13 August 2010

Get rid of tenure because professors are old, dumb, and lazy

At Slate, Christopher Beam compiles the list of usual suspects for getting rid of tenure. It includes the notions that tenure is pretty much a guarantee for life, that professors don’t care about teaching, and that they are lazy.

Keeping a professor around indefinitely—tenure means they can't be forced to retire—simply costs a lot.

Nobody in these articles ever mentions about post-tenure review. It exists. Yes, you can get rid of tenured people who are not doing their jobs. You might argue that it’s too slow, too ineffective, which I’d be inclined to agree with, but don’t say people can’t be forced out, because that’s not true.

When the best young teachers focus their energies on writing rather than teaching, students pay the price.

This is the criticism that arguably has the most teeth. There’s no question that in most places, you cannot get tenure without research accomplishments, and those are more difficult to fulfill than teaching accomplishments.

Yet nobody mentions how many faculty are fine and thoughtful teachers as well as active researchers. Teaching and research are not necessarily a zero sum game where the only way to excel at one is always at the cost of the other.

“I honestly don’t know what a lot of academics do a lot of the time,” says (Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Columbia University department of religion).

This is an astonishing thing for a department chair to say. This is one of those statements that represents a break from the reality I encounter all the time: faculty – including tenured faculty – going out of their minds trying to stay on top of all that they are asked to do. The image of the faculty getting tenure and deciding to shut down the lab and go to the pub every day in the early afternoon is a popular rhetorical device, but is it really representative?

That's one reason the number of full-time tenured professors has dropped so much in the past few decades: Women have joined the academic work force, but some have opted to take a part-time role.

Oh, so it’s womens’ fault that universities have switched to adjuncts. It has nothing to do with administrators who are looking for a fast and easy way to cut costs. And women participating part-time couldn’t possibly have anything to do with inadequate support systems, like a university not having daycare.

And if the not-so-subtle sexism wasn’t enough, there’s ageism, too:

Academia relies on young scholars to shake things up. ... By hiring someone for life, a school gambles that his or her ideas are going to be just as relevant in 35 years.

Forget old people, we all know even middle aged people can’t generate new ideas. It’s not like any major scientific work has ever been published when the author was 50, right?

I could go on, but apparently I have loafing to get back to.


Calandreya said...

I enjoy reading your blog. My father was an exceptional science teacher and improved every year.

Unknown said...

There are tenured professors who teach very well and care about their students learning. There are also tenured professors who have their TAs do all of the teaching, grading, paperwork, etc. and only have their name attached to the class as the professor. With a non-tenured professor who is getting bad reviews, being lazy, or what-have-you, you simply do not renew his 2 year contract. The problem is that a tenured faculty is untouchable in some universities, and in others is extremely difficult to get rid of. The University and students are made to suffer for years and possibly decades before you can finally remove the financial drain. That is money that could have been better spent on a professor who DOES care. Especially now in a time where states are cutting subsidies to Universities.