Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mike the Mad Biologist has a good post on tenure

I don't have time to discuss it now, but if you're following the discussion, you should check it out.

1 comment:

  1. Disclosure: I'm a tenured professor.

    I read Mike the Mad Biologist's post, and he certainly points up the persistent need to protect academic discourse from McCarthyite trends.

    But perhaps tenure is not the way to do it. Many universities have a large corps of aging faculty who are drawing salaries. Most of us tend to become less productive (as measured by grant revenues we generate, or by contributions to the institutional missions) after a certain age. (Another disclosure: I'm close to 70 years old.) It is not a viable business model to guarantee lifetime employment to people who have demonstrated that their marginal product is less than they earn and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

    My own institution is in dire financial straits, and can continue to offer me employment only because we have been absorbed by another organization with deeper pockets. In the long run, though, we cannot have job security if we are draining the financial blood from our institutions. (Note: I am not claiming that paying unproductive tenured faculty caused our institution's problems--just that financially troubled institutions can no more meet these obligations than underfunded pensions can support retirees.)

    Some institutions are already re-defining tenure in ways that condition it on continuing productivity. Other institutions stare at the future and are simply denying tenure and promotions to people well-qualified for their desired ranks simply to avoid taking on unsustainable financial commitments.

    It may be that some institutions are badly managed financially and need to be shaken up in some way. But given the bulging demographics of baby-boomer professor like me who, for various reasons, are not inclined to retire, we have to at least consider the possibility that tenure as a whole may be on its way to the dustbin of history.

    Other types of policies can be put in place that will largely assure that dismissals from the senior ranks of academia are based solely on productivity matters, and not as payback for unpopular speak. We should all be looking into how best to do that now.