Right, just like academics. For the most part, unless they do something really egregious they keep their jobs too. Like I said, I get the argument for tenure, I just find it somewhat ironic that some of the same people most fervent in their support of academic freedom work the hardest to shut down unpopular speech that they disagree with. I’m not thinking of anyone here.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    While I understand why tenure is so valuable to an academic, I’m not familiar with the consequences of being denied tenure.

    Does a decision against tenure mean “not this year” or “never, at this institution”? If you’re denied tenure, does your employment continue, but without the security of tenure? If you’re denied tenure at one institution, how does that affect the likelihood of your being employed at another institution?

    I’m trying to understand whether the tension over being denied tenure is an understandable embarrassment and delay in a career path, or whether it’s an automatic career ender. If it’s an ender, it’s amazing that more violence hasn’t occurred.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris Henrichsen

    I will play Jacob. Please give me a real example, rather than repeating the same strawman. We hateful liberals are always being accused of using PC to shut people up. I have no idea as to what the hell you are talking about.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Ardis,
    The denial of tenure is the end of one’s future at the institution, as soon as the year is up. It is not necessarily a career-ender, depending on a lot of factors. In general, it is a huge black mark and potentially makes it very difficult to find another job that would consider you for tenure.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Ardis, it depends. For someone denied tenure at a large and well-respected research institution, it may not be a career killer. If someone was hired on at Yale, for instance, and was denied tenure, she could probably find work somewhere else without anymore trouble than anyone else on the market.

    But if one is denied tenure at a less-prestigious school, it could severely affect one’s chances at finding work elsewhere. I know that at some schools, the individual’s tenure review occurs one year before her contract expires, thus giving the person a year to find another job while still working.

    Of course, the academic job market in general is tremendously competitive and many people with PhDs are unable to find work anywhere. If denied tenure, she is thrown right back into the ultra-competitive job market, and having a tenure-denial on her record (again, depending on the previous place of employment) could indeed hurt her chances against recently-minted PhDs or other experienced professors looking to move elsewhere.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    I was writing at the same time as TT. I defer to his judgment on any points we offered divergent takes.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    Thanks for both explanations. That’s harsh — much harsher than the fields I know, where an attorney who doesn’t make partner at one firm can join another good firm or form his own, or where even a businessman who fails doesn’t seem to be hampered for long in finding financing for a new business or landing a new position (in normal times, not during the past year).

    Frankly, I’m surprised that there haven’t been more violent incidents where tenure is at stake, especially when you think of the kind of people we all know who — how to put this? — have devoted themselves more to developing their particular academic genius than to developing social and coping skills.

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    CEF,
    There certainly are academics who make more consulting or writing or otherwise working on the side. To the best of my knowledge, they tend to be professors of business, maybe medicine, occasionally law, and probably a couple others here and there. But those who make more outside of academia tend to be in the minority, at least in my limited experience.

    And I’m not sure that tenure—at least at the university level—impedes the free market, for what it’s worth. Tenure is a benefit that has been negotiated for; there is no law that requires universities to offer tenure.

    And I appreciate the vote of confidence. :)


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