Tenure and Bias

 Posted by on 19 September 2004 at 1:05 pm  Academia
Sep 192004
 

The idea that tenure protects academic freedom is a joke. Those with unwanted opinions (i.e. non-leftists) can be easily weeded out of academia long before the protections of tenure are ever applied. So I was pleased to read this op-ed by a former Middlebury College president arguing against the tenure system. Dr. McCardell writes:

To faculties and governing boards: tenure is a great solution to the problems of the 1940′s, when the faculty was mostly male and academic freedom was at genuine risk. Why must institutions make a judgment that has lifetime consequences after a mere six or seven years? Publication may take longer in some fields than in others, and familial obligations frequently interrupt careers. Why not a system of contracts of varying length, including lifetime for the most valuable colleagues, that acknowledges the realities of academic life in the 21st century?

Moreover, when most tenure documents were originally adopted, faculty members had little protection. Today, almost every negative tenure decision is appealed. Appeals not upheld internally are taken to court. Few if any of these appeals have as their basis a denial of academic freedom.

I certainly agree with McCardell that the greater flexibility afforded by a contract system would be good for all concerned, I wholly disagree with his presumption that academic freedom is alive and well at our universities. The problem with tenure is not that academic freedom is wholly secure, but rather that the protection afforded by tenure is “too little, too late.”

Just yesterday in the grad lounge, I walked in on a spirited conversation making great fun of all those ignorant and stupid conservative students, particularly those who claim discrimination by professors and instructors. After listening a while, I noted that the present conversation surely proves that conservatives have no reason to complain or worry about discrimination against them. At least some of my fellow graduate students understood the irony.

If I were a less cantankerous or more sensitive person, I would find the hard leftism at Boulder’s philosophy department completely overwhelming and intolerable. Instead, I’ve learned to take a sort of pleasure in occasionally needling my fellow graduate students with my primitive and backwards ideas. All considered, that’s probably not a very healthy attitude to adopt, but I doubt that I could endure graduate school any other way.

And speaking of graduate school, I have reading to do!

   
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