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August 13, 2009, 04:00 PM ET

Start Making Plans -- Tenure Is Dying

Several weeks ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rob Jenkins discussed threats for tenure at community colleges. He has good reason to do so, because tenure has no future. In fact, tenure has been declining for a long, long time. Professors with tenure haven’t been fired, to be sure, but when tenured profs have retired, the administration hasn’t replaced them with tenure-track lines. It’s a simple process of attrition, and because the remaining professors keep their tenure, they aren’t inclined to raise a ruckus.

The numbers are obvious and clear, but let’s review them again.

If you’re a dean with a tight budget, when a senior professor retires, it opens up a nice pile of cash. What do you do with it? You could hire a tenure-track assistant professor at $40,000-a-year salary plus $10,000 in benefits. From that hire you would get anywhere from four to six courses a year, if you work at a research institution. That comes to $8k-12K per course.

Or, you could take that $50,000 and offer the department adjunct lines that would pay $3k-4K per course.

What will the dean do? Perhaps if the department on campus has enough prestige and power, the dean will provide the tenure-track line. But on many campuses today, humanities departments (and perhaps many “softer” social-science departments) simply don’t matter that much to the overall reputation of the school. And they don’t bring in much money, either. The percentage of students who want to major in them keeps dropping, and they certainly don’t please parents who just want their kids to get a well-paying job after graduation. Furthermore, campuses have a ready pool of part-timers willing to labor for the pittance.

So if dollars are all on the side of adjuncts, the only recourse is the institutional damage the loss of this or that tenure slot will do. Will the dean really worry, though, that not replacing a senior 18th-century British literature scholar will cost the university in U. S. News & World Report?

No, but if not, however, nothing will ensure the survival of tenure in the next 20 years, especially if money remains tight. Tenure won’t go away, not that quickly, but it will occupy a smaller portion of the faculty and of the campus.


1. lheywood - August 14, 2009 at 06:04 am

If the above is the case, I am wondering what will provide motivation for graduate students to complete Ph.D programs if there isn't the promise of an eventual tenured job associated with it? Job security has traditionally been one of the main motivators, because salary scales most often lag behind those associated with jobs outside of academia.

2. neniaf - August 14, 2009 at 08:09 am

Dr. Bauerlein's analysis is far too simplistic. As a dean, my goal is not only to get the most for my budget in the short run, but to ensure the continuation of that budget money over the course of years. No one gives me a huge pot of undedicated money; everything is attached to a budget line, and one of the most sacrosanct of these is the one for full-time faculty salaries. If I argue to transfer an amount from the full-time faculty budget to the adjunct budget, it becomes much more vulnerable in the event of future cuts. So in the current budget situation faced by most deans today, if faced by a pressing need for additional faculty in a certain area, I know that no argument for a new tenure-track faculty line would work on my superiors, and I am likely to support any expansion through the use of adjuncts alone (which then gives me an eventual argument to replace those adjuncts with a full-time faculty member when the economy improves). But were a faculty member to retire, would I argue to replace that individual with adjuncts, which would give me more teaching (and only teaching) "bang for my buck"? Not on your life! I would be seriously risking the reallocation of my funds to another area of the institution the following year were I to do so!

3. lsdeprez - August 14, 2009 at 08:20 am

Might I suggest that everyone read Martha Nussbaum's "Education for Profit, Education for Freedom" in the AAC&U Liberal Education, vol 95, No 3, 2009 ... we must not shortchange the importance of education as the mechanism for a "more inclusive type of citizenship." As a democracy, we cannot afford some of the "efficiencies" that are being promoted across the country!

4. joelcairo - August 14, 2009 at 08:22 am

I wonder if Bauerlein's predictions will hold true for all but the most elite institutions. The most elite institutions like to hold on to their tenured faculty in the humanities and "soft" sciences for window dressing, if nothing else. These faculty may not bring in money to the university in the way of grants, but their reputations and the type of research they do will likely continue to allow these institutions to persuade parents that their kids will get a well-rounded liberal arts education, even as they are prepared for high-paying jobs.

5. smstreet - August 14, 2009 at 08:22 am

This is precisely why tenured faculty should fight as hard for adjunct equity as they do for new lines in their own department or for tenure itself: if schools had to pay that proportional 8-12K per course to adjuncts instead of the 3-4K estimated* here, they'd have no incentive to replace tenured faculty with adjunts. In fact, in light of the losing battles "for a long, long time" sketched here, tenure's best hope is in extending it to adjuncts, its credentials and requirements as well as its perks, remuneration, and academic freedom. Otherwise what's to keep that last from dwindling further? *And overestimated, BTW: many adjuncts in humanities departments, especially in c.c.s, are lucky if they make HALF this estimate -- further incentive for abuse.

6. scriptez - August 14, 2009 at 08:30 am

What about accreditation standards? Isn't there a ratio of full-time to adjunct that must be maintained?

7. markbauerlein - August 14, 2009 at 09:18 am

I defer to dean neniaf's description here, but his remark about the transfer from tenure-track to adjunct being a losing argument begs a question: How is it, then, that the percentage of classes being taught by adjuncts, not regular faculty, has climbed so high and fast in recent years?

8. rightwingprofessor - August 14, 2009 at 09:18 am

smstreet, There are hoardes of qualified adjuncts waiting to teach for $3-4K/course, what could possibly "force" a university to double that pay for no reason? Is that a wise use of budget dollars?

9. drj50 - August 14, 2009 at 09:34 am

scriptez: No regional accrediting body I know of prescribes a particular ratio of faculty members -- full-time to part-time or permanent to adjunct. Schools simply have to demonstrate that their faculty resources are appropriate for their mission and programs -- and they have a fair degree of latitude in how they do that. If the school can demonstrate that students are acquiring the knowledge and skills that their school and their professions expect, the school is in pretty good shape.

10. rlpeterson - August 14, 2009 at 09:44 am

lheywood wonders about this trend will effect the motivation of graduate students to complete Ph.D programs. A glut of Ph.Ds in the job market is part of the problem. I am realying only on personal experience, but in my experience, it's easy to find qualified Ph.Ds willing to fill adjunct positions. When there are a hundred qualified applicants for every full-time position eager to get any job at practically any salary, it is to be expected that the salaries will be low. Let's face it, higher education in America produces far more Ph.Ds than the available pool of full-time faculty jobs. We use graduate students for cheap labor, and we turn them out into a job market that doesn't justify the investment they've made in their educations.

11. wartburg - August 14, 2009 at 10:01 am

I didn't get my PhD for guaranteed full-time work. Like any potential employee, I knew I would have to excel to find the right job and continue to excel to keep the right job. Tenure only rewards people for the work they did rather than the work they do. I view tenure as a gift, because I do not need it to stay employed, yet I'd be foolish to refuse it. But even without it, my value is determined primarily by what I'm worth in a free market, something which I influence by my output, not by an antiquated guild system. The adjunct problem is often the result of unwise career choices, entering an overcrowded discipline and then whining forever that the system is unfair. Don't pursue a doctorate in English unless you are in the top echelons of supply. Choose a field with sufficient demand, or do something else with your brain.

12. garlanjc - August 14, 2009 at 10:20 am

Mark Bauerlein correctly describes a trend to replece tenured faculty with inexpensive adjunct faculty and, like many of the prior commenters, I lament this trend. However, to reverse it will require addressing the fundamental and unstoppable economic forces that are driving it. Appeals based on maintaining academic quality, or unionizing adjunct faculty, or lobbying administrators, etc., do not do this and will not work. The fact is that universities, colleges, and community colleges don't have the money to maintain their tenured ranks. Furthermore, state treasuries don't have the money to bail them out. In my opinion, the only way to stop this unfortunate trend is (1) to overhaul the basic economic structure of colleges and universities, and (2) to get serious about improving productivity and efficiency on campuses. This second step would require significant changes in the academic culture and its traditons, which many would find distasteful. The alternative, however, is to watch one's school slowly deteriorate and die. The disappearance of tenure is merely a symptom of this larger problem.

13. bphil - August 14, 2009 at 10:38 am

Bauerlein relies on two faulty assumptions. The first he has repeated elsewhere and should probably be expunged from his repetoire of faulty assumptions: enrollment in humanities disciplines is not in any sort of precipitous decline when measured against historical averages. The post-war peaks make current numbers look bad, and recent declines may have to do with perceptions of market "glut" and poor job prospects. But even so, the connection between these numbers and the debate over tenure is tenuous and in some ways contradictory: declining enrollment should lead to a reduced dependence on teaching, not an increase in adjuncts. Even if the numbers are an accurate reflection of some sea-change, they aren't anything a little investment in higher ed. can't fix. The argument for that investment is as lsdeprez suggests above: civic responsiblity and the future of democracy. The other faulty assumption--this one on a more speculative plain-- is that modes of teaching will continue as they have, and therefore that the cost per course will remain the same into the future. It will not. As much as I shudder to say it, tenured profs will have to teach more students at the introductory level. And they should: I do not agree that there are "hoardes" of "qualified" adjuncts available to the average public institution. There may be "hoardes" of adjuncts, but the experience of a good course with a tenured research prof willing to spend time with undergraduates--assuming that prof cares about teaching--is qualitatively different. Retention figures reflect that difference. Developing teaching as a cousin of scholarship will serve students and institutions far better than the abandonment of tenure, and increasing revenues from better teaching of more students will take the bogus complaint about faculty non-work off the table.

14. rightwingprofessor - August 14, 2009 at 10:45 am

"There may be "hoardes" of adjuncts, but the experience of a good course with a tenured research prof willing to spend time with undergraduates--assuming that prof cares about teaching--is qualitatively different. Retention figures reflect that difference." This is certainly true, but this is relevant to the decision of whether to hire tenure track faculty or adjuncts. The arguments for both are well-known to all of us. Regardless, once an administration has reached a decision on the mix it desires, there is no reason to pay either TT faculty or adjuncts more than the market demands. There is no valid argument for retaining adjuncts but paying them double what they are willing to work for, this is just fiscal recklessness.

15. dank48 - August 14, 2009 at 11:28 am

I don't think it's entirely inappropriate in a discussion like this to point out that it's "hordes," for God's sake. I hope to heaven you guys aren't English professors. Would you go back to a doctor who diagnosed you as having the flew? Would you take your kid to such a doctor? The comment about the number of Ph.D.s out there compared to the number of available academic positions is accurate, if depressing. But I can't help wondering about the widely accepted notion that academic salaries lag behind those outside academia. Not everyone in the real world is or has been raking it in, now or before the economic rought patch we're in right now. And tenure is unknown unless your last name is on the building. Somehow I doubt that the rosy view looking out is much more realistic than the rosy view looking in.

16. dank48 - August 14, 2009 at 11:29 am

Rough. And no, I'm not either.

17. uncste - August 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

The institution of tenure has yet to prove its usefulness in terms of the public interest. Very rarely does it protect free speech, but it surely protects the lazy and the corrupt. While it is great to have job security (especially now), the long-term interest of our profession is to eliminate tenure, and rely on the regular ways of protecting ourselves against arbitrary and unfair treatment by employers. No other profession has anything like that, and many do OK. We spend the highest proportion of GDP on education (about 6%, half of what we spend on health care). And while American universities have a great reputation, there is very little actual evidence to back it up. We need to start measuring how well we teach, rather than worrying about dying institutions. Tenure makes universities rigid, unable to change quickly, and unwilling to prove their effectiveness.

18. 11134078 - August 14, 2009 at 01:37 pm

If Great Britain had had tenure in the mid-nineteenth century, "The Origin of the Species" might well have been written by a tenured Professor Darwin. As it is ...

19. 11152886 - August 14, 2009 at 01:52 pm

There is a difference between "willing to work for" and "forced to work for to survive." This is from the politics, economies, attitudes (and resultant inequities between adjuncts and full-time faculty) espoused by college administrations that fall back on adjuncts to fill the ranks.

20. applicative - August 14, 2009 at 02:15 pm

Bauerlein is probably right in his prophecies, but I think it is mostly due to the way politics have gone in the last 30 years. What goes missing in this sort of tempest-in-a-teapot, is how little the humanities 'tenured professoriat' actually costs. I investigated this in the case of my own university a couple of years ago -- I had read something about how all the professors are leftwingers and thought: well, how much would it cost to give the rightwingers their own parallel departments? The answer was that the salaries of tenure and tenure stream humanities professors - the general Idea of the Professor in a certain kind of critical mind - account for 0.8% of the total university budget. This is 1.4% of what is called 'operational revenue - instructional'. So frankly, I doubt that more savings could be milked from this. (But more optimistically -- this was my original concern, not relevant here -- we could save the Universities from cranky politicians and editorialists by making conservative mirror humanities departments; this could be covered by secreting an extra 3 or 4% bump in tuition over and above the usual mysterious bumps... No one would even notice it.) Though my university is a state university, the data have been made surprising hard to collect. The university doesnt publish them, but a committee of the legislature does. I post the relevant bits and associated calculations at:

21. markbauerlein - August 14, 2009 at 02:38 pm

Wrong, bphil, majors are indeed slipping in the humanities. Back in the mid-60s, 7.5 percent of all degrees went to English, and 2.9 percent to foreign languages. By 2004, we were at 3.75 and 1.05.

22. smstreet - August 15, 2009 at 07:31 am

To rightwingprofessor's query about "what could possibly" force an admin to treat adjuncts equitably: concern for education?

23. dill7850 - August 15, 2009 at 01:53 pm

Re: wartburg: "I view tenure as a gift, because I do not need it to stay employed ... "

Here's hoping you will not have to eat those words for breakfast one day. Your absence of need is positioned inside already-secured needs, leading one down the path of not taking your argument very seriously; especially as it concerns adjuncts who are "whinning forever."

24. cwinton - August 15, 2009 at 03:35 pm

As one who position was threatened by an academic VP I had the temerity to argue with, I would find it hard to denigrate the value of tenure. Sure, there are bad eggs who abuse the privilege, and I would hope the tenure review procedures being adopted by many institutions would ferret them out. My private sector experiences have demonstrated the gold bricks manage better there than in academia, incidentally. At the extreme end we have recently witnessed manifest incompetence on Wall Street rewarded with unbelievable payoffs. The tenure system should evolve rather than be eliminated. It would help a lot if fewer institutions offered Ph.D. programs, many of which are quite questionable. It would also help if we made it tougher to obtain graduate degrees. I once heard that offering an MA thesis-based program was like offering a cadillac in a volkswagon market. Why? Because any number of schools were awarding Masters degrees as consolation prizes for those they didn't want pursuing Ph.D.'s. You reap what you sow.

25. englishprofann - August 16, 2009 at 06:14 pm

With all due respect, you don't seem to realize the role that tenure plays in departmental power on a campus. Deans sometimes fight hard to add a tenure track position to the department, and I do not know of a single dean who would prefer to parcel out what was once a tenured professor's courses to adjuncts. That assumes adjuncts would even have the specific expertise to teach the courses the just-retired professor was responsible for. I'm afraid after reading your article, I see nothing related to the reality of life on college campuses in what you've said. Tenure positions give a department heft. Unless directed to drop that tenured position by the president, which would augure ill for that department, there is no intelligent dean who would, of his or her own volition, eliminate the very kind of tenured post that so many fight hard to gain for a department. Plus, managing several adjuncts (who often bounce around and leave) to one stable, dependable tenured professor is not much of a comparison. The tenured professor will become a colleague, a potential dept. chair, lending time-consuming service as required to the college community by sitting on committees, helping admissions through tours and interviews, etc., serving as a publishing academic role model. We just cannot expect this of adjuncts. Tenure is not dying. In fact, I have seen tenured positions added rapidly in the community college world to accommodate exploding student populations, despite the wide pool of adjuncts. Deans are smart -- they don't want the insecurity of relying too heavily upon the more mobile, less invested adjunct population. Tenure stabilizes a college. Loss of it completely destabilizes the college learning community (who is teaching that course next fall? I don't know -- we'll see which adjuncts are free, I guess!?) and is the first step in a dying college. Tenure will always be a sign of the health of a college community.

EnglishProf Ann

26. bphil - August 16, 2009 at 09:57 pm

Sorry to return to the issue, but if I don't it will appear as if the statisticts in M. Bauerlien's reply carry the argument. The claim is that the humanities are in some sort of precipitous decline, and I called that a bad assumption. MB replies with statistics about English and Foreign Language degrees since the 60's. But my point was that we need to look at the data AFTER the '60's, during which you find relative stability in the number of degrees granted in the humanities. I hate to do it, but I'll have to say I'm convinced by Berube on this point. Take it up with him. The numbers are woefully low, but so are salaries for tenured profs (as a number of commentators point out). I just don't see the reason for the crisis mentality on anyone's part. And EnglishProf Ann is exactly right: tenured profs save the institution money and boost retention. When they're good tenured profs, that is. I suppose we can agree that only good profs should be tenured.

As for the "hoardes" upon hordes of qualified (i.e. competent Ph.D) adjuncts, it just isn't the case. The problem is that you can't assume that a glut of PhDs automatically entails that there are tons of qualified adjuncts. First, the ones who are out of work might be so for a reason. Second, out of work Ph.D's can get other jobs, leaving lesser qualified MA students, ABD's, and others to pick up the part time teaching. Things might be different in a place like Berkely or New York, or in places where adjunct contracts and hiring rules are liberal and rewarding (non-union houses), but I suspect most of us are, as a colleague put it in a meeting the other day, "pullin' people off the streets" to teach classes.

I suspect that if tenure is eroding, it is eroding for political reasons. That is, it is threatened because of a general lapse in commitment to broader goals of a liberal arts education. If MB's assumption about statistics is correct, we'll see small upticks in tenured faculty with corresponding upticks in humanities majors. But that's exactly what we do not see, much to our frustration. As an entrepreneur told me once, "nobody in my office has tenure. Why should you?" Fight that one.

27. djjrjr - August 16, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Well, Bauerlien's description of dean-think does fit what I've seen among numerous small-minded administrators who have fundamental lack of understanding of how education happens. We've all seen the type: the second-rate teacher or unproductive scholar who failed to get tenure and so decided to "go into administration" and then worships at the alter of higher-ed conferences where jumping on the latest bandwagon is the major source of rewards.

The lesson, for me, is to pay close attention when your institution is hiring deans and deanlets.

28. applicative - August 16, 2009 at 10:51 pm

I think the reasoning of bphil and englishprofann is impeccable and that there should be no 'reason for the crisis mentality.' That is: we shouldn't be expecting the replacement of tenured humanities profs, since they are so incredibly cheap and do the place nothing but good, while the savings from replacing 10 of them with adjuncts is the equivalent of replacing the jerseys for the football team or a building a new rock-climbing structure in the student union. In fact, as I suggested, to double the size of the humanities professoriat would (at this point when there are so many super-exploited adjuncts) have a negligible impact on the bottom line at large state universities.

But in fact we do have piles of adjuncts who are de facto replacements for tenured faculty. And surely Bauerlein is right that what we have seen in the past we should expect in the future. His mistake (I think) is to find economic rationality in this. But just as a half-baked socialistic common sense can lead to absurd unintended consequences, so it is with half-baked standard-economic common sense. This doesn't stop people from falling for the dictates of these common senses; and we know which of these common senses is most likely found, for example in trustees and suchlike people, and which of them has been more prevalent in the last 30 years or so. So we can expect them to continue to gut humanities departments and substitute cheap adjuncts and drag the institutions they are charged to protect into the ground. They will do this on the strength of what seem to be impeccable economic grounds.

The only thing that could change this, as bphil says, would be a general alteration in political ideas, and ideas about education, universities and so forth. Here too, I think Bauerlein goes wrong by accepting an a priori about what is possible, that the still-prevailing 'neo-liberal' atmosphere is the only possible one, and that there is no alternative an so forth. We know this is false because it has been otherwise at other times and is otherwise elsewhere. This is the sort of a priori characteristic of New York Times journalists, which entails that actually post-war France (say), didn't and doesn't exist. But that it will continue to be held is probably true, so all of Bauerlein's prophecies will come true and in twenty or thirty years' time our universities will be the equivalent of our rust belt cities.

29. markbauerlein - August 16, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Here are the numbers I've seen, bphil.

In the mid-60s, English was at 7.59 percent. By the early-80s it dropped to 3.7 percent, then it rose up to 4.7 percent in a few years, and now it's back down to 3.7 percent. The only way you can say we are flat "AFTER" the 1960s is to select the early-80s as your comparison.

30. kmellendorf - August 17, 2009 at 10:22 am

Everthing changes. Everything should change. I have seen little argument for the reasons behind tenure, other than that it is the current way and that we like it. Be more logical. Tenure offers several advantages to the college, provided it is used wisely.
--Tenure provides an opportunity for educational development. I can try new methods without having to get signatures at four different levels. I can grade my students as I see fit, and yet can help them acquire a wide range of skills in the process.
--Tenure allows for a smaller salary. Without tenure, I would push harder for more pay. The freedom to develop in my own ways and then to share my growth with others is worth a significant amount of money.
--Tenure breeds reliability. I have observed deans go through the frustration of losing part-time instructors at the last minute. Part-time professors are seldom available for tasks beyond teaching their classes, and rightly so. Should a new section be needed in a semester, a part-time instructor cannot be assigned "overtime" to compensate for the problem.

So long as tenure is treated as more than just job security at a college, as more than just something an instructor gets just because he is full-time, it can prove quite useful to that college.

31. gadget - August 17, 2009 at 11:10 am

My experience as a student is that tenure track instructors are the hardest working and bring the most to the classroom. They don't have tenure yet, but the reward is there for them. So could we just have tenure track faculty? Keep moving the rabbit out of reach?

32. drgarysgoodman - August 17, 2009 at 11:27 am

Tenure is social security for the thinking class.

33. applicative - August 17, 2009 at 12:23 pm

drgarysgoodman: You might as well say: "Partnership in a law firm is social security for the litigating class". "College" means a collegium or coll├Ęge of teachers (teaching monks). The teachers simply *are* the college; it is nothing but them. To construe the relation as one of ordinary employment is a corruption; but it was an inevitable consequence of the development of the law of corporations in the 19th century. The system of "tenure", ridiculously so called, was simply an attempt to maintain the old order in the new legal environment.
Just as there can be no law firm without partners, but only contract workers, so it is plain that there can be no college where the so-called teaching institution has no teaching members, but only employees by contract.
Thus the tendency Bauerlein rightly notices is for the self-destruction of colleges, and universities, which are unions of colleges. It will inevitably come to pass, but the suggestion that it is a good thing, implicit in your argument, would need a bit of argument.

34. applicative - August 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm

That is, Bauerlein's essay should be entitled: "Start making plans, colleges and universities are dying."

35. davi2665 - August 17, 2009 at 01:24 pm

The existence of tenure has distorted academia for decades. Tenure has become the ultimate end towards which most academics strive. It promotes selfishness, a focus on individual grants and publication rather than teamwork and collaborative projects, causes professors to pursue their own research at the expense of teaching and other academic contributions, and it produces a stressful environment from the single-minded obsession to obtain it. And tenure certainly does not benefit the university that is often stuck for decades with expensive tenured "dead wood" contributing little to discovery and innovation from scholarship. I believe that tenure should be replaced with renewable 5 year contracts. And, by the way, I feel strongly enough about this that I have refused the offer of tenure as a full professor with millions of dollars in grant money. Many medical schools have created a good alternative, given that tenure is a policy at their institution, and nothing short of a revolution would remove it; they simply grant tenure for the position, but do NOT guarantee full salary with it. There is a guaranteed salary (minimal) and an authorized salary (to be provided by extramural funding). Failure to maintain scholarship and fundability results in a tenured position with virtually no salary- a great solution.

In the real world, entrepreneurs and high level leaders have few guarantees, certainly not "tenure." They have the right to fail and become unemployed, and they must never get complacent or they may find themselves replaced. If faculty really want security, they should use their intellectual capabilities to generate intellectual property that will give them real security, permitting them to pursue whatever they want, with or without the backing of a university. Tenure is a sizable part of the problem, certainly not a solution.

36. mistreatedprof - August 17, 2009 at 02:00 pm

Many of the contributors to this blog have made some good points. Few of them, however, have brought out the real merit of tenure and the advantage it offers to the education system. The recent postings from "applicative" to start to address these aspects. As the latter contributor states, a college essentially is its faculty of teachers. Tenure is supposed to provide protection of those teachers from arbitrary actions by the college administrators. It is supposed to allow the faculty body itself to regulate the actions of its individual members. The administrations at many colleges and universities seem to have adopted a "business model" where the bottom line is the overriding consideration. In some cases, it seems that officers of the administration no longer really care about the quality of education, so long as their institution remains in the black. They certainly pay little attention to the concept of academic freedom.
Previous contributors have also focused most of their attention on the disappearance of tenure at community colleges and smaller institutions. Most emphasis has also been on faculty in the humanities.
My experience at a state university suggests that this problem is much more widespread. This seems to apply particularly in some of the Southern states. In Mississippi, for example, I know personally about four tenured professors that have lost their jobs within the past few years as a result of unsubstantiated allegations against them. All four were full professors with good records of research and/or teaching; none could be considered as lazy or merely occupying their positions. Three of these instances have occurred at the same university. I also have less extensive knowledge about another four cases at two other state universities in Mississippi.
In each case that I have extensive knowledge about, the administration of the university made a decision to fire the professor after someone made an allegation against him or her. The problem is that the decision was made either without anything more than a perfunctory investigation into the veracity of the allegation or with such a biased investigation that it was meaningless. For example, in two cases where the professors were alleged to have committed research fraud, a subsequent investigation by the federal agency that funded them found no evidence whatsoever to support the allegations and vindicated them completely. This did not, however, result in a reversal of the university's decision to fire them.
My knowledge of these cases suggests that once the administration decides that a professor should be fired, despite a lack of any credible evidence to support the decision, they are going to stick with that decision come hell or high water. The concept of tenure is supposed to protect individual professors from such actions by the administration, but it seems to be meaningless at the state universities in Mississippi because they only pay lip service to the concept of tenure. The administrators have no qualms about riding roughshod over the due process rights of a tenured faculty member. They arrange what is effectively a kangaroo court to evaluate any grievances that a tenured faculty member may have over an unjustified firing. Just to be on the safe side, they also ensure that the administrative head can overrule the recommendation of any internal hearing without even giving a reason. The universities also effectively have the system's Board of Trustees "in their pocket", so they no there will be no real oversight into what they have done.
The behavior of such administrations should be anathema to anyone who has a real concern about quality education. It means that it is risky for individual faculty members to challenge anything that occurs at their institutions. It also makes bodies such as a Faculty Senate essentially meaningless in terms of contributing to the governance of the institutions. These bodies are allowed to exist simply to give the appearance of a properly functioning institution. The same applies to the Faculty & Staff Handbook at these institutions. It is designed to give the appearance that the rights of faculty members are respected. However, the apparent protections for the faculty are simply disregarded when that suits the interests of the administration.
Tenure is a very important concept because it provides the basis for a healthy relationship between the faculty and administrators at a college or university. It ensures that the administration pays more than lip service to the idea of shared governance. Without tenure, or in those institutions in Mississippi where tenure has no real meaning to the administration, litigation is the only recourse available to a faculty member who is fired without justification. Not only is this very time-consuming and costly to the faculty member, it is also costly and potentially damaging to the institution. Do administrators really want their abuses of power to be brought out in open court? This seems to be the only solution to the problems at Mississippi universities, but let's hope it won't become pervasive everwhere else too.

37. applicative - August 17, 2009 at 05:32 pm


Why do we never read this, which is the same as what you wrote, *mutatis mutandis*:

> "The existence of partners has distorted the practice of law for decades. "Making partner" has become the ultimate end towards which most lawyers strive. It promotes selfishness, a focus on individual ... uh, cases? ... rather than teamwork and collaborative projects, causes lawyers to pursue a limited range of objectives at the expense of the whole range that are appropriate to legal practice, and it produces a stressful environment from the single-minded obsession to obtain it. And making partner certainly does not benefit the firm that is often stuck for decades with expensive partnered "dead wood" contributing little to the practice of law. I believe that partnership should be replaced with renewable 5 year contracts."

The first question will be: who are the contracts going to be contracts with? I guess a legal 'corporation.' Do your principles require that it be publicly traded? Are the lawyer-employees going to be granted shares, or will that be forbidden on principle?

Nor does anyone write:

> In the real world there are entrepreneurs and high level leaders have few guarantees; they certainly never "make partner".

Nor do they write:

> "I feel so strongly about this [exalted principle] that I refused to become a senior partner at a famous law firm with a zillion dollar collective action case, preferring to be a contract employee with a 5 year term"

They do not write this, I humbly suggest, because it is surrealist nonsense.

If that's right, then, translated back into the academic context - that is, into just what you wrote - it would seem on its face to be 'nonsense upon stilts'.

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