Honesty and Tenure

 Posted by on 19 March 2002 at 10:02 am  Academia, Honesty, Responsibility
Mar 192002

Steve Simpson pointed me to this op-ed by Robert Bartley on the myriad of recent scandals in the “supposedly high-minded quarters” of society, from academia to the Catholic Church. Dishonesty seems to be on a rampage. But there may be reason for hope, as Bartley suggests towards the end of his piece:

On whether we have experienced a general erosion of standards, I think I can rest my case. Human nature, of course, remains a constant over time and across fields of endeavor. What matters is accountability, that is, whether we as a society are willing to sit in judgment on each other. And perhaps the anecdotes above in fact suggest that in this post-Clinton era we’re making some progress; at least the issues are coming to light and creating some agony in church, government and universities.

But it only gets more interesting. Barley goes on to suggest businessmen do not share the “immunity from accountability” that tenured academics and civil servants have. They are not protected from their own immorality by the cushion of a more-or-less guaranteed job.

In my opinion, the tenure system doesn’t really protect professors against political ax-grinding. Those with unpopular opinions are simply weeded out before tenure is awarded. The downsides to the tenure system, in terms of ensconcing terrible professors and permitting little effort, are considerable. A system requiring competence and diligence while protecting professors against unjust politics would surely not be impossible to construct.

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