Thursday, June 11, 2015

Josh Marshall on Scott Walker's anti-tenure push

I've got to get out the door, so I don't have time to dig into this question, but many reform advocates such as Jonathan Chait have argued in very broad terms that educational systems which grant increased job security based on seniority only attract deadwood; good, productive academicians have no interest  in tenure since they would always be the last to be fired.

If this is true, why haven't elite private schools replaced tenure with a bonus system?

From TPM:
So I want to take a look at a different part of this. The crown jewel of the Wisconsin university system is the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It is one of the top research universities in the country and the world. And with this, you will basically kiss that jewel goodbye. To me this is the more salient reality than whether you think academic tenure is a good thing or not in itself.

If this happens, over time, the professors who can will leave. And as the top flight scholars and researchers depart, so will the reputation of the institution. So will graduate students who want to study with them, the best undergrads, money that flows to prestigious scholarship. Don't get me wrong. Not in a day or a year or even several years. But it will. If you don't get this, you don't understand the economy and incentive structure of university life.

Over the last couple decades, especially in the humanities, we've seen develop what increasingly looks like an aristocracy of tenure. The lucky PhDs land tenure and they've got a pretty good gig. In some cases they have a great gig. But the system is sustained by an army of TAs, adjuncts, other non-tenure track positions and assistant professors fighting for tenure. In some cases realistically, in some cases not at all realistically, all those folks are fighting for the hope of landing tenure at some point. Take that away and the whole system of sweated academic labor comes crashing down.

But again, that's bigger picture. Let's look at the medium picture. Take tenure out of the University of Wisconsin and the people who can will - over time - leave. If we had a single national system, that would be one thing, as it would effect all equally. And the departees wouldn't have any place to go. But it won't. Private universities, with the most outrageously high tuitions, will not do this. And the top academics will go there. The net effect of all this will be to kill off or bleed dry great state universities which are yes, still pricey, but not as crazy expensive and hard to get into as the prestige private universities.

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