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The Ironies of Tenure

Reader comment on item: Group Think in the Academy

Submitted by Frank (United States), Sep 15, 2010 at 00:29

Tenure is talked about and was originally justified as an important, even crucial, protection against pressure from peers and administrators. The first irony is that it fairly quickly devolved into a protection racket in which the unsubstantial opinion of peers becomes all important. But the second irony may be that the system's destruction with help ruin the US academy. Like it or not, tenure depresses salaries by suppressing risk. I was a department chair for many years, hiring and firing many tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty. In my department we certainly got the more dedicated, talented teachers and scholars via tenure-track appointments. Admittedly, my area is mathematics where it is possible to judge results objectively, and where we are not afraid of data regarding our teaching.

I am an expert in my area of mathematics and put a lot of effort and thought into what it means for me to pass my insights about mathematics to my students. If someone wants to tell me how to do that, I will not take it well. On the other hand, I would never dream of passing up the chance to talk with my colleagues about how I can improve.

What I think should happen is a reconsidered tenure system for the elite schools (mine is one of them) whereby tenure can be revoked based serious problems. This should include a professor's is politicizing his courses, and his refusal to engage in conversations about teaching (if teaching is part of the job). Some things should be the tenure equivalent of capital offenses. Believe me, I have been happy to give tenure-track faculty the ax for such things.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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