The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tenure and Academic Freedom

In the Wall Street Journal, June 23rd, Naomi Schaefer Riley reported that Denver District judge Norman D. Haglund overturned a state district court ruling, allowing the trustees of Metro College to lay off tenured faculty.

He said "the public interest is advanced more by tenure systems that favor academic freedom over tenure systems that favor flexibility in hiring or firing."

Hah - I guess he hasn't been to a college campus lately.

And wouldn't you know that Progressive John Dewey was behind the 1915 push for tenure? He said "if education is the cornerstone of the structure of society and progress in scientific knowledge is essential to civilization, few things can be more important than to enhance the dignity of the scholar's profession."

Double hah! Now we find out why we need tenure - to enhance the "dignity," i.e. self-image, of the scholar.

Riley comments: "The truth is that tenure has served as an instrument of conformity since tenure votes are often glorified popularity contests. The fact that university professors donated to President Obama's campaign over John McCain's by a margin of eight to one is only the tip of the iceberg. Those professors who want tenure and disagree with the prevailing trends in their field - or the political fashions outside of it - know that they must keep their mouths shut for at least the first seven years of their careers."

Today, Harvard Law Prof. Mark Ramseyer's letter in response to her article said:

"A friend told him that "Tenure wasn't about protecting our faculty jobs, he said. Instead it was about forcing us to take at least one hard look at our recent hires. In other words, if we didn't have tenure, it's not that underperforming faculty would be pruned from time to time. If we didn't have tenure, every faculty member ever hired would have a job for life. What tenure does is to force senior colleagues to look hard at the junior appointments they've made - at least once in each professor's life.""

Ramseyer continues: "...we faculty are easygoing, go-along, get-along folks."

I'd love to hear from other faculty members as to whether this fits their experience.

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