Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Problem with Tenure

I'm not totally against tenure in principle, but in practice it has become a major source of problems in academia. Check this out:

4 comments:

Marcus Maher said...

I don't know. I didn't think she had much to say that was helpful. Yes there are problems with the tenure system, but not spending enough time teaching undergrads isn't the problem. I think she just doesn't like and/or understand the university system period. She sees little or no value in research. She wants to cast a very different picture of what the university looks like, and taking away tenure is just a small piece of that. I hope her vision never happens.

Ari said...

I once had an economics lecturer who began the semester informing the class he is tenured and we can complain all we want to the university about him and nothing would happen. While not necessarily the cause, the tenure system allowed for him to be a disgusting person acting without the threat of consequence. I have heard similar stories from engineering students especially.

I'm not suggesting this is the norm but it does exist

theswain said...

Tenure isn't the problem. Tenure does NOT mean "eternal job security no matter what the professor does". What matters is the CONTRACT. And most universities have a system to verify and deal with student complaints, and if complaints are justified and true (no "I didn't get an A, so I'm gonna create problems" type of crap) the university does have recourse. No, the prof is unlikely to be fired short of something horribly egregious. But promotion, pay increases, research funds, permission for missing classes for various kinds of conferences, research, release time, etc etc etc are all things that usually are in the purview of the administration. Too many student complaints can allow the administration to make a faculty member's life unpleasant.

My bet is that the econ chap had recently been disciplined....why else begin a class that way? Don't believe it for a second!

Now I'm just sharing my experience of 6 campuses on the lower tiers. Things may be different in the top two tiers where professors are a little more full of themselves.

Overall though, tenure isn't the problem and removing it isn't a cure.

bbmoe said...

Tenure is part of the problem. The original idea was to protect academic freedom, but that has been turned on its head by the research ideal, where in order to get tenure you have to publish in peer-reviewed journals that are (in many disciplines) as subject to coercive p.c. pressures as anything. Tenure simply solidifies the feudal nature of the Ivory Tower. These days, a professor can say anything in class and create an atmosphere of stifling political correctness, something that happens with regularity.

The problem with research emphasis is that it turns professors' attention away from instruction, and then incentivizes them to create "boutique" courses to teach undergrads, which in turn completely erodes the quality of the undergraduate education. Instead of getting a foundational education, undergrads get smatterings of subjects that fulfill "distribution" requirements. At UT, if you wanted to get a classical education, you couldn't do it. The courses overlap, leave gaps, are too narrow, and departments seem to have lost all idea of what they are supposed to be teaching. At a major research university, there are 15 courses in the Religion Dept at any given time on some variation of Yoga, but no survey course of the 3 Abramic religions- not one. Try finding a survey course of European History: there are none.

Tenure is a part of this, but the problems of how the research ideal (just another of a long string of really bad ideas to come out of 19th century Germany) has actively worked against teaching undergraduates.