• September 2, 2015

Parents: Your Children Need Professors With Tenure

Parents: Your Children Need Professors With Tenure 1

Mark Shaver for The Chronicle

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close Parents: Your Children Need Professors With Tenure 1

Mark Shaver for The Chronicle

If you follow the news these days, you know that tenure is getting a bad rap. Fox News in particular will tell you that tenure shields radicals who are trying to indoctrinate your children to overthrow the government. In truth, it's hard to find any faculty member sending that message. No matter. It's a good scare tactic. But even the responsible press prefers editorials and op-ed essays claiming that tenure protects deadwood, preserves an aging professoriate, and costs too much money. Although each of those claims can be proved wrong, they have gained traction anyway.

The most recent federal statistics on the age of the faculty were released in 2004. They tell us that, at four-year colleges, the percentage of full-time faculty members aged 55 or older was 28 percent. How many were 65 or older? Only 7 percent. It doesn't appear that most faculty members are great-grandparents.

As for costs, universities typically spend only one-third of their budgets on faculty salaries. Despite more than 10 years of education after high school, most people standing in front of a college classroom earn less than $60,000 a year, considering that contingent faculty members, who are not eligible for tenure, make up two-thirds of the faculty work force. Most earn well less than $35,000. And most graduate students paid as teachers earn less than $20,000 a year.

It's not faculty salaries that have grown so much over the years; it's the increasing number of administrators and their salaries—along with unnecessary building—that is breaking the higher-education bank. That's where your tuition money goes. Why? Because administrators set one another's salaries and pad their staffs.

As for deadwood? Well, the job market for faculty members has been extraordinarily competitive for 40 years. Colleges everywhere have been able to hire outstanding faculty members, people who work hard and stay current in their fields because they love what they do. The deadwood retired or died years ago.

"So what?" you may say. The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker don't have tenure. Your wife, husband, partner, and next-door neighbor don't have tenure. Why should faculty members have job security after seven years? The short answer is that tenure guarantees the quality and integrity of higher education—by securing faculty members' intellectual independence. Your children need tenured college professors.

In truth, many Americans deserve better job security than they have. But the people responsible for teaching your children have a special need to be protected from capricious dismissal. If your children are going to be taught to think rigorously and creatively—which is their best route to success—they need to be taught by teachers who can be rigorous, creative, and courageous as well. Tenure doesn't guarantee that college teachers will be courageous. But it protects those who are.

Professors without tenure are nothing more than at-will employees. They can be fired tomorrow or whenever their contracts expire. One complaint from a student, parent, or politician is all it may take. What if a professor offends a parent or preacher by teaching evolution? What if a professor expresses sympathy for unpopular religious beliefs? What if a professor admits that he or she supports gay rights? What if a professor asks students whether the war in Iraq was in the national interest? Worst of all, what if a professor asks students whether the college really needs that fancy new administration building? Administrators who prefer to avoid controversy just won't send that professor a new contract.

A college must be a place where all views can be aired. A college professor must be able to voice controversial views and challenge his or her students to question their assumptions and, at the very least, learn to define and defend them more effectively. Too many faculty members without tenure do not want to take that risk. Tenure doesn't protect bad professors, but it does mean that complaints have to be considered at a formal hearing.

Students and faculty members alike must be free to question commonplace beliefs, challenge their college administrations, and criticize politicians without fear of reprisal. Don't count on this essential principle of academic freedom's being exercised if your children's teachers aren't eligible for tenure. Your children may never again work in a place where free debate is encouraged. But the country as a whole will be better off if they've had the experience in their college years.

Tenure produces many other practical benefits. Tenure-track and tenured professors are able to work with one another to plan the college curriculum and deliver the best possible education. They also have much more reason to feel strong institutional loyalty and to devote themselves wholeheartedly to their jobs. Faculty members not eligible for tenure are often not even invited to faculty meetings, and thus are deprived of a way to share their experiences, learn from their colleagues, and help one another to be better teachers.

The accumulated decrease over two generations in the percentage of faculty members with tenured jobs means that as more faculty members come and go, your children may find it more difficult to locate them when they need letters of recommendation. Many part-time instructors who are ineligible for tenure race from campus to campus to cobble together the equivalent of a full-time job. They have only half as much time to spend preparing their classes or advising their students. The decline of full-time tenured positions goes hand in hand with a decline in the quality of education. Remember: Poor teaching conditions produce poor learning conditions. Your children pay the price.

Tenure serves your personal interest and the national interest at the same time. Your tuition dollars are an investment. If you want to increase the chances that your investment will pay off, if you want to get the best value for your money, then make certain that the college your family chooses grants tenure to its professors. The gradual erosion of tenure has meant that thousands of faculty members are vulnerable to administrative, political, or religious pique and whim. Attacks in the press may make things still worse.

Pique and whim should not be the governing principles of campus life. In far too many countries, people cannot expect their children's college instructors to have either academic freedom or job security. Education suffers as a result. Americans should expect better. Your children need college teachers with tenure.

Cary Nelson is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and president of the American Association of University Professors. His most recent book is No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom (New York University Press, 2010).


1. henry84 - October 03, 2010 at 05:19 am

Professor Nelson's arguments are worse than flawed--they are completely ideological and self-protective of the worst aspects of university life. He tries to scare parents to support tenure as victim. M. Lamont's new study on peer-review and tenure shows that it cannot even be studied--it is too local, i.e. a mix of political and professional rules suspended, applied, misapplied, etc. Tenure and production are vexed--even if the professors at the most tenured units on average publish more, they control the resources of publication, including screening in and out any work thought to be too critical and/or supportive of existing divisions. Why did the MLA journal close open submission, or Boundary Two--and it is on the 'watch' of the tenured that non-tenure flourishes. Did tenure produce the remarkable work of Foucault or Baudrillard; where are the American equals in scope, incisiveness, in refusal to institutions? The arts and humanities at least will be better off with an end to tenure's attending hierarchies and privileges, its own controls and denials thereof. To say nothing of the incomes received via the social (media) deferral to high-end academics = a multiplier effect (more chances to accumulate). It would have been a different spectacle if once in the past 20 yrs one saw an arts/humanities unit at a top-tier institution fight its administrators instead of fighting amongst themselves over who gets tenure. All such conflict in the open, of course.

2. annm1363 - October 03, 2010 at 03:55 pm

As someone who was once a professor and now is a parent shelling out those large sums of money, I definitely look at the percentage of faculty members with tenure in choosing a college. If I'm paying $50,000 a year, I want my child taught by someone who is available on campus if she has a question, who has the time to devote to both research in the field and lecturing. Although people who dash from one campus to the next teaching six courses a semester for a pittance sometimes do a good job, it is likely that if they had actual offices and more time per student, they would do a better job. Yes, it is good to have someone with "real world experience" for some professions. Sometimes, though, that real world experience is limited to what the person has done the last ten years, while a tenured faculty member can do research to be at the cutting edge. He or she has the time to develop lessons that cause students to question and challenge "the real world".

I was very fortunate to attend a school like that (Washington University in St. Louis) and because of that education, I can afford to pay for the same for my children.

As a parent who is paying $150 -$200,000 for EACH of my children to get educated, I want to be paying it for the faculty members teaching them and not for the staff in the Provost's office.

3. monster213 - October 04, 2010 at 10:24 am

If those who wish to end tenure would propose anything other than a business pseudo-darwinian model, I'd be happy to hear it, but if it's just an argument that tenure makes you fat and lazy, I'm sick to death of it. Tenure provides faculty with the security they need to take risks and taking risks is exactly what is necessary for knowledge to grow. Yes, some faculty will take advantage of the tenure system and yes it can produce some ugly results. People also cheat on taxes but that is not a reason to abolish the tax system. Rather than focus on the minority of ugly tenure outcomes, take a look at the many who deserve, get, and honor the system.

4. wb2ldj - October 04, 2010 at 10:47 am

Extend this to adjunct instructors at community colleges and you have the extreme problem of job security. A few student complaints and no renewal. One FT faculty wrote;"...that student should have been expelled long ago", yet the p/t faculty could loose his job. GS

5. wb2ldj - October 04, 2010 at 10:52 am

On the other hand tenure got itself in to trouble. A significant number of professors were awarded tenure who are among the mediocrity of the nation yet supported by their ultra liberal colleagues receiving the big money salaries and now retirements. GS

6. quidditas - October 04, 2010 at 11:20 am

"A college professor must be able to voice controversial views and challenge his or her students to question their assumptions and, at the very least, learn to define and defend them more effectively. Too many faculty members without tenure do not want to take that risk."

Too many faculty members WITH tenure don't "take that risk." Take the CHE's own latest installment in the annals of what's really motivating too many tenured academics. It's big one:


Until this is remedied, I see no reason to swallow the old now largely defunct "academic freedom" argument. The profession is heavily policed from both WITHIN the academic ranks and without. There is, in fact, very little dissent.

With thought already effectively policed, academic firings will be based almost entirely on failure to perform.

Ah, now there's the rub.

7. quidditas - October 04, 2010 at 11:27 am

"If I'm paying $50,000 a year, I want my child taught by someone who is available on campus if she has a question, who has the time to devote to both research in the field and lecturing."

For that, you need full time faculty who can be fired for non-performance.

Tenure just protects their abilty to ignore your kid, while the seasonal temps in the Bursar and Financial Aid (ie., loan) offices collect your money.

8. quidditas - October 04, 2010 at 11:36 am

"As a parent who is paying $150 -$200,000 for EACH of my children to get educated, I want to be paying it for the faculty members teaching them and not for the staff in the Provost's office."

What if the staff in the provost's office are servicing the desires of that tenured faculty you so want to protect?

Alternatively, what if the provost's office also intervenes to protect your kid from the worst offenders amongst that same group that can't be fired and only rarely disciplined?

As you're gloating over your ability to pay for school, I assume you're not sending your kids where the teachers have already been humbled into some semblance of defeated humanity.

9. droslovinia - October 04, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Faux News is against it. That's all the argument that many of you need against it, and all I need FOR it.

Seriously, though, an "at will" faculty member is little more than a puppet of whatever some ideologue, big donor, or institution wants them to be and say. If you're going to be a private institution with a well-publicized private agenda, that's all well and good, but major public institutions need people who can serve the public. You don't get there by being in a position that has to cater to every little whim or media-fueled rant. I very much doubt that the next great breakthrough in Quantum Physics will come at the hands of someone who is scared to death of what Glen Beck might think of his or her research.

10. more_cowbell - October 04, 2010 at 02:26 pm

I think the younger generation of faculty have done a very poor job of selling the necessity of maintaining the tenure system to the public. Heck, I bet a fair share of adjuncts and students in the system would even dispute the claims made in this article about tenure protecting academic freedom, better education, etc.

I'm not surprised - academia is a very individualizing enterprise and very few faculty think of themselves as a collective profession. Even fewer behave as such. Now that I think of it, in all the years of attending my association's AGM and reading listserve correspondence, not once has the topic of tenure or adjunct system ever been broached.

11. hoppingmadjunct - October 04, 2010 at 04:20 pm

Save tenure by extending it to the 72% of faculty ineligible for it now (contingent faculty, adjuncts, part-timers, grad students, post-docs, etc.), as Prof. Nelson's own AAUP is now advocating. That would be the first step in addressing the inequities that, even more than irregularly applied and appreciated guarantees of academic freedom, has progressively crippled American higher education for thirty years.

12. norm_stahl - October 05, 2010 at 12:04 am

Although I have tenure, I am convinced that tenure is *not* necessary to protect independence and academic freedom. It may have been so when tenure was first instituted, but U.S. case law regarding "wrongful dismissal" has grown substantially since that time and it is now very difficult for an employer to dismiss any worker without just cause. We can argue that the possibility of tenure helps attract people to the professoriate, but the idea that it is necessary to ensure academic freedom is not warranted.

13. fruupp - October 05, 2010 at 01:05 am

Tenure does protect academic freedom--just ask Norman Finkelstein, who was denied tenure at DePaul University (look it up)--and is just as necessary re: governance.

Nothing galls admini-clowns more than to have to share governance with lowly faculty. Tenure encourages faculty to challenge administrative fiats (a.k.a "BS"), cluelass meddling, and petty power grabs without fear of reprisal. That alone justifies it.

14. maggie2b - October 05, 2010 at 08:25 am

I am dismayed by the cynacism and short-sightedness apparent in some of these "anti-tenure" comments. Tenure is the bulwark the professoriate has built against the infractions and assaults from political and corporate interests often of the most venal variety. The occasional "abuses" of the tenure status by lazy and irresponsible individuals by no means constitute an argument against an arrangement that stands as a monument to academic self-governance and is the envy of scholars around the world. Thank you Professor Nelson for you wise counsel.

15. rtopper - October 05, 2010 at 12:44 pm

As a fourth generation college professor, I can say that my family and I have seen untenured faculty abused by unprofessional administrators countless times. There are plenty of "legal" ways to do this without firing anyone; so much for case law. And I can also say that I have seen plenty of faculty use the privilege of tenure to challenge administrators for building useless monuments on campus, establishing non-sustainable degree programs at the whim of the trustees, and other such nonsense which threatens the institution's well-being. If tenure is awarded to those who don't deserve it, then that speaks to the low academic and professional standards of the schools that make that sort of mistake. Personally, I have worked at schools that seem relatively immune from poor tenure decisions.

16. myrilith - October 05, 2010 at 03:27 pm

I don't see how tenure is effective protection of academic freedom. Tenured professors, in my experience, are no more likely to speak up with controversial philosophies or challenges than non-tenured professors. Moreover, the dangling golden carrot of tenure often means that tenure-track professors are LESS likely to ask difficult questions or oppose administrative agendas, because their own employment and well-being is at risk.

Tenure is an illusion of security that only serves to make tenured professors beholden to the administrative hierarchy and non-tenured professors quiescent participants in the policies and ideologies of their institution.

17. jrmigs - October 05, 2010 at 06:21 pm

If your courage is determined by your salary and security, you have neither courage nor security.

18. rhett - October 05, 2010 at 09:29 pm

The issue is perception of value. We all differ in this regard. I want professors to be free from reprisal and I prefer that they answer to each other rather than to administrators. Such is my regard for value: I value professors.

As far as incentive is concerned, why not pay professors for the courses they teach, on top of a base salary? Those who prefer research may do so, and teach a smaller amount and receive accordingly less incentive pay.

A recent tenure denial at Emory is curious in this regard, because the professor seeking tenure is more productive than most.
See the Chronicle article on the German department.

19. 11232247 - October 05, 2010 at 09:59 pm

Nonsense. Incompetent teachers are no different from any other type of incompetent professional or worker. When these types of folks are finally outed in their workplaces, they need to be mercifully, yet quickly redirected into other lines of work. Call it a career mercy killing on behalf of the children and their parents.

Sadly, no one ever wins (not even the incompentent teachers themselves) when substandard performance is both tolerated and also actively defended by the education establishment.

20. metsarama - October 06, 2010 at 06:06 am

Fox News mentioned in the second line of an article on tenure? That just remined me I need to watch Greta Van Sustern. Thanks.

21. cheiron - October 06, 2010 at 06:33 am

The people intensely hostile to tenure seem not to see how much worse the alternatives are. Without tenured faculty a university's very substance, its basic decisions about what gets taught and how, falls into the hands of administrators; and they are rarely fit for this. People skillful at administration (& p.r. & money-making etc.) might now and then happen to know also what good scholarship is, and have the wisdom to shape a university; but that isn't normal. More often they quite rightly have market-based priorities, which if unchecked would soon destroy the institution they serve.

It's as if decisions about the ship's course were to be put wholly in the hands of people from the engine room, who reached them solely on the basis of what was best for the engine.

Community colleges are often held up as a model. Would you really like all universities goverened like them? Those need no 'substance', no far-sighted course, because they tend to be trade schools that are in constant flux and respond to the needs of the market. Whatever isn't popular is soon dropped, even if it is badly needed.

When administrators decide to merge all Foreign Languages into one department, or abolish History, or excise the Classics department, or decide that this or that should be taught with less rigor because it is losing customers, or that a core program must be dropped, the decision might be necessary. But it might be a minimal gain balanced by a huge loss, and several such changes can change a university utterly. As it is, they often dare not, because it is too fiercely resisted by the tenured faculty. But their sole advantage in this battle, which would otherwise be terribly unequal, is that, unlike the administrators, they have tenure.

The tenured faculty of course often blunder, or protect their own comfort. That is a real problem. But just to abolish them, and put the university wholly in the hands of people even less fit than they, seems a stupid solution.

22. iljbr8 - October 06, 2010 at 07:57 am

As an attempt to sell tenure to the parents of our students, I think that one point was not sufficiently stressed. Academic freedom doesn't just allow "us" to say things in the classroom that some might find offensive (when a parent reads this, they will almost always first think of a professor saying something that would offend them). What parents need to be told is that it allows us to support their kids when _they_ argue their viewpoint. We moderate class discussion, and if we don't encourage and protect students who voice a view about anything controversial, then they will learn to keep quiet. And when we do support them, we can be blamed for the content.

23. love_teaching - October 06, 2010 at 08:59 am

As someone who has been in a toxic department where the "old guard" ruled, stifling new faculty and ideas, you cannot even begin to imagine how life changes after a person gets tenured.

I love teaching, presenting new ideas, challenging students to think critically (yes, this means asking them to look at their own beliefs in a new way--not to change their minds, although they might, but so that they can make coherent arguments that hold water if they are challenged in those beliefs), working outside the paradygm and away from outdated methods of teaching, challenging the administration when they hire too many new administrators and eliminate departments or faculty lines for no other reason than cost effectiveness.

None of these were possible before I received tenure. Granted, until one is a full professor, there is still a little trepidation. Until that final point, I could not challenge the poor quality of other faculty members, start asking for post-tenure review, or merit raises.

But everyone seems to be missing the key ingredient: STUDENTS. I teach at a liberal arts university, and the students are THE reason we survive. If we have to silence ourselves, piece together jobs, worry about our backs, what kind of attention are we going have left for our students? Once that tenure is given, we can (if we want) focus entirely on students--not on the politics or power structures above us in the institution. Students benefit, without question.

Students and parents now have a stronger sense of entitlement, something I've not seen before in my 16 years of teaching. They complain if we ask them to read about Islam, or read a book with bad language (learning about gang culture in a big city--which, in all honesty, they may call their home some day), and about people who question the integrity of our founding fathers. This is no doubt the first time they have been forced to read something that counters their belief structure. They rebel, they fear reprisals from parents (or God, if Christian--this is a real one--folks, it's not blasphemy to ask questions about your faith!), from somewhere.

We don't care if they change their minds or become stronger in their own beliefs--really. We care that they *understand* what they believe and can make logical arguments about those beliefs. You cannot do that without critical thinking and a broadening of the mind.

Most of those who do not believe tenure is important are either not in the field of education (and don't understand the dynamics), are administrators at educational institutions, are faculty who "lucked out" at their institution and never had to fear, or are faculty who are so removed from the pre-tenure position that they do not remember what it was like.

Perhaps we just need post-tenure review to alleviate the Faux-based fears of educational institutions turning our children into liberals, eh? If you believe that, please join Stephen Colbert's "March to Keep Fear Alive" on October 30 in Washington, DC.

24. trendisnotdestiny - October 06, 2010 at 09:30 am

Two comments have been sparked for me by this dialogue:

First, we have to overtly recognize the overall movement (historic) to eliminate tenure has not been a recent battle. The tenure process when performed responsibly represents some of our most prized democratic actions a) self-governance, b) checks and balances against the current political and business machinations of corporate models for universities and c)a safety net for those who sacrifice for the sincere betterment of others. These practices can be dangerous to oligarchical consolidation seen in housing, asset accumulation and employment sectors. While we all know places where these democratic processes should be in more supply, we cannot argue that the alternative is more debilitating and de-skilled for a profession who is currently abdicating its mission as lifelong educators (producing honest and thoughtful scholarship) for a new one (getting mine before others do)....

Second, we should collectively acknowledge the grief and loss of a profession of what has already been appropriated from all faculty streams as a means of group identification (administratively, performatively, stability, benefits and an assemblance of a family life)... As a group, I suspect we are on our deathbed during the final phases of consolidation of the neoliberal turn. Here are the 5 regrets of the dying (my hope in writing this is not to extoll negativity but that acknowledging our positionality will enlighten our divisions and highlight our importance to others beyond ourselves)

1) I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2) I wish I didn't work so hard.

3) I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5) I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Things to do before I die! Resist the hostile corporate intrusion over every aspect of human life by being true to my instincts, not working so hard for others' profits, express my ideas without fear of reprisal, share this journey with friends and family and be satisfied that I am not a corporate sellout...

I applaud Cary Nelson for his drive and work here for decades. Also, I suspect that unless we unravel our individualized and competitive self-interests in academe, it won't be too long until we are on life support (systematically killed off by those who interests have wanted academe to resemble business)....

25. roundup - October 06, 2010 at 09:34 am

I am currently a full, yet untenured, professor at a land grant university. Tenure does grant faculty members some protection from being unceremoniously fired or released. However, it also gives tenure track faculty a sense of entitlement and superiority, especially in regards to non-tenured track faculty. I would like to be tenured, but not for the job security or academic freedoms it provides. I would like to be tenured for the respect that I would then have and feel I rightly deserve. I have secured more funds, and published more papers than most of my tenure track colleagues, all while teaching as well. I would be considered an equal, and not a second class faculty member.

26. kimberfan - October 06, 2010 at 10:01 am

Having worked outside of 'academe' in my profession for 23 years, and now having worked inside 'academe' for 21 years, the last 15 as a tenured faculty member, I continue to be appalled by the hubris and sense of superiority exhibited by many tenured faculty with respect to 'administrators.' How is it in the minds of tenured faculty that somehow they are smarter, more capable, fairer-minded, less capricious, etc. than those who run the university? It seems to me that this attitude is reflected in many of the comments posted here, and I find the attitude particularly strange since the lead adiministrators at most schools come from the adademic ranks. What happens -- do they automatically go to the 'dark side, when they change positions? In fact, it has been my experience over 21 years at a major public university that if any group is guilty of capriciousness, faulty judgement, pettiness, etc., it is tenured faculty. As I said, there seems to be a prevailing sense of superiority that infects them as a group and that influences, not in a positive way, their view of the capabilities and motives of others who are not part of their favored group.

Given essentially the same period of experience in non-tenured, performance driven world and the tenured, 'protect my academic freedom' world, I continue to believe that tenure has long out-lived its value, if it ever actually had the value that many attribute to it. Just as some have suggested that you can identify qualified faculty and reward them for performing well, you can also identify good administrators and award them for performing well. The rest of the productive world functions very effectively using performance as the measure of continued employment. There is no reason that education cannot do the same. The argument that, for whatever reason, faculty need special protections from pernicious administrators is simply specious.

27. bigtwin - October 06, 2010 at 10:40 am

The hatred that faculty have for administrators speaks to just how out of touch faculty are with reality. In what other vocation would a group treat their employers with such disrespect? No wonder administrators aren't exactly rising to the defence of faculty as budgets get tighter and tenure evaporates.

28. fadecomic - October 06, 2010 at 10:51 am

All of these anti-tenure comments have one thing in common. They judge the entire system on the actions of the abusers. Often based on anecdotal stories alone.

29. suyeda - October 06, 2010 at 11:03 am


First a comment about community colleges to response 21:

"Community colleges are often held up as a model. Would you really like all universities goverened like them? Those need no 'substance', no far-sighted course, because they tend to be trade schools that are in constant flux and respond to the needs of the market."

I can only speak from personal experience. I am an adjunct instructor at the local community college where I teach 2 sections of majors introductory biology. This course is overseen by a local R1 university and so must have substance and have vision because I am preparing these students for University. While it is true that we also have courses that have a vocational and recreational focus, we take students who don't academically qualify for university but have the desire, and older students returning to or attending college for the first time and we help them be successful - can you say that response 21?

Sorry - on to the topic of tenure. As with any privilege, there are those that use it well or abuse it. I don't think we will ever see this change. Perhaps what needs to change is the emphasis on what qualifies faculty for tenure. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that research and publishing is more important than teaching. Yes, I do realize that this is changing in some universities. Yes, I do realize that research is needed in order for professors to be at the forefront of the field. However, being a faculty member at the community college and high school where the state has eliminated tenure protection, I can say that I do not make waves with my curriculum because I will lose my job (response 17 - I am glad you have the resources to be so courageous. I need to make sure my financial obligations are fulfilled so I don't become homeless. My wife was fired because a student did not like having to work so hard and so concocted a lie that she physically abused him - which the principal believed even though the student was 4 times the size of my wife)and it is very distressing because that is not why I teach.

Why did you become faculty at a college or university, colleagues? I think this question needs to be reflectively considered before we continue with the question of the validity of tenure. I await your slings and arrows.

30. drisk1ld - October 06, 2010 at 11:52 am

Many comments seem to be related to the Liberal Arts and freedom of ideas, but I'd like to bring the perspective from the sciences. Significant scientific discoveries rarely happen in a semester but rather they take years. Without tenure, a professor working on such research would be seen as not 'producing' enough and eventually cut loose. Tenure allows professors to work on projects that may not produce quick results, but may instead produce ground-breaking results.

I went to school for 11 years so that I could become faculty at a school focused on teaching. I love to teach, however, tenure is also a draw to the profession. Without the possibility of job security, I may have instead chosen to work in industry for 2-3 times the pay or even leave school after the BS or the MS to teach in a high school or community college rather than keeping my life on hold for the additional 4-6 years of the Ph.D.

31. this_beats_research - October 06, 2010 at 12:55 pm

with advocates like this, who needs critics?

In readin this article, I am reminded of the Calvin and Hobbes comic, where Calvin is telling Hobbes that he is being presecuted for his art, and he intends to fight for what is right. Hobbes asks him why he is being persecuted, and he replies "mostly because I am doing it in math class".

None of the examples given are justified for a math class lecture; if speaking about any of those topics during class is relevant, then it is likely that class has been dumbed down past any level of acceptable rigor.

There are many valid reasons for tenure, but this article fails to articulate them. Instead, the article reads like it was written by committee. That's what is frustrating.

32. doctor_sparky - October 06, 2010 at 01:15 pm

This is the difference that tenure has made for me:

Before I had tenure, I taught at what I'd estimate is a 6th to 8th grade level, with no writing required, just fun activities and multiple-choice tests. Many students proceeded to the capstone course with abysmal writing skills.

My course evaluations were stellar, and I had plenty of time to devote to research. Was this cowardly of me? Perhaps, but at our institution, "teaching quality" is evaluated on the basis of student course evals.

Now that I have tenure, I have the "luxury" of assigning college-level work, along with written assignments. My course evaluations dropped abruptly with this change, and are now well below the university average. I spend far more time on grading and far less time on research now. With the course evaluations I have now, I could never get tenure at this institution. Some of my students, however, have achieved great things in the context of the coursework.

With all due respect to norm_stahl, legal protections against wrongful termination would not have protected me were I to have attempted to challenge the students in the classroom before I got tenure.

33. labjack - October 06, 2010 at 01:31 pm

Tenure is easy to piont to as being a problem, but it seems to me that Fox news is not railing against tenure itself, but rather the professorate. They need ratings, and doing news stories with sensational views gets them the ratings they need. Their bussiness model is based upon the politicizing of all news, and the demonizing of the left. They are good at what they do, they ridicule opposing viewpoints. Rational debate of the issues has been replaced by shouting and ridicule. As a class we promote examination of new ideas, and rigorous debate, and because of that, we are a natural target for the ire of anyone who espouses blind conformity.

When my kids get old enough to go to college I hope they go to a school that has tenured faculty who love to teach. I have friends who got their degrees from schools where it was possible to only have graduate student terachers for every course in your major. What a disservice to the students (both the graduate students, and the undergrads.)
I can easily understand the universities viewpoint. They don't want to force thier tenured faculty to 'waste' their time on teaching intro courses, they would much rather they publish, or bring in grants, which builds the universities reputation. they are also providing the graduate students with the opportunity to get teaching experience, and providing them with a stipend for that.
Tenure is great. It provides academics the ability to challenge their students. To provide them with the tools they will need to evaluate new ideas, and to develop into more thoughtful people with the ability to look at things from many angles. I hope to have tenure someday, until then I try to teach like I do.

34. drwillia - October 06, 2010 at 01:54 pm

What Nelson fails to realize is that his desire to protect the members of the club inevitably , as with any self-perpetuating hierarchy, creates an insular clique which protects itself against outsiders. He frets over professors with leftist views getting silenced, yet the institution of tenure silences anyone not of the prevailing academic discourse. No one who doesnt "think like us" is going to get into his club. He thinks he is a dissenter because he dislikes teh right, but if he were to look around he would find his own beliefs mirrored in all his colleagues. Yet from within those oak doors, he seems not to realize how clubby his group has become.
At my university, nepotism and racism and cronyism are all the rage. Though of course they are rationalized through all kinds of wonderfully self-justifying discourse. The tenured Lords continue to boost their own privileges, cutting back on their work loads for instance, while adding the extra teaching burden to those not in their club. "We are scholars, not teachers," sniffed one tenured prof when I questioned the fairness of their status.
"Yes, M'Lord"

35. iljbr8 - October 06, 2010 at 02:11 pm

drwillia confuses me. How would the absence of a tenure system help "progressive thinkers" who have been snubbed by tenured faculty?

36. unemployedacademic - October 06, 2010 at 02:15 pm

I don't think Cary Nelson (if I might put words in his mouth) thinks that tenure will solve all the problems of the academy. Tenure is only one element in the puzzle. For example, clearly, most professors are center-right liberal conformists, cheerfully advocating 'social' freedoms while doing nothing to oppose plutocracy. If you want academic diversity, you will have to pay humanities and science professors on par with economics and business professors or go back to the days when the professoriate was the preserve of leisured blue-bloods, so that the middle class does not have to fear a lifetime of debt for their choice of career and so that conservatives can hold their heads up in high society.

Regarding #26 and #27, you exemplify the cancer eating the academy. Administrators are not supposed to be employers: they are supposed to be the servants of the scholarly citizens of the university community. Yet, because of the intrusion of capitalism/plutocracy into every facet of our society, people like you (and administrators themselves) assume that they should be in control. I hate the fact that the capitalist model with its gross inefficiencies and injustices has intruded itself. Yes, capitalism has been successful at sucking wealth out of the ground and people's labor and transferring it to the lucky few, but its failures far outweigh its successes. Just ask someone in the Niger delta suffering under Shell's pollution or on the Gulf of Mexico coast suffering from BP's. Ask someone in Bhopal or inner-city Flint how successful capitalism has been. Former academics who join administration either accept the ludicrous ideology of capitalism or have to ask themselves whether they think they can do more good from inside the corrupt machine or outside it. Most administrators either want to join the dark side or silently accede to it. There are very few who operate in just or fair environments.

37. franklinfarmer - October 06, 2010 at 02:29 pm

monster213 writes that the fact people cheat on taxes is no reason to abolish taxes.

One could not ask for a better example of uncritical thinking. We need to ask the question:

Why should resources be involuntarily taken from those who earned them in order to fund activities for which they would never voluntarily pay?

The extraction of labor through taxes should be abolished, not because people cheat, but because it is immoral.

I believe this is related as follows:

The tenure system developed in the framework of (and probably partially as the result of) confiscated labor. If we worked against the immorality of involuntary confiscation and the resulting waste and malinvestment, then education would be forced to adapt to meet the needs of those who wish, and are willing to pay, to be educated. Under such conditions, the issue of tenure would probably take care of itself as well as the issues of extravagance in building and administration.

Of course, all of the discussion in the article and most of the discussion in these comments assumes the elitest view that certain "rulers" are worthy to take and redistribute the labor of others, the "serfs." If we open our eyes, we will see that most of the problems we face are actually the result of this immoral assumption.

38. franklinfarmer - October 06, 2010 at 02:47 pm

I'm sure I would be considered some sort of cancer by the unemployedacademic above, but it should be pointed out that the same collectivist forces he wishes to fund his academic career are the ones which protect corporate interests from Dow in Bhopal to BP and Shell in Iraq and the Gulf. This is not free market capitalism. It is your own immoral collectivist philosophy at work. Perhaps you can join us in the university in our efforts to "help" the corporations and recognize (with Cary Nelson) the dubious "national interest."

Please get it. It's corporatism (which Mussolini also called Fascism) that is the problem, whether it is the corporate identity of the university, the state, or Monsanto. The founders of the united states made a shockingly original declaration: No corporate interest should be recognized above the interest of individuals. And the state in particular ought to have no function except to protect their freedom and autonomy. If someone does not wish to voluntarily contribute their time and labor, they should be free; they should be left alone.

It was a good idea. Maybe we should give it a try, as the alternative seems to be crumbling around us.

39. midevilprof - October 06, 2010 at 03:20 pm

Just a brief note, an anecdote really:
I was hired on a visiting contract, not to exceed three years. My department eventually succeeded in demonstrating a need to offer the courses I teach on a permanent basis, so the college granted the department a tenure-track line, which went to me. After the good news, I was congratulated by an administrator, the IT director, who meant to offer good wishes. Part of what he said though, was that he understood that tenure was a big deal to faculty, but he didn't really see its value. After all, he didn't have tenure. Behaving politely as my mother always taught me, I didn't mention that his salary is at least twice mine, and he's quite unlikely to be terminated save for some kind of gross dereliction. If I had as fat a salary and as good a chance of annual renewal and avoiding termination, I just might allow myself to be talked out of tenure. We are not in this for the money, so tenure is, among other things, part of what attracts and retains us. Let's save the discussion of adjunct/tenure-track jobs for another column.

40. hansengler - October 06, 2010 at 03:20 pm

The argument that tenure protects university professors who want to take risks is valid for faculty who work in the humanities (especially fine arts) or social sciences. However, as a mathematician, I do not think that I need this security, and most of my colleagues probably think the same.

So I would like to have the opportunity to choose between, say, tenure and a seven-year renewable contract (with suitable protection from arbitrary firing, a review in the fifth year, and so on), with 15% more salary.

41. brwslp - October 06, 2010 at 03:26 pm

Mr. Nelson,
My husband, children, and I are all college educated. Your mention of college as being a place where "all views can be aired" made me laugh. Then how come you hear about faculty at universities/colleges protesting the invitation by students of, let's say pro-life advocate or fiscal conservative for examples, to speak on campus, but not left-leaning ideologues? As for students, the power differential between student and faculty is well defined and imbalanced. Most students are not comfortable challenging a faculty member holding opposite views from their won. They know they do not have the experience and knowledge that maturity brings to be confident in their argument. They are intimidated into silence. I experienced the same in college, my college educated children experienced it, and I continue hear it from students about many professors where I work. Even if students complain, as I did, they know it's just a formality; that the offender will never be dismissed or even censured because of tenure, no matter how many complaints are filed. You state that there are only a few of these bad apples protected by tenure. I think there are more than you care to admit.
Ditto kimberfan, bigtwin, 11232247, wb2ldj, and henry84.
BTW: Citing Fox News as a source? Give me a break.

42. william1975 - October 06, 2010 at 03:34 pm

An important point that some make about tenure is that, although it does allow for a certain kind of freedom that encourages debate and exchange of ideas, in order to get tenure you must pass an ideological litmus test. Tenure, in this view, isn't about the freedom to have your views and express them; quite the opposite, it is about instituional and ideological power structures that insulate the academy from authentic and open debate, largely by excluding a significant swath of the ideological spectrum. So the argument goes, and I don't think we should dissmiss it without a fair hearing.

43. bigtwin - October 06, 2010 at 04:59 pm

Good point William1975. I've often wondered how someone can emerge from the tenure process with any need for academic freedom protections whatsoever. To get tenure, one has to conform, parrot, and play it safe, and this begins in grad school. The polemics who'd most benefit from academic freedom don't tend to get graduated, published, hired, let alone full tenure. If a tenured prof needs academic freedom, then they must have done a masterful job of fooling a lot of people to get there.

44. azprof - October 06, 2010 at 05:37 pm

Does the Chronicle fact check the articles it includes? One-third of university budgets are faculty salaries, deadwood retired... did Carey have a head-injury? Tenure had a valid purpose before the civil rights laws, now it is just protects bitter professors. I'm not an adminstrator but a faculty member who has seen so much of this destructive behavior; and who suffers, the poor students who can't get the education they need. Tenure allows faculty to put themselves on pedistals who think they are better than everyone else; they don't have to be accountable and they definitely don't take risks! This article is offensive because it is so self-serving. maggie2b, monster213, and Carey I hope you enjoy the view from that tower you have clostered yourselves in.

45. mamaroneck1939 - October 06, 2010 at 07:51 pm

Well, I basically understand and approve of Professor Nelson's argument here, and I absolutely agree that, in recent words from his organization AAUP, the faculty faces an impending collapse. Many of the comments above are in harmony with this position as well, but just as many show no sign of a mature and informed understanding of what faculty are all about. There are too many angry, quasi-economic, and swaggering and unanchored business modelish honks to discuss here, but I would single out bigtwin's idea that faculty are mere employees whose disrespect of employers is just too dreadful to countenance. Bigtwin, faculty are the heart of the enterprise of a college or university and they are not, in the traditional sense, employees-they are the professionals without whom the organization has no meaning or purpose at all. They have a calling, a vocation, to explore and transmit and encourage the development of knowledge. Go ahead, call Fox, have a good laugh. It doesn't matter what your crowd does. That's not determinative. There will be no convincing the bigtwins of this world-wonderful moniker by the way. What might be determinative is the will of a united faculty itself, if that community can come together and take back their rightful place. Well, I think that the some such spirit of things would be endorsed by Professor Nelson, and I think that he understands that many traditional faculty have to do some serious soul searching about how they have allowed their own profession to be reduced and degraded, for more than 30 years, to the point that it is now adjunct and contingent faculty who teach most of the undergraduates in this country. I wonder if he will also go this far-they were complicit in the development of this caste system, in which adjunct and contingent get paid perhaps one-third of what regular faculty get, and virtually no benefits. And all of this continues while vapid but garish spectacles of reform are paraded before us in stupid entertainments like Waiting for Superman and the Summit on Community Colleges. Faculty increasingly, and more so than other faculty, adjuncts and contingents, are certainly not realizing the American dream promised by politicians of all stripes to every student who takes out a college loan. When that bubble pops, as surely it must, we'll perhaps be able to pull ourselves together, as a unified faculty, to repair our damaged and precious systems of higher education.
Dr. Alan Trevithick
Adjunct, Fordham University and Westchester Community College
Board Member, New Faculty Majority

46. torch10 - October 06, 2010 at 07:52 pm

Tenure means you will no longer be scolded for spending too much time on your teaching. The untenured faculty at my school are warned about spending too much time planning, grading, and holding office hours. You do not get tenure because you are a brilliant teacher, but you can be denied tenure if you don't cut corners with assignments, office hours, and grading.

More and more, students are arriving at university woefully underprepared. These students need a lot of support from their professors. I find that spending the time up front when students are at your door makes them successful graduates. If we enroll challenged students, then we should make every effort to help them.

That said, sitting one-on-one with students who need a little help getting focused on an essay, or holding extra office hours because they are struggling with an assignment will cost you tenure and to top it off, administrators and tenured faculty will remind you that you have yourself to blame for the downfall. Tenure protects those teachers who relish the opportunity to work with students.

47. truthfirst - October 06, 2010 at 08:38 pm

There are some excellent tenured professors at some of America's universities and there are some terrible ones at some of our universities. This process needs to be examined. I do not think it is appropriate to use our children as a defense against the overhaul of this system. A parent could also take the position that each and every university had better make sure tenured professor are providing a quality education for students. If they are not who suffers here the tenured professor or the student. The student pays the price for a poor education not the tenured professor who is secure in the fact that tenure makes you untouchable. Why are so many students complaining about what is going on in higher education? Are we saying all these students are wrong?

Why can't a group of good solid dedicated tenured people get together and take a look at this system? Is that too much to ask? If something is falling apart at some of our universities then students deserve at least that much. But instead it seems we are taking a hard line against self improvement. WHY?

48. truthfirst - October 06, 2010 at 08:47 pm

41. brwslp - Thank you for your comment. I think this is the absolute truth about what is really
going on at not all but some universities. This is not education.

49. shiksha - October 06, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Having worked at three institutions, all very different, the hardest working, most dedicated teachers were not tenured or on tenure tract. They had "other" status for a variety of reasons.

Let's face it: There is no reason why people who teach should have life-time job security.

Academic freedom can and is protected at some institutions that do not grant tenure in a variety of ways.

Tenured faculty who, once tenured, take it easy in and out of the classroom have brought the current anti-tenure movement on themselves -- no different from unions.

50. ceejay - October 06, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Tenured faculty at my institution (and it's not a high-powered R1 or even R3) must undergo review every five years. Faculty who do not continue to meet benchmarks in teaching, research, and service are placed on improvement plans--and yes, it happens. Tenured faculty who fail to meet their plans can be fired. Tenure isn't a lifetime guarantee. Once I received it, I took a deep breath, went back to grading papers, planned a committee meeting, and started outlining my next book.

51. newer - October 06, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I agree with shiksha'comments.

some Tenured faculty are not interested in teaching or reasearch. They are just want a secrity job. Once they got tenured, they don't teach anything, and use their powers to do whatever they like (i.e. hiring whoever they like, not by qualifications). In contrast, the best professors those students like are sessionals or contracted faculties. Those sessionals enojoys the teaching and reasearch, and put all their effort in teahcing courses.

Furthermore, some tennured faculties with master degree like to play political games. They have powers to decide hiring. The kick PhDs out of university, and keep their close friens with master degree only.

Tenure policy is provide those lazy and mean people to take advantages of academia. What is the point of tenure system?
Studnets paying tuition fees is to learn more knowledges, not for those tenured faculty to play political game or for them relax.

52. anthromonkey - October 06, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Dr. Nelson's argument ONLY makes sense if tenured faculty teach. Nothing could be farther from the truth, except at some small liberal arts colleges, where tenured faculty are expected to teach and to be darn good teachers. At most research comprehensives, tenured faculty do NO or very minimal teaching. That's what they have TAs and graduate students for (and this is why they don't want to reduce the number of PhDs they have in their programs, incidentally, even though we all know there will be NO jobs for 70% of these students.) And in some cases the teaching is done by adjuncts. It's out of touch for Dr Carey to make it sound like protecting tenure provides parents with better quality teachers. More like the opposite.

53. rear_view_mirror - October 07, 2010 at 01:29 am

Just because an article contains statistics that doesn't mean it has supported its arguments.

"As for costs, universities typically spend only one-third of their budgets on faculty salaries. Despite more than 10 years of education after high school, most people standing in front of a college classroom earn less than $60,000 a year, considering that contingent faculty members, who are not eligible for tenure, make up two-thirds of the faculty work force. Most earn well less than $35,000. And most graduate students paid as teachers earn less than $20,000 a year."

This is not an argument for tenure, it's an argument for the status quo: a combination of contingent and non-contingent. He's not telling us the average salary of tenures.

This is like saying your gas guzzling car isn't that uneconomical because, due to the high cost of gasoline, you have been keeping your budget under control by riding the trolley.

54. oldassocprof - October 07, 2010 at 01:46 am

I wouldn't hold up quasi-intellectuals like Foucault and Beaudrillard as exemplars of non-tenure. In any case any type of job security is much more secure in France.

If you do away with tenure you'll get:

1. A few research stars who'll go from university to university ratcheting up their salaries with each move. Think of the waste as each of the new places builds them new labs, etc. to get them to come. It'll be like docs going from hospital to hospital forcing them to build wasteful and redundant labs, etc. THESE PEOPLE ARE NOTORIOUSLY THE WORST TEACHERS, IF THAT MATTERS.

2. Most of the rest will be underpaid adjuncts. Not likely to lead to good teaching either as they scurry from campus to campus trying to cob a living together.

55. eicherd - October 07, 2010 at 07:00 am

Is the problem "tenure?" OR...how the outdated administrative officials treat professors?

56. uconnche - October 07, 2010 at 07:38 am

Jeepers creepers!
At long last the AAUP gives a nod to the fact that higher education needs tenured faculty.
Methinks it is too little too late.


57. cleverclogs - October 07, 2010 at 08:13 am

This argument makes no sense to me as an argument FOR tenure:

"Faculty members not eligible for tenure are often not even invited to faculty meetings, and thus are deprived of a way to share their experiences, learn from their colleagues, and help one another to be better teachers."

So what the author is saying, essentially, is that those on the tt see themselves as in some sort of elite club. It's understandable since they are killing themselves to make tenure and it should have some perks. But how telling that the perks are in the form of exclusion. Are you really arguing that tt fac create a snobbish country club-type environment and it should be protected?

I suspect non-tt faculty don't get invited because they make the tt fac feel badly about their complacency and cynicism in the face of the horrible working conditions their fellow teachers endure. Also non-tt fac might actually want to talk about teaching which, in my experience, isn't really ever on the agenda at fac meetings.

Tenure, as it stands, is not about teaching.

58. trendisnotdestiny - October 07, 2010 at 08:25 am

There are some commonalities between the gutting out of the middle class and of the professorate here folks....

It does not take much imagination to understand that a de-leveraging of commitments is being undertaken systemically at the precise time our economy struggles with unemployment, debt and a re-definition of labor-capital roles.

If there are any of you out there that think this is just a coincidence, well I have some collateralized debt obligation to sell you in the sub-prime sector. It is pretty obvious: outsource instrumental services to lowly-paid adjuncts, replace self-governance with administrative oversight and create friction between the haves (tenured) and have nots (young tenure track) all by using the cover of the financial crisis to re-organize the professorate for privatization. Let's be honest here.

The overabundance of posts that chronicle individual experiences may enlighten some, but really keep this conversation stuck in a diverse array of boxes to be checked off and forgotten. We either support the neoliberal turn (unwittingly or fervently) or you resist it, but do not come to CHE and pretend that the only narrative that exists is your own. The larger narrative is that business is pushing for academe's acquiescence.

59. thomas34 - October 07, 2010 at 08:26 am

"Professors without tenure are nothing more than at-will employees. They can be fired tomorrow or whenever their contracts expire. One complaint from a student, parent, or politician is all it may take. What if a professor offends a parent or preacher by teaching evolution? What if a professor expresses sympathy for unpopular religious beliefs? What if a professor admits that he or she supports gay rights? What if a professor asks students whether the war in Iraq was in the national interest?"

It's interesting that the "courageous" professor you're using in your example just so happens to agree with 90% of his or her colleagues on these issues. Granted, I count myself among that 90% on at least some of the issues you mentioned, but you might have strengthened your argument if you had acatually had your imaginary tenured prof come down on the "unpopular" side of academe at least once or twice.

60. ewcollins - October 07, 2010 at 08:43 am

One of the big concerns where I live is that public school teachers (grades K - 12) are granted tenure. Can someone explain why this is necessary? Is it to protect the academic freedom of third grade teachers?

61. maryleedemeter - October 07, 2010 at 09:06 am

As an adjunt a a community college with an enrollment of 11,000 students, my department (History and Social Sciences) employs only 20 full time faculty members. I love my job and the students (I am a graduate of the college myself!), but I have to hold down 2 other jobs and STILL don't make $30,000 per year, so I agree we need more full time tenured faculty members.

On the other hand, I have been prevented from finishing my PhD because a full-time tenured faculty member has made a subjective decision about me, thus preventing me from completing my dissertation. My school will not even allow me to engage in any formal grievance process, and has refused to provide written documetation stating I have been dismissed from my program.

Why hasn't anyone thought of or proposed "tenure review?" I would absolutely support a system that ensures tenure, but facilitates frequent tenure review, so as to remove dishonest faculty members who abuse their status.

62. davi2665 - October 07, 2010 at 09:10 am

Yet more tired, warmed-over pap from the self-serving musings of the AAUP president, striving to keep his own nest well feathered at the expense of the students. He now seeks to engage parents of students to join the "I'm a victim, you're a victim, he's a victim, she's a victim, wouldn't you like to be a victim too" crowd. And, of course, there is the obligatory irrelevant side track, blaming the administration and their "huge" salaries, which are only a fraction of those in the private sector for top leaders. At least most administrators actually work for 40 hours or more per week, which is more than I can say for most tenured professors I have known in any university/college setting other than a medical school. Also, the straw man of "at will" employment is out and out false. There are very few places other than a business environment where that applies. Most academic institutions that do not have a tenure system operate on contracts of specified duration, with renewals involving evaluation of PERFORMANCE (the AAUP might want to look up this unique concept and apply it). It never ceases to amaze and amuse me all of the mental gymnastics and convoluted arguments that are brought out in the endless battle to continue the equivalent of the old buggy whip factories- tenure.

63. colorlessblueideas - October 07, 2010 at 09:14 am

When my oldest was deciding on college, by far the most open and conducisve-to-critical-thinking college with a guaranteed exposure to a wide range of ideas was one which did *not* have tenure. That provides some counter-evidence, indicating that it is not tenure which encourages good teaching and learning.

Thomas34 (62): let's take your argument a bit further. Tenure *might* protect a professor on the other side. One who asks whether a stochastic evolutionary process or intelligent design better explains some biological formation. What if a professor admits that he or she believes homosexual behavior is morally wrong. What if a professor expresses sympathy for strict paleo-Calvinism? [Does that qualify as an "unpopular religious belief?] What if a professor asks students whether protesting the war in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad was in the national interest?

It might. The question arises: would such a professor be awarded tenure? Would he or she be screened out or black-balled in tenure deliberations. Exceptions might occur, but my impression is that an almost universal answer would be, "no."

64. anonymouslady - October 07, 2010 at 09:37 am

There are other issues that seem to get lost in this story. Not only does it take years to get a PhD, but generally the person with the degree becomes a "specialist." That means that someone without tenure who is dismissed for whatever reason (budget cutting, students evaluating how personable the teacher is rather than how well they teach, etc) does not necessarily have the opportunity to get another job in academia or might have to move cross-country to get another position. If one has children in school or has bought a house, that makes life quite costly and difficult. We are not speaking of a nurse who works on contract who might have the option to work in another hospital in the same town. Constantly moving due to lack of job security makes life unstable not just for the teachers but for their childrenn.

Also, the job market in most areas as everyone knows is quite dismal. Say that someone decides to make a career goal out of being a professor in a certain area. The very failing "business model" that has been applied to the universities can force someone to enter and exit academia on the whims of the market. A lot of people have lost jobs recently, but those in acadedmia can be completely forced out of a career for which they might have: invested $300,000 (plus monies not earned during the school years) and are super knowlegeable about (and might be one of few people in the country who could discuss certain topics academically). It seems like a shame doesn't it?

Maybe if other professionals that are more "money-generating" had to undergo the same stress that academics do in terms of job security and constantly moving around the country with their kids in tow we would have more sympathy.

And if Fox doesn't like the radical professors, I suggest that they tell their children not to take their classes. This isn't high school. It's unlikely that the "old" "radical"3
professors are teaching required courses.

That being said, in the "olden times" I did study under some tentured professors that were quite abusive (not all of them were). Maybe the operative word in this whole story should be "abuse" of one kind or another.

65. hildavcarpenter - October 07, 2010 at 09:41 am

Tenure as a system has it's flaws. It is over-idealized and out of date. I wonder when the X-gens that repaced the boomers are going to realize they are becoming us boomers. Oh dear.

66. a_karenina - October 07, 2010 at 10:02 am

Nobody is talking about how much *actual courage* and love for the profession are required to be an adjunct or lecturer, who, while just as qualified as his/her tenured peers, works hard without any hope of tenure. Also, no mention that tenure-track and tenured faculty are *less* available for student conferences and advising than are the para-faculty who toil away daily, teaching bread-and-butter courses, advising, etc. while their more privileged colleagues are out on fellowships, leaves, sabbaticals, terms abroad, etc. Parents should not be fooled. Many tenured faculty never even show up on campus on their non-teaching days. They have short office hours, if any, and take *less* time per student to grade and discuss papers, assignments, etc. Publications and research matter MUCH more than good teaching or service, so DON'T believe it when you're told tenure-track faculty have ANY time for your kid. From where I sit, tenure is possible only with the exploitation of all those nameless, disenfranchised enthusiasts marginalized by the system. Funny how some tenured "radical and creative thinkers" forever shouting about injustice and "challenging their students," turn self-protective hypocrites when their own privilege is questioned.

67. beulah - October 07, 2010 at 10:14 am

Tenure does not protect the incompetent. If an administrator is brave enough to prove negligence or incompetence, a tenured faculty member can be fired.

Tenure only protects faculty from being fired without cause.

If there are incompetent teachers at your university, it is because you have incompetent administrators unwilling to confront them.

68. willynilly - October 07, 2010 at 10:42 am

What kind of utter drivel is this article? In fact it is downright stupid. What parents and their children need are deeply committed professors - committed to their own continuous education, and committed to the verifiable learning of their students. No college or university EVER dismissed or limited the freedom of an outstanding classroom teacher. The notion that tenure gives a professor a sense of security and freedom to be him/herself is totally absurd. The best security and freedom a professor can posess is to be outstanding at his/her craft. No artificial insulation is necessary and that includes tenure.

69. betterschools - October 07, 2010 at 10:44 am

Cary Nelson has been effective in driving yet another nail in the coffin of tenure with this unfocused, logically rambling argument that is completely devoid of empirical evidence in support of the premise. This tenured person was trying to teach a bunch of reasonably smart people something look at what an ineffective job he did. Think of what he might be doing in the classroom.

I would have few problems with tenure if it were associated with teaching requirements but the truth is different. The more professors advance on the promotion ladder, the less they teach, the more they are paid, and (for those who teach in applied disciplines) the more they engage in private outside consultation.

Setting Dr. Nelson' silliness aside, is there any scientifically sound evidence out there bearing on this issue one way or the other?

70. brwslp - October 07, 2010 at 11:00 am

Mr. Trevithick,
You lost your argument when you started started getting personal and engaged in name calling. Although you are adjunct, your comments reflect what many of us are saying about the sense of superiority and entitlement many of those in academia are perceived to possess. It would be interesting to know how many of those majority defending tenure already have it, and how many are envious of those who do.
As far as the argument regarding the "business model" that some have referred to, times have changed (This is another perception of the professoriate; that tenured faculty tend to be resistant to change and get stale.) Students see themselves as consumers of knowledge. Could this have developed because professors insist that they are producers of knowledge? Products are meant to be purchased. The reality is students have come to see that very knowledge as a commodity to be purchased. An open mind should change one's attitude and make the necessary adaptations because you're not going to change this consumer mentality. As tuition costs soar, students have a right to demand quality teaching from ALL faculty.
BTW:I am an "at-will" faculty member. Because I do my job well, I do not have any fear of being dismissed at the slightest complaint, a poor eval from a couple of students, or a difference of opinion. Those hired as adjunct faculty know what they are signing up for and what it pays. No one forces them to sign the contract year after year if the terms are not to their liking. Once they sign the contract, it is my opinion that they have no grounds on which to make further demands. They can go find a job somewhere else.
No one should in academia should expect to be "protected" any more than professionals in other careers, for any reason. If one is doing his/her job well (teaching content instead of ideology, being prepared to teach, being accessible to students, meeting research requirements, flexibility in these changing times, and a host of other positive qualities) one should have nothing to fear regardless of his/her persuasions and opinions.

71. brwslp - October 07, 2010 at 11:03 am

I must correct my typo in my third sentence. I meant to state that it would be interesting to know IF a majority of those defending tenure already have it, and how many are just envious of those who do.

72. softshellcrab - October 07, 2010 at 11:08 am

I see both sides of the tenure argument in my department. I see complete lazy-ass faculty for whom firing would be too good - they should be prosecuted for theft of public funds for getting paid. But I see some need for protection for good faculty who want to argue with the administration or expresss unpopular views. How long would a hard working but ulra-right-wing and big-mouthed faculty like myself last in the liberal bastion of academia without tenure? It is well documented that the least open minded people about opposing views are liberals (e.g. Obama trying to shut down Fox News from telling the truth about him). Some protection is needed for free speech, but not from laziness.

73. betterschools - October 07, 2010 at 11:24 am


Do you see a way to connect teaching with tenure such that we would not have the current situation in most institutions where there is the inverse relationship between teaching and status as a teacher?

74. clearskyc - October 07, 2010 at 11:28 am

I'm surprised that so few comments (and the article, itself) touch on the actual crux of tenure.

In most jobs, evaluating the performance of employees is fairly straightforward--are they completing the duties assigned? In universities, we have the peer review publishing process that allows us to evaluate the work of specialists that cannot be reviewed any other way--so that is good (though not perfect). But we don't have a good way to evaluate how well these specialists are teaching their specialties. This, I think, is the crux.

Comment #32 is a great example. As students' evaluations of professors grow in importance, professors dumb down their material and reduce their requirements to meet the low expectations of students.

Take a look, for instance, at the Ratemyprofessor website. When I do an Internet search for my name, that site comes up number 2 after my own website. And I asked my students in a general education course how many had visited it before taking the class, and nearly all of them raised their hands. Ratemyprofessor has four criteria that measure the "overall quality" of the professor: helpfulness, clarity, easiness, and hotness. If I am to attract "clientele" based on this "objective" measure of my work performance, I need to be helpful ("yes, you may submit your assignments two weeks late"), clear ("since you didn't read the material, let me summarize for you"), easy ("the tests will be open-book multiple choice") and attractive (purchase and wear the latest styles and have an expensive haircut). If I don't perform under these criteria, in a non-tenured environment, I risk alienating students and therefore my own reason for being there. (Of course, there are some students, like myself as an undergraduate, who want to be challenged, but they appear to be in the minority.)

There is no easy answer for how to evaluate professors, and that is the crux of the issue. Because there is not an easy answer, non-tenured professors are vulnerable to the whims of students, other professors, administrators, donors, politicians, and media cranks. We have no way to appeal to our own job performance because teaching at the university level is so subtly complex, there is no easy way to evaluate it over the short term. I want to challenge my students to think about difficult and complex issues (and I think their parents want that,too), but human nature dictates that the students want an easy time of it. I want my students to read and write outside of class (and I think their parents want that, too), but human nature (and our culture) dictates that the students want to have fun.

There are negative issues associated with tenure, but until this problem is solved, it outweighs all the others.

P.S. Our university has all students in a course complete anonymous surveys of teacher performance that are not reviewed until after grades are submitted. The survey has items such as "challenges me to think" and "emphasizes relationships among topics," and I notice that my scores are significantly more positive than my ratings on Ratemyprofessor.com. This tells me that students who rank professors on the site are most likely the ones who want to work the least, which makes sense, since there is no "challenges me to think" criterion on the site.

P.P.S. Are professors at my university rated basted on these anonymous evaluations? In part, but the surveys are still unreliable because studies have shown that student evaluations, even these kind, correlate very strongly with student grades. In other words, the higher a student's grade, the higher the student's evaluation of the teacher. Therefore, a teacher who, in grading, recognizes and allows for the law of the bell curve (most students are average), as opposed to the Lake Wobegon law (all students are above average), risks an average ranking, no matter how outstanding he or she may be.

75. rasmithche - October 07, 2010 at 11:32 am

It's important to remember that (as I see it, at least) the fundamental social justification for the institution of tenure is not that it's a benefit to faculty but that it's a social benefit, justifiable in terms similar to judicial tenure. If you want judges who will decide cases--and decide *your* case, when it comes to that--impartially, then you don't want judges who are afraid they'll lose their jobs because they offend someone powerful. Similarly, if you want faculty who will say what they actually believe when teaching, and not what some external authority tells them to, then you want faculty with tenure. This is not merely hypothetical. I know of a case of a business school faculty member who developed what he argued was a fair method for calculating comparisons of interest rates on loans: banking industry lobbyists wanted to get him fired. I know personally another faculty member (not at my present institution), a chemist, who published articles arguing that the energy cost of producing alcohol for use in gasohol exceeded the energy that could be obtained by burning it. Gasohol lobbyists wanted him fired, too. *That* is what tenure is all about. Do you want researchers and teachers who can give their honest informed opinions without fear of being fired, or do you want powerful interests to be able to demand, and get, their removal?

76. rroscoe - October 07, 2010 at 11:42 am

There are both pros and cons to tenure. As a tenure-track faculty member, I certainly do hope to achieve tenure and the job security that it entails. Most tenured faculty members I have known do work hard. But I have seen a few who have become "deadwood" after obtaining tenure. Faculty members do need academic freedom and protection from capricious dismissal. However, it would be nice if there were some way to punish or even remove the few who become "deadwood."

As for Nelson, his article does a very poor job of defending tenure. If I were a parent, especially one that does not share Nelson's politics (i.e. the majority of the population, 80% of whom are moderates or conservatives), this article would turn me against tenure. It is no secret that academia leans to the left and that those with more conservative views are in the minority. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Yet the only examples of "controversial" views that Nelson seems interested in defending in this article are those of the left. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that a professor would get in trouble for say advocating in favor of gay marriage on campus. In fact, the opposite is more likely. Did it not occur to Nelson that conservatives are the minority in academia and that of all people, they are the ones more likely (if they dare) to express views that are considered "unpopular" or "controversial" on a college campus? What about protecting their rights? Students need to be exposed to all kinds of different ideas in college, which means that professors of all ideologically and political persuasions should have academic freedom.

Fox News is hardly a bastion of accurate reporting. But Nelson's article only reinforces Fox's stereotype that professors are all a bunch of left wing ideologues who want to indoctrinate their students. I've read a number of Nelson's articles and have never seen him specifically defend the rights of conservative professors. Why is that? And his political assumptions are always to the left. As such, much of what he does is myopic and ultimately counterproductive.

77. fcshofstra - October 07, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Professor Nelson damages the argument for tenure more than helps it by repeating unexamined assumptions that "everyone knows" - i.e., that costs at colleges and universities are skyrocketing because there are too many administrators and they're overpaid.

I very much down that Professor Nelson knows how many provisions there are for new paperwork in the Higher Education Act reauthorization last year, or what all those supposedly overpaid administrators do, but I assure him he doesn't want to do it.

Professor Nelson would have done much more to further the argument for tenure - which I support in theory if not in practice - by pointing out that, even if he doesn't have a single case to show where an untenured faculty member was let go for voicing an unpopular opinion (of course there are such cases), such cases would surely rise in an environment where costs continue to go up (energy costs being one large contributor) while revenues go down (federal and state subsidies at a 40-year low) and students are increasingly asked to shoulder all the difference while taking as many courses as we think they should take whether or not they can reasonably be fit into a four-year career.

Fortunately since this is a Chronicle article, I suspect few outside academia, or the paywall, will read this.

Anyone truly interested in what's most perilous to higher education today should be reading news from the American Council on Education instead of the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://www.acenet.edu).

78. more_cowbell - October 07, 2010 at 12:12 pm

As a student, I didn't know which of my teachers were tenured/tenure track/adjunct until I went into grad studies. I can now look back knowing who was what. Patterns definately emerged during my 10 years of study, particularly in the quality of teaching and research.

Adjuncts - Most seemed very nice and engaged with students well but it was all too apparent that almost all lacked needed experience. Some had questionable grasp of the general subject matter and seemed overspecialized, usually in areas and narrow subjects that barely received any study in class. Grading was usually too lenient. While I liked most of the adjuncts I had, I found these classes to be the least memorable.

Tenured professors - Most of the tenured professors were the worst in the classroom. I dont mean this to be mean but some were outright awful. Terrible lectures, unclear expectations, outdated reading lists and syllabi, no use of technologies or mediums in the classroom, very hard marking, and no discussion on current theoretical questions. These classes also had the highest rates of student drop outs. Many of these profs had very good publications, although almost always from 10-20 years ago. Overall, a huge disappointment. To be fair, I found most full profs to have an air of maturity that others did not have and I did have one full professor who was an exception to all this pattern - he was sharp, topical, and engaged with students.

Tenure track - The best professors I had fell into this category. Topical research, innovative lectures and coursework projects, used current textbooks and journal articles in their classes, fair markers, and approachable. They also seemed to do most of the extra work in the dept, e.g. organizing grad student conferences, hosting and attending social events, etc. Tenure track profs had the best tutorial discussions and best handle managing the class. I learned the most from these courses and chose my MA and PhD advisors from this group.

79. brattlestreetbandit - October 07, 2010 at 12:24 pm

What tenure's detractors don't seem to grasp is that universities are in competition with each other. They're in competition with each other over potential donors. And they're in competition with each other over prestige (which, however, indirectly, pulls in more potential donors). Talented faculty members bring prestige. So, universities need to attract an optimal number of talented professors. Tenure is one such attraction.

Think of it this way. Let's say Harvard scraps tenure. Now every talented young prof who'd otherwise have been thrilled to teach at Harvard is going to go teach at Yale. This will hurt Harvard's prestige, and students they otherwise would have attracted will go to Yale. Of course, this would be a financial catastrophe for Harvard. And this is why Harvard is never going to scrap tenure (no matter how many tenure-bashing books Mark C. Taylor writes).

So, it isn't even necessary to get into a debate over the "benefits of free speech" or the "problem of dead wood" or "bad teachers" or anything of the sort. That stuff is totally beside the point. Tenure exists because it attracts talent and generates prestige.

If there are tenure-detractors out there who want to make the case that universities shouldn't be prestige-dependent, I'd be happy to hear that case. I think I even might agree with that point of view, depending on what the proposed alternative is. But if detractors' only argument is that "professors are lazy and can't teach" then they are really failing to grasp what a modern university is.

80. mrsdillie - October 07, 2010 at 12:35 pm

"A college must be a place where all views can be aired."

Unless the view belongs to a student and that view don't jive with the official version.


81. lookinthemirror - October 07, 2010 at 12:42 pm

So much focus on the professors...Shouldn't learning come from an exchange between the professor and the student? Professors should have tenure so that they may introduce ideas and challenges to the student without fear of being held accountable for differing views of administration? How can students collaborate and exchange view points with each other and the professor when a grade is given by the professor at the end of the class? Maybe we should be making an argument for tenured and non-tenured students. THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH MORE A TENURED STUDENT WILL LEARN WITHOUT FEAR OF FAILING!

82. dank48 - October 07, 2010 at 12:44 pm

So let me make sure that, as the parent of a kid going to college, I get the central argument:

For the sake of the quality of our kids' educations, we need tenured Ph.D.s who are engaged in research rather than teaching. The TAs and others who will actually teach the courses undergraduates take will someday have Ph.D.s and perhaps even tenure, so that they can engage in their research and let a new generation of TAs et al. who will actually teach the new generation of undergrads.

Thanks for making this so clear.

83. dank48 - October 07, 2010 at 12:46 pm

That was less grammatical than it should have been.

84. more_cowbell - October 07, 2010 at 12:53 pm

You nailed it, Dank. The best teachers are not valued and tend to either leave voluntarily or they languish in the adjunct system. It's all about research and the almighty grant dollar.

85. snapcase - October 07, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Faux News is against tenure because it serves as an alternative model to the union-free, slave model of plutocratic corporate labor that is swallowing this country. Faux would want all of us to be adjuncts who can be fired at the slightest whim. What a effecient way to keep people towing the official university line! In their desire to strangle a democratic workplace, conservatives (and some liberals, I'm sad to say) are frothing at the mouth to destroy the incredibly beneficial system of tenure that has guaranteed academic freedom and job security for so many (this is a GOOD thing).

BTW - Tenure does not allow a professor to get away with doing mediocre work or fail to meet department guidelines. What it does do is to allow her to defend herself at an official hearing.

I for one will not send my children to a university which doesn't provide tenure for a least half of its professors. (Sad to say that this is my standard, as most Universities already have only 1/4 of their professoriate tenured). There are already simply too many overworked adjuncts out there who don't really have the time nor motivation (due to their poor pay) to teach my kids anything of value. Time to stop paying for the country-club model of higher education and start reinvesting in our professors!

86. rajanrk - October 07, 2010 at 01:09 pm

Reading some of the comments I feel like as if I am in a middle eastern country- fearful about provosts and administrators etc.! Why are we so afraid of administrators in this free country? If those horror stories about administrators are true why don't you challenge them in court?

87. drtrevithick - October 07, 2010 at 01:14 pm

brwslp-Don't think I did any actual name calling, did I? And it's Dr. Trevithick to you, which is my real name with a real title, unlike, I presume brwslp. That's ok, but if you're talking names at least get them right, with the right title, when they're right in front of you. Call me Alan if you like, or even Al, if you must, but not Mr., under the circumstance- I use the Dr. in things like this to get out ahead of some people who like to think that adjuncts are non-or-undercredentialed and therefore underqualified. By the way, I ALSO strongly believe that the entire adjunct and contingent population, regardless of credentials, is as competent and dedicated as the regular faculty. We're all doing the work of professors, of whatever credential, and getting very little for it.
Finally-trendnotdestiny to my mind has it right and did a better job than I did in pointing to the choice. It's really between a neoliberal business model of the university, reorganization of the professoriate for privatization-and something else, I think better.

88. renprof - October 07, 2010 at 01:18 pm

No one seems to have mentioned that most administrators have de facto tenure. The review process is a joke; the best one can do is pray that the administrator in question be promoted to the level of his or her incompetence or attracted to browner pastures.

Tenure is what makes it possible to challenge this incompetence and remedy its devastations without being put on a black list to be the first laid off. And generally, the administrators who are keenest to get rid of it are also who want more power to run things, to make program decisions, to hire and fire at will based on absolutely no knowledge of the discipline involved.

Before you dismiss me as a "typical bitter faculty member" who dares to question her "employers," let me add that my skepticism is earned: by the development official who suggests that a Renaissance scholar partner with McDonnell-Douglas, by the registrar who drops thousands of students from introductory classes and then expects departments to clean up the mess, by an administration who demands student evaluations in every class and then forgets to do the work to set them up--and so decides we won't have any this time.

Without tenure, it would be impossible to call out incompetence or fix its results.

89. freeacademic - October 07, 2010 at 01:19 pm

Somehow the salary, benefits, financial security and fame you receive in this country, in general, are inversely proportional to your intelligence. Just compare Hollywood stars, Politicians and Wall Street mafias to school teachers and college professors (especially those who teach math and physics). This must change to reverse the intellectual poverty this country is facing now.

90. gogreen - October 07, 2010 at 01:32 pm

I am a supporter of tenure, but I think that it has been abused by some - not many, but enough to give it a bad name in many circles. Unfortunately, I know of some faculty who think it gives them carte blanche to do just about whatever they want and that the university cannot hold them accountable for their actions since they have tenure.

As long as there is accountability, especially for those who are poor teachers or violate university rules and regulations, I will continue to support tenure. It is absolutely necessary.

As an FYI, I have worked at colleges/universities for over 25 years as an administrator (never as a faculty member), and have seen both the benefits and negatives of tenure. The pros far outweigh the cons.

91. soc_sci_anon - October 07, 2010 at 02:10 pm

What the "tenure makes faculty salaries expensive" argument misses is that without tenure, universities would have to pay many faculty more than they do now. (Assuming, of course, that the universities want to keep the same quality of education and research output.) Look at B-school and med-school salaries, which are far, far above salaries in the basic science or social science disciplines that feed b-schools and med-schools: they are high because b-schools and med schools have to compete for talent with free markets, and, more fundamentally, because faculty aren't *completely* economically irrational.

The counterargument always seems to be that most academics couldn't get "real" jobs that paid better. But, most of the tenured faculty I know have at least 22 years of education. Moreover, most were at the top of their class in high school, top of their class in college, near the top of their cohorts in graduate school, and succeeded in the competition to publish research in the best journals. They are not, in other words, people who lack the intelligence and ambition to do well in the private sector, if they so choose. Tenure serves, in part, as a compensating differential to offset lower wages than faculty could earn if they go into, or had gone into, the private sector.

Somehow, I don't think underpaid faculty are what the conservative right has in mind when they gripe about tenure.

92. lookinthemirror - October 07, 2010 at 02:14 pm

I just poled 23 prospective families this morning. Results - 4 of the 23 even knew what tenure was and none were making a decision to attend based upon it.

93. rasmithche - October 07, 2010 at 02:41 pm

I posted a comment earlier (#75 above) saying that (at least as I understand it) the justification for tenure is its social value: tenured professors need not fear that they will be fired simply for saying what they think is true. I offered some actual examples from my own experience concerning faculty who, had they not been tenured, would probably have lost their jobs because they said what they believed to be true within their areas of expertise (one was a Business faculty member speaking about ways to represent loan interest rates, and the other a chemist questioning whether making gasohol from corn was actually worth it in energy terms). Evidently, these examples aren't seen as relevant by most of the participants to this discussion, especially those who are convinced that tenure is a terrible idea. So, let me make it a question: do you want faculty who can teach what they believe to be true in their areas of teaching and research, or would you prefer that they be susceptible to firing whenever they say things that offend powerful business or political interests? And would you prefer to get your advice from people who can lose their jobs if the advice they give you isn't to the liking of those powerful interests, regardless of whether it's in *your* interest?

94. der_gadfly - October 07, 2010 at 02:47 pm

I labored for over a decade teaching, doing committee work, even took a shot or two at some small publictions, all on a yearly basis, no tenure. We did earn rank for service and teaching, and had a vibrant governance structure that ostensibly had no real power, but was fairly influential in its' own right.

I have been an adminicritter (several roles in several places) as well, working time and a half weeks, giving up weekends and evenings to take care of things that the faculty did not want to do (open houses etc).

I was a contract VAP at a CC, no tenure, just fill in for the full prof out on sabbatical. Here I attended governance meetings, department meetings, helped with curriculum, even sitting on an institutional planning committee for a particular project.

At no time did I ever worry all that much about keeping my mouth shut, criticizing administration (sometimes directly and even in open forums), or doing anything that might have denied me tenure (had it been in place). Perhaps working in non-tenure environments gave me that strength, as there was no carrot out there to be given "if you play nicely". So in my somewhat limited experience, I can do without tenure.

Now, entering into a different phase of life, with terminal degree in hand, a whole lot of experience, the ability to adat to just about anything thrown at me, I am looking at tenure-track positions. I fear however, that I may not be good enough: I did not earn a 4.0 while an undergrad or as a grad, published nothing significant in all the MANY years since kindergarden, and my degrees are not form elite institutions. Since I pay my bills by performing administrative tasks related to academic administration, and only teach now as an adjunct (i.e. contingency) Assistant Prof, and have now for half a decade, a bunch of tenured types have pre-determined for me that I am damaged goods. Nonetheless, I stay in the game and hope for a tenure tack solution where I can teach, manage projects, maybe write a book, but most importantly, can enjoy the intellectual stimulation missing from a purely administrative role.

The above is my (anecdotal, not empirical, and published in a double-blind-peer-reviewed top-ranked internationally-recognized journal with a readership, er subscribership, of a few thousand) take on tenure. I am not a research superstar, just someone who does my best and tries to help students.

Can someone tenured please tell me which part of my story I have wrong? then please invite me on campus for the job. That is, if you can handle an outspoken and mid-career professional educator.

95. azprof - October 07, 2010 at 03:33 pm

Dear rasmithche,
The business professor and chemistry professor you gave as an example would not be fired if they did not have tenure because we have civil rights laws that prevent that kind of thing today. Tenure's real power today is in keeping bad professors employed; it doesn't matter if they don't show up for committee meetings, intimidate young faculty, or even present coherent, up to date lectures. They keep their high salaries for minimal face time while the general public struggles to pay the taxes and tuition that keeps this archaic system intact. Tenure should be abolished!

96. tomupnorth - October 07, 2010 at 03:37 pm

We (faculty) may be the worst obstacle to tenure.

By stating only idealistic arguments, as Cary Nelson did, a reader is likely to conclude that we lack understanding of human nature and fail to recognize the potential for abuse when people are guaranteed employment with little chance of being fired.

When we publicly and frequently criticize administrators as being incompetent, the general public is bound to presume that the administrators were incompetent when they granted tenure to those of us who are now criticizing them.

Professionals in many other fields are held to high, measurable standards and risk being quickly terminated if those standards are not achieved. They work long hours over six or seven days a week, and avoid taking vacation for fear of losing their jobs. They view us as being spoiled and clueless regarding the real work world.

If we are to convince the world to support tenure, then we have to convince them that we deserve it.

97. betterschools - October 07, 2010 at 03:38 pm


If what you say is true then I would agree with you but don't we now have other federal laws in place to ensure that this kind of inappropriate termination could not prevail? Using the chemistry professor as an example, how certaijn are you that he wojuld have been fired for asking a scientifically and economically reasonable question or even for espousing an unpopular view with respect to it? I would hope not, with or without tenure.

Let me take this further. How would we feel if the same chemistry professor were: (a) to be making his claims in the complete absence of scientific evidence and refusing to offer any or (b) offering the theory of Phlogiston as his evidence. I'm not being argumentative here. I'm trying to assess what we find reasonable limits for protecting intellectual freedoms and whether or not tenure is required to protect them.

Separately, issues such as this are always a question of balance. Centering on teaching (the topic of this article) would we say that tenure results in better teaching or are the issues more related to better job conditions?

98. libartphil - October 07, 2010 at 03:50 pm

Someone above is absolutely right. Ending tenure will result in a small number of hotshot professors who command large salaries and fuel faculty arms races and large army of adjuncts who care little about students but who are economically compelled to minimize their work and maximize their productivity. Alternatively this will result in a large and powerful faculty union movement.

Education is moving precisely in the opposite direction. Fewer stupidly large lecture halls, less information based education, and more practical, problem based, education. The latter however requires faculty who have the "luxury" of caring about their student's education.

At my liberal arts college, the strongest reason for tenure is that it invests faculty in the institution and the education of our students. We aren't an elite school, and our salaries come nowhere near to compensating us for the work that we do. Our bond to the institution is tenure and it allows us to create vibrant, transformative, educational opportunities for our students. Take tenure away and we will become a mediocre, pricey, community college.

The anti-tenure crowd is like the anti-union crowd, nothing but ressentiment. They wish to destroy without understanding.

The best analogue to my mind is that tenure is a form of partnership--one where the partners don't receive any profits from the partnership. It is closer to a not-for-profit law firm model than anything else. Do people really think that becoming "partners" in a law firm is somehow unfair to them as well? (Publics are of course a bit different).

99. jefft - October 07, 2010 at 03:52 pm

I often think it would be useful to look at the issue of tenure in the larger context of labour relations in the US. American firms, of all sizes and shapes, treat their employees very poorly (by the standards, at least, of other OECD countries), as readers of Chronicle will know. There are sound arguments for and against tenure, which is why the controversy persists, but much of the passion surrounding the issue must reflect, on the part of tenured academics, legitimate worries about worker exploitation and, on the part of others, understandable envy.

100. greeneyeshade - October 07, 2010 at 04:17 pm

100 responses!! Whoa.

You touched a nerve, Prof. Nelson.

101. more_cowbell - October 07, 2010 at 04:22 pm

Is the problem really tenure? Or is it the fact that many people were hired into TT jobs who shouldn't have been in the first place? Let's face it - we've all seen questionable hiring practices take place, once that defy the greater good of an institution. I often wonder how different depts would look (and function) if faculty were not the only ones charged with hiring new members.

102. mad_doctor - October 07, 2010 at 05:17 pm

Tenure was already weak before the financial meltdown. Once the economy has played itself out there will be so few tenured professors on university campuses as to be of little or no consequence. Administrators will rule higher ed from here on out, so get used to it, and contingent faculty will simply be the surrogates of the administration in the classroom. I don't like it either, but that's the way it's going to be. For years now, I've been advising my very best students to avoid a career in academia since by the time they earn their own doctorates college will be the new high school, and here we are a few years ahead of time.

The article ignores the greatest benefit of tenure, that it confers on the university a reliable, long-term, stable resource of institutional knowledge and commitment. Higher ed., like all industries, becomes dysfunctional when there are few or no participants with tangible interests in the long-term well-being of the institution. Tenured professors were previously the university's greatest resource for reliable long-term planning and strategy. Untenured faculty and contingent faculty have very little interest in contributing to the long-term interests of an institution when they are unsure whether they will even have a job the next semester. All they care about is doing what it takes to make it to the next contract. In the future, the mantle of preserving the university's long-term well-being will fall exclusively on university administrators, if it hasn't already done so.

103. duchess_of_malfi - October 07, 2010 at 06:50 pm

Tenure may be good for universities, and it may be good for all of society in its support for research. There is little evidence that it is a guarantee of academic freedom and no evidence that it improves undergraduate education. On the contrary, there is research evidence that part-time and full-time contingent faculty, if properly supported by their colleges and universities, provide teaching of quality equal to that of tenure-track and tenured faculty by a variety of student-outcome measures.

On the undergraduate-education argument, Nelson is disingenuous, because he knows the research does not support his argument. He is also dishonest, because the AAUP markets itself as a union that will support contingent faculty while dishing out disrespect and doing its best to preserve what's left of good working conditions for the upper-class of academia.

104. betterschools - October 07, 2010 at 07:27 pm


I recall seeing references to studies showing some conditions under which adjunct faculties achieved greater learning outcomes and higher student satisfaction, especially when they were practitioner adjuncts as opposed to out-of-work PhD-types who really want to be professors. Can you point to any of these studies? I recall that the Department of Education published one such study in the mid-1990's but it "disappeared" from their references one suspects due to political pressures.

I agree, the argument needs to be separated and empirical claims examined for each component. That said, I don't think any impartial observer accords much credibility to AAUP. They have been pointing the way to the past as long as I can remember.

105. thinkubus - October 07, 2010 at 09:12 pm

I find it amusing that the most passionate arguments on both sides of this issue -- not only in this forum -- are most applicable to the humanities departments. Many of these arguments are also purely ideological, misinformed, or both. The opponents of tenure use familiar scarecrows, decrying taxpayer-supported lesbian studies etc. Meantime its proponents, like Cary Nelson, issue passionate calls for academic freedom without bothering to support their arguments by any actual data that would show clear benefits of tenure for education or reserach.
To me, the clearest benefit of tenure comes actually in the area of research. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a just tenured faculty memeber in one of the physical sciences in a large R1 university. Peronally, I do not see tenure as a protection of my academis freedom: my political views are irrelevant to my subject. If I started talking about my opposition to the Iraq war or Bush tax cuts in my lecture, I actualy shouldn't feel protected, and not because of my political leanings but because my class is not a place to discuss those. (As I said, this may be quite different in the shumanities -- but I am trying to bring a science prof perspective here.) So, let me explain my perspective. naturally, it is based on several assumption -- feel free taking them apart, but please be substantative if you choose to do so. The quality of both undergraduate and, even more so, graduate education *in sciences* is very much tied to the research component in the corresponding departments. Some aspects of this connection are very natural: students get hands-on experience in the labs that are actually persuing real cutting-edge research. Some are far more questinable, yet nevertheless valid: the research component strongly affects university rankings; students tend to benefit (justly or unjustly) from receiving their degrees from higher-ranked universities. Notice that my research in no way influences any of the freshman intro classes I teach: the material taught there deals with well established, no-longer-contoversial topics with most discoveries dating back by 50 or more years. Of cousre, the more advanced the class is, the more relevant the modern state of research becomes, yet in my field one need not be an active researcher to do an excellent job teaching the first two years worth of classes -- in fact one may justhifiably argue that active research may take away the time that could otherwise be spent preparing better class demonstrations etc. Once again, this is not how reserach benefits education.
So why is tenure important for the quality of research?
First and formeost, it gives one freedom to take risks and jump into new untested waters with *no guarantees* that some spectacular results will soon transpire, if at all. I know of many such exmples. In fact, some of the groundbreaking results were not recognised as such for a decade or more. Ask yourself: would education, and the society at large, benefit from such discoveries (which in my field routinely result in new technologies, compunds and practical devices)? If your answer is yes, then I can assure you that the institute of tenure is essential for one's ability to engage in high-risk yet (potentially) high-reward research. In fact, when I was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor, I was advised by several senior collegues to continue doing the same kind of research that I was doing prior to hiring -- until I get tenure. This peice of advice was also illustrated by a couple of sad examples of smart people trying something new right away, not succeeding within the time allotted and subsequently not getting tenured. Once again, those were worthy people trying out worthy, yet (so far) unsuccessful ideas. Being tenured would protect them -- and in my opinion, this is the risk worth taking if we, as a society, want to keep our technological edge. The benefits for education are indirect, yet also palpable.
I also want to point out that taking away my tenure will not save my university any money: I will simply expect a higher salary in return for the lost job security. I am still sufficiently young and sufficiently open-minded to be checking, from time to time, what my options -- and my price -- would be in the "real world". Take away my tenure, and either pay me more or watch me go to the industry.
Finally, on the issue of dead wood. I would lie if I pretended that the problem does not exist in my field, yet it is far less prevailent than outsiders tend to think. Also, some of the percieved "dead wood" faculty are those who are actually trying something new yet still haven't got anything to show for it. In fact, I would be open for a serious discussion about how to weed out the former while protecting the latter.
Finally, one downside of tenure is the ensuing lack of positions for the "fresh new blood". This is indeed a problem (which probably has more to do with the absence of a mandatory retirement age than with tenure per se). I don't think it's a good enough argument to either abandon tenure or reintroduce mandatory retirement. Some compromise, however, could be struck: e.g. awarding tenure for 30 years, or until some fixed age (65 or so), upon which one's position would fall back to 5-year contracts. At that point, the faculty members would be given enough time to fully establish themselfes while the universities would know their professors well enough to judge their research and teacing potential and weigh those agains potential new hires. Clearly, such a system would not be imune from abuse, particularly in dysfunctional and overly politicised places, but no system is perfect.

106. oldassocprof - October 07, 2010 at 09:25 pm

As a grad student, I worked full time at a place without tenure. There, there was a for-all-practical-purposes "tenured" clique (the agronomy professors, the coaches, and some of the business professors,a smattering of other good old boys.) Everyone else was EXTREMELY vulnerable, and made to feel so. This place was too rural to have much of an adjunct pool.

107. betterschools - October 07, 2010 at 10:06 pm


I appreciate your arguments for the potentially positive relationship between research and tenure in the sciences and, indirectly therefore, for advanced teaching. However, I don't see the empirically leaning argument you and I both seem to want. You mention examples where research faculty make high-risk/high-reward bets that fail to materialize on the expected timetable and, therefore, fail to secure tenure. That logic appeals to the empirical relationship between research success and securing tenure but it does not address how having tenure contributes to the benefits you are suggesting. (a) Are you suggesting that a study of tenure in scientific settings would find that tenured faculty take on more big scientific bets than their non-tenured colleagues? If so, it would follow that tenured faculty take on more research, period, than those seeking tenure. Is there any hard evidence of this? (b) It seems certain that you are suggesting that failed big bets among non-tenured faculty are treated differently than failed big bets among tenured faculty, irrespective of relative research effort, etc. Is there hard evidence of this? (c) Finally, on this point, it would seem that we need to control for experience cf. tenure. One might assume (but I have no evidence), ceteris paribus, faculty who have, say, 20 years of post-doctoral research experience will have a better success ratio for a given risk magnitude than faculty who have seven years of comparable experience, irrespective of tenure status. There are quite a few uncontrolled variables behind the speculatively empirical claims being made on this issue. All of this said, I appreciate your approach and would be interested to hear if you are aware of any solid information derived from studies that attempt to control for these variables rather than, like AAUP, seek to prove their biases.

108. fruupp - October 07, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Wow, until reading these posts I was unaware that non-tt, "para-faculty" were such selfless saints. Boy, is my face red! Why settle for mere tenure when canonization is clearly indicated?

109. colorlessblueideas - October 07, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Did anyone else notice that Cary Nelson used the words "Fox News" as a bogeyman, without giving evidence of understanding what he was writing? Is he talking about the news reporting? The analysts? Something else?

My estimate is that he has not invested enough time in watching the network, and is merely parrotting what he has been told.

110. colorlessblueideas - October 07, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Thinkubus (105). You make a good point. I think that many have lost sight of the history of tenure -- like the history of academic freedom. Each was to free the professor for pursuing new or esoteric research. What was taught in the classroom, however, wasn't subject to professorial whim, but was a basic and agreed-upon set.

That's no longer the case.

111. blowback - October 08, 2010 at 12:22 am

After spending some time reading most of the comments above I can only conclude that most of you seem not to be concerned with how poorly you come across as thoughtful thinkers at any level. These issues are too serious to have our time wasted by contributers pretending to be academics or college adiminstrators or whoever you think you are but who by the content of their thoughts betray themselves as nothing at all except individuals who direct their attacks against adjunct professors or tenured professors regardless of the analysis needed or the research and thinking demanded(that means you #70 and those who may share your views).

I cannot be the only one who is noting that this mindless debate has gone on for too long but based upon my reading of those above clearly few, if any, seem to have learned mush from your previous study of the matter. Therefore, let me raise what all of you seem to leave unaddressed.

Regardless of whether you seek to save tenure, change it, or reform it how do any of you expect to impose these changes? We do not have in the U.S a central authority in higher education that would have the power to impose any of the changes that all of you claim to want. One would have to negotiate those changes at each of the almost 4,500 non-profit colleges and community colleges in the USA. This of course is the reason that even after endless years of debate about reform in higher education nothing has changed. You will never get any change if we continue with the present decentralized system that provides no effective oversight over individual institutions. In light of how these instutions have treated both their adjunct and tenured faculty I think many would agree that they have given up any claim to be trusted. And in light of the recent charges against an director at St. John's U.(NYC) and last year's charges of corruption at the President and Board of Stevens I.T(NJ) we would be justified in concluding that higher education cannot police itself.

Therefore, consider this:
1. We will never get any reform in higher education unless we first accept that the present system is what enables all the wrongs and abuses that all of you above detail. Unless we have a central federal authority that can impose changes no change will come from individual institutions.
2. The present system is wasteful with too many weak instiutions and poorly run institutions whose only aim is to survive by any dishonest means. There is little difference between the predatory practices of for profit schools and non-profit colleges. They all use the same market driven lies to sell themselves--truth and honesty never seem to get factored in. There are too many needless duplications of programs by nearby schools who waste too much money trying to wage a costly marketing war for students. How many schools of education do we need in NYC! Or Nursing Schools! Or MBA Programs! Or Journalism Programs! The list goes on and on. Many programs at many schools have very few students in them but they are never closed. The attempt and failure to merge NYU Medical School and Mt.Sinai is a case study why change will only happen if it is imposed from the outside.
3. The problem with Prof. Nelson's position is that this is the very position that has created the very state of affairs that Prof. Nelson correctly seeks to reform. To state that there must be tenure or nothing at all is what has created the use of adjunct professors to the point that they now constitute almost 70% of those who teach in higher education. What is needed is an entirely new system that allows for full time & secure positions with free speech protections.
4. When any person looks at the ruined lives and futures of most adjunct professors who are not only paid slave wages so that students can get educated and corrupt instiutions can continue to exist but who when they attempt to apply for non-teaching positions at these same institutions are never interviewed or hired for low level adminstrative positions that can pay $45,000-55,000 per year then it becomes clear the utter contempt these insitutions have for the adjuncts who teach there. In the humanities, if one does not get an tenured track position within 3 years of graduating one is never likely to get one nor is one even allowed to apply for the few post-doctoral fellowships that may be available and of course it is next to impossible to be hired to an non-academic position because by the time one graduates you are way off the career track for any other kind of job.
5. Nothing is going to change in higher education when we still get from those in power from Obama on down the mystification of higher education that denies reality for mythology. Obama's shameful and empty Community College Summit in which calls for more students to attend college but then ignores the plight of the adjunct professor who will be doing most of the teaching is but another view to the bankrupt American ideology of free market capitalism, Wall Street Greed, Higher Education Malpractice. It takes many lies and ruined lives to keep the American Dream alive for the few and for those in power who like to use it to trick the masses into thinking that they have some share in it.
6. The recent NY Times article detailing the investment made by South Korea who built and funded a 900 acre educational campus to which they invited english speaking institutions to open schools from the grade school level to graduate schools and professional schools so as to provide their students and English education without leaving Korea shows an foresight that is completely absent from the American educational system. Or the fact that Canada can graduate a higher percentage of it students from college with the cost of most undergraduate programs at $6,000. So we in America can keep playing our games but the rest of the world is moving on.
7. Therefore, we can continue to have these meaningless debates about the American educational system which often seem to turn around the useless ideas of market capitalism that is of no interest to any one in the world except those who want to re-live the 19th century or those who want to cling to some version of the university that never was and that has long since gone. Because though the ideals of tenure are important to uphold what good will it be if the institutions that one is tenured in are collapsing all around one. In the meantime, the ranks of adjunct professors continues to increase, the ranks of tenured professors continues to decline, the cost of higher education continues to rise, and the ruined lives of adjuncts are mocked and belittled and their plight forever being ignored.

Change we can believe in? Now who said that?

112. raymond_j_ritchie - October 08, 2010 at 03:05 am

I think this article is very naive in places. It does point out that the vast majority of contact teaching in universites in the USA is done by adjuncts and casuals. These people have no protection of tenure. The situation in Australia is the same.
The reality is that most undergraduates have hardly any contact with tenured staff and so the institution of tenure is largely irrelevant to what students are taught or what can and cannot be discussed in the classroom.

Tenured staff nevertheless do help an educational institution to function as a university and not just as a school. A very positive role of tenured staff in my own experience has been that some of them will protect their casuals and adjuncts from attack by creationists, right-to-lifers, political loonies, vindictive students who keep notes on their teachers, harassment problems etc. No-one with a tenuous hold on a job can do that.

113. aisatu - October 08, 2010 at 08:57 am

Anyone who does not believe untenured faculty can and will be fired for publicizing unpopular research on powerful social institutions should look at Prof Ivor van Heerden's dismissal from LSU last year - apparently as a reprisal for criticizing the US Army Corps of Engineers.

It would seem that real democracy requires protected speech within universities as well as in the public square.

114. ursinus - October 08, 2010 at 09:24 am

Monster213 is absolutely right. The fact that some people (faculty or people in the street, or you, dear ladies and gentlemen) have little character and they do not uphold the truth and they don't take the risk to defend unpopular positions, has no connection with them having tenure or not having it.

115. intexas - October 08, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I'm baffled. Where are these people encountering bad, lazy, unreachable profs? I've been in academia for 16 years, both as a student and as a professor. Before that, I worked in the so-called "real world," from bartending to cleaning offices to secretarial positions. In other words, I've been around the block several times. But in my 16 years of academia, I have never, ever encountered a lazy, reclusive, unreachable, or bad professor. As a student, I didn't agree with them all, but I listened and identified a way to learn from our disagreements. Some might be eccentric or might not have the best social skills, but that doesn't mean they're bad teachers. Indeed, I've encountered more students who have far worse social skills, who engage in bullying, and who don't even bother to show up for class for 3/4 of the semester and wonder why they're failing. And how are "bad" professors defined? By not teaching what their students want to hear? I don't believe I lived in a bubble all my life and just gotten lucky. I keep hearing all of this BS about people in the "real world" being weeded out, while tenure protects us. Since when? Anyone bother to check what happened on Wall Street? THEY'RE bad, but most of them are still doing what they do best: serving themselves and getting paid zillions of dollars for it.

116. truthfirst - October 08, 2010 at 01:33 pm

Comment # 96 thank you for what you have said here. The professors who come in here with insults speak volumes about who they really are in life and in the classroom. The fact that many try to defend a system of education with attacks tell us there is a desire to draw attention away from the fact that highered needs to to be improved in the area of tenure and many others.

For the professors who feel they need to come in here and seek out ways to attack other
points of view I have a question for you. I have seen your discussions and long postings regarding
the issues. Some I agree with and some I do not. However, I have not seen viable solutions to the
problems our children are facing in the classroom. Politics is not the answer. So instead of attacking on this board why don't you suggest something that might help or improve the situation,
Again if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

Writing pages and pages of rhetoric which seeks to insult posters rather than address the
real issues of education is a trait we hope you avoid when teaching our children. So my
question is who do you pretend to be an educator or a person who is about simply demeaning
others. If the latter is so then this is what our children are talking about and it needs to
be removed from education period.

117. franklinfarmer - October 08, 2010 at 01:38 pm

# 111 blowback,

Why do you use the article "an" before words beginning with a consonant ("an director" etc.)?

You claim that the following is what all posters have not addressed:

We do not have in the U.S a central authority in higher education that would have the power to impose any of the changes that all of you claim to want. ...

Unless we have a central federal authority that can impose changes...

But my posts (#s 37 and 38) did address this. It is just as immoral to impose such changes as to confiscate the labor to create the system in which they are needed.

You accuse others of not thinking carefully enough, but turn around and join the mindless chorus which attempts to blame and malign "free market capitalism" without having ever seen it tried.

Speaking of showing "an foresight," please be aware that many of us who oppose an end to the slavery you blindly advocate are not interested in reliving the 19th century or any particular version of the university. We are interested in a greater degree of liberty. It may be the case that during the collapse to which you allude, some of the slaves may open their eyes to their condition as well. When that happens, may we then have the intellectual capital to put in place a better societal system, lest we replace what we have with something even worse.

118. stinkcat - October 08, 2010 at 01:45 pm


If you have never met the incompetent or insane professor in your time in academia, consider yourself lucky. In our college there are about 40 full time faculty. Of those there are probably 10% who can easily be classified as incompetent, with another 10% who are probably just overpaid and underworked. Does tenure protect these people? Absolutely. At my university I have seen people get paid a full salary and not be given any work to do because they were so incompetent.

119. intexas - October 08, 2010 at 02:15 pm


Actually, I deal with more insane, incompetent, and overpaid administrators than I do with faculty. By far.

120. intexas - October 08, 2010 at 02:24 pm

And I have to correct myself; apparently I have a short memory (I am getting older, but I'm still competent). I did encounter one REALLY bad professor. Tenured. But I understand that individual is now gone. I think it might have been such a bad experience that I blotted it from my memory. Still, that's only one (for now). I continue to stand on my comments about far too many administrators I've encountered. And I know there's a natural(?) antagonism between administrators and profs; while we share some of the same goals, we don't share enough. That's true for both sides.

121. newer - October 08, 2010 at 02:31 pm

I strongly agree with stinkcat. What he/she points out here is the exactly truth in academia. In a very great research university, some young MAs control the academic program and no any PhD who has rich research and teaching experiences is able to join the program. The academic program has become to MAs polical game. They are definately incompetent,but they are protect by tennue system.

122. stinkcat - October 08, 2010 at 04:39 pm

"Actually, I deal with more insane, incompetent, and overpaid administrators than I do with faculty. By far."

In my experience, administrators come from the lazy component of the faculty. Any faculty member with any ambition can make much more money consulting for businesses than they could as an administrator.

123. franklinfarmer - October 09, 2010 at 07:35 am

miswording in #117 last paragraph, first sentence:

"many of us who oppose the slavery..." (or "many of us who propose an end to the slavery...")

124. formerprof05 - October 09, 2010 at 11:16 am

Prof. Nelson's defense of tenure is so poorly argued as to be counterproductive. I'm astounded that a tenured, full professor of English and president of the AAUP can publish a piece so illogical and devoid of concrete evidence.

For example, the principle of academic freedom does not protect a faculty member who is insubordinate, who criticizes administrators, or who introduces material irrelevant to his/her discipline into the classroom. Thinkubus (#105) is correct that introducing discussion of Bush's tax cuts into a natural science class should not be protected by tenure. In fact, it isn't. But thinkubus is also correct in arguing for the importance of protecting risky or unpopular scientific research and well-founded scientific opinion.

Prof. Nelson's hauling out the tired "administrator vs. faculty" antagonism is also reprehensible. Most academic administrators are former faculty members, and most actually work longer hours for more weeks out of the year than do faculty. It is vital that well-meaning faculty and administrators in traditional institutions learn to cooperate more effectively. Otherwise, a new model of higher education, as seen in the for-profit sector, will become the norm whereby business-minded administrators will make all of the academic decisions, including curriculum, academic standards, and acceptable methods of delivering the educational "product." (Are we there already?)

Finally, a more important question facing universities today is the ratio of contingent to full-time, permanent faculty. Institutional continuity and retention of academic standards are threatened by the current trend. With growth of online instruction and the "granularization" and standardization of course content as exemplified by the for-profits, it cannot be long before actual instruction is outsourced to freelance "course facilitators" around the globe to the lowest bidder. (This has already happened in several other fields, such as software engineering, that require highly trained experts.)

Full-time faculty continue to regard themselves as autonomous individuals who, if tenured or tenure-track, can benefit from the current system. Adjunct faculty are beginning to work collectively for changes in their working conditions and pay, but full-time faculty are unlikely to join them. But the whole system is shaky. And I'm not sure that tenure is the right battle to fight right now.

Over the years, I worked for meaningful performance reviews of full-time, tenured faculty with actual consequences for satisfactory or substandard performance. I have seen that succeed in some cases. Something like that is needed to address the question of "deadwood"; Prof. Nelson is just wrong to state that no deadwood exists today. But whether lifetime appointment after only 6 years' probation is sustainable any longer is worth considering. Perhaps rolling 5-year contracts with specified performance reviews might be better. Just one suggestion from someone who can no longer be regarded as deadwood.

125. prof291 - October 09, 2010 at 01:40 pm

libartphil (98) is on target in likening tenure to partnership in a law firm. Such partnership models are common in professions such as medicine, architecture, engineering, finance, management consulting, and elsewhere. In other words, tenure isn't this weird arrangement that exists only in academia, and partners in these other areas can't be fired frivolously, have a stake in governance, and so on. I don't agree, though, that public universities are somehow different. The idea of a public university is to give students the advantages of more expensive education (however much they may fall short of this ideal) and if tenure is important to the conduct of a univesity it's important at all universities.

Like intexas (115), I've worked in the private sector and have studied and worked at four universities. I have never seen the so-called deadwood, with maybe one or two exceptions. What is a myth is the "rigor" of the private sector. John Silber, in his defense of tenure in his book Straight Shooting, convincingly rebuts that perception.

126. tomk3 - October 09, 2010 at 05:14 pm

The article is correct. The attack on tenure is ideological and is not an isolated effect but, rather, is part and parcel on the class warfare being waged on the middle class in the USA. There are no data indicating that tenure is a problem, but if it appears that any desirable position exists for anyone but a corporate executive, you can be sure that it will be attacked. A few points:

There is no, or very little, "dead wood". People go into academia because they love their work, and it is idiotic to think that drive turns off with tenure. My colleagues are almost all workaholics. Anyone talking about dead wood should document their claims or shut up.

New academic hires typically come from the very stratosphere of their graduate schools, but accept salaries much lower than those offered by corporations for comparable work, and less than half of what new lawyers in big firms get. The reason is love of the subject and the freedom offered by the university. Without tenure, salaries would have to rise to attract the same quality. Tenure is one reason why the best and the brightest work for peanuts. If anyone is concerned about costs, they should love tenure.

As someone else noted, the big increase in costs comes from the skyrocketing number of highly paid administrators. This is simply part of the corporatization of America, and is also part of the attack on tenure. Elite corporate administrators do not like having employees who can't be fired.

Academia is one of the few areas where the USA is still #1. The University is essential to the remaining strengths of our economy. For example, biotech was born in academia and still clusters around clusters of universities, which are where the drug pipeline starts. The universities have performed magnificently. Ever of hear of not fixing what ain't broke? By fooling around with tenure and imposing the corporate model, which has killed R&D in big pharma, the ideologues could kill the golden goose.

127. 12080243 - October 09, 2010 at 07:12 pm

What's all the fuss? There is no tenure! Here's an example of an end run around tenure that no one, not AAUP, not ACLU, not federal judges, not anyone will challenge. Administrators take action against a competent tenured full professor accused of being a "danger." Administrators get colleagues who have an ax to grind to cry loudly and emotionally, "s/he's a danger!"; not a shred of evidence is needed--that's right, no evidence required. Administrators may have learned this strategy when a competent tenured full professor called administrators to account for misconduct and in response of self preservation they tried the "danger" ploy. Who knows? Regardless of its origin, it works and is effectively employed. Administrators take swift action against the accused competent tenured full professor: s/he's a "danger!". Now, in the best interest of the Institution--"students and colleagues must be protected, we must err on the side of caution". Administrators ban competent tenured full professor, isolate the troublemaker; ergo, tenure is irrelevant, problem solved, the professor's gone. Competent full professor pleas to AAUP, ACLU, etc. The AAUP will run scared, ACLU does the same, etc. Even experts will advise there are no criteria for identifying someone will be a danger. And they will not risk their careers with a professional judgment that competent full professor is not a danger.

"Dangerous" competent full professor requests a formal hearing? Administrators ignore it. There is no due process. S/he's a "danger!" There is in effect no tenure. And here's the kicker, competent tenured full professor doesn't have to be a critic of administrators or colleagues. All that's needed are colleagues and administrators who lie. Easy.

Worry not, if you think that strategy can't be employed very often. The "danger" ploy is far from the only administrative strategy to easily dispose of competent tenured faculty. Think for a few minutes and you'll come up with several ploys. Besides, administrators who so easily dispose of one faculty member will scare the rest--or at least the vast majority-- into lock step wishes of administrators. Tenure? The word exists, it's existence doesn't. The discussion of tenure is a delusion.

128. 3224243 - October 11, 2010 at 09:30 am

Of course the president of AAUP is expected to defend tenure. Bah!

129. cassadia - October 11, 2010 at 07:02 pm

One day my son, then a college freshman, came home to tell me that his history "professor" had explained that the Founding Fathers put "In God We Trust" on the country's first currency because of their commitment to the country as a Christian nation.

In many a sense, this monumental ignorance was not a direct result of the "professor" being an adjunct. I'm sure if you looked hard enough could find a tenured professor equally unqualified to teach history.....

Nonetheless, since tenure remains the primary designator of "competence" in the university after graduation, it is really the very least we can do.

130. peaceout - October 23, 2010 at 11:52 am

Once again an occupant of the Ivory Towers advocates for his own job security and thinks he should be able to be locked into a steady income (on the backs of his students and government subsidies) until death. Nice. There's little about these arguments that couldn't be applied to: military officers, government workers, corporate management, ... even tradesmen. If this is such a great idea and system, why don't you see it widely employed in all career fields? Much of it is based upon what you expec from a college education/univeristy. If you think a degree should mean preparation for meaningful productivity in society, then these arguments have little weight. If you expect a degree means being exposed to a whole mess of ideaology and is more about programming a mind than preparing for a career, then tenure might be best. Let the marketplace sort this out, not the unions. Colleges that want to be idealogically based, let them do the tenure-thing. Those that are more concerned about actually returning productive members of society that will increase out standards of living should be free from pressure to grant life-time contracts to unproductive professors. I know that is a bit of a dog-eat-dog situation, but ... Hey! Guess what? That's how all the rest of us out here live. It's be nice to flush the Ivory Towers out and let them live in the real world, being accountable for what they do, say, and teach. Accountability - what a concept!

131. peaceout - October 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm

12080243: Let me get this right. The people responsible for the operation of the school ("The Administration")don't want the professor there, colleagues don't want the professor there (so much so that they will alledgely "lie" to remove him/her), apparently no equally loud gaggle of colleagues rises up to protect him/her, and you think that professor should be allowed to stay? Amazing. You guys really do live in an alternate reality.

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