Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Two for Tuesday
This should be interesting...
Seriously, though, do you ever stop to think about how your position in "academia" might color your views? Looking over your posts every now and then, you appear to operate in a parallel universe that is unrecognizable to those outside of the CC and effectively-CC world. To take one recent example that nicely illustrates the point, deans in your world are apparently counting the "sick days" of faculty. This is so bizarre, on so many grounds, that I do worry for the grad students who write you for advice and am not exactly predisposed to take your thoughts on tenure seriously. (Hint: in my leg of "academia," faculty don't have "sick days" and deans certainly aren't spending their time taking attendance.)
I hope you'll take this in the spirit that its given. A "veteran of the cultural studies seminars" should be well aware of the limits of solipsism, no?
Readers are free to take or ignore my advice/opinions as they see fit.
I don't know what to say about the 'parallel universe' comment, other than that everything I've written is true. If your experience is different, by all means, write about it.
I agree that you are refreshingly above board about where you are coming from, but I don't see that translate into much reflection on your views.
Again, the "sick days" thing was just an example, but I think it is telling. You are operating in a world in which one of the possible merits of a "sick day" policy, by your estimation, is that "it rewards good attendance." In my "universe" faculty work 60+ hours a week and the idea that "attendance" might be an issue that would concern a dean is completely foreign ("parallel universe").
I would imagine that your "standpoint" similarly colors your views of tenure. I'm sure that if I were operating in an environment in which professional standards were so low that deans had to attend to whether people were showing up for work or gaming union rules, I'd have a very different view of tenure than I now hold. I would be in error, however, to mistake my experience for a general rule. Believe it or not, there is a larger world out there in which faculty, as a rule, are committed to the highest professional standards (and in which railing against tenure looks like sour grapes).
P.S., I'm actually not opposed to giving people the option of working on fixed-term contracts rather than tenure track, but the "white bear" contingent gives me cause to pause. Is this the crowd you really want to run with?
I wish you patience, a normal blood pressure, and a sharp tongue to lacerate the most egregious offenders.
What I meant to say is this:
Anonymous seems to be concerned that eradicating tenure could only be effective at the "CC and effectively-CC" level. I have no idea what this means. If a college does not have a graduate program, is this "effectively CC"? What about regional private and state-funded schools that mostly deliver a great education, but are also subject to these tenure problems?
I am a PhD student in a wonderful program where tenured professors are active researchers and passionate teachers. However, the problem of tenure does pop up as a source of argument and anxiety among students. Candidates with babies wonder if they can realistically devote the next several years of life struggling toward tenure. Adjuncting for little pay, few or no benefits, and no job security is usually not an option.
A friend of mine received his doctorate from my program ten years ago. He had just had kids, and, working in a fairly crowded field, found it difficult to find a tenure-track position in the area. He cobbled together several adjunct jobs, none of which gave him or his kids insurance, and, because he was married to a woman who worked part-time, was able to keep afloat. When his wife ran off with a guy from work, he and his kids were screwed. Meanwhile, he received an evaluation comment erroneously claiming he ended class early. The college no longer could "find" courses for him anymore. The pool of adjuncts here is big enough that they could simply hire others.
This is not a reasonable situation for talented, intelligent people to be in. For those of us facing the job market, it seems that we could go tenure-track and get put on the hamster-wheel to "success," or else we could spend the rest of our lives patching together courses here and there for schools that don't care to keep us.
I'm glad for anonymous that he enjoys the academic environment that he does. And maybe for the most elite institutions in the country, tenure shouldn't and can't be eradicated. (It would be impossible to do a contract system at my graduate school, for example.) However, I don't understand why a long-term contract system couldn't be phased in, especially in schools where short-term adjuncts abound. It would encourage adjuncts to strive for something worth having, and it would provide a livable alternative for those many young PhDs who don't get tenure-track jobs.
And everything works both ways: tenure protects Ward Churchill and the gentleman in the history dept. at my former school who taught that slavery was good for the slaves. Tenure protects those faculty who work 60 hour weeks and those who take three hour lunches and Fridays off to go to the movies.
Much like the terms "academic freedom" and "political correctness", "tenure" has become pretty elastic in the past twenty years.
The real question is: if one got rid of tenure, would the system be better or worse than it is now?
Anonymous -- let's grant for the sake of argument that your college and mine work differently. Let's assume that nobody at your college abuses the system. If that's true, the change wouldn't hurt them. I'm trying to establish enough accountability that the truly abusive faculty can be replaced by the badly-underemployed recent grads who have been shut out of full-time work altogether (a group you haven't even acknowledged exists). Would every decision be perfect? No more so than every tenure-granting decision is now. But there would be a way to correct mistakes, which there isn't now.
White Bear -- thanks for the clarification. I don't think anybody can reasonably deny that the bar for tenure has been raised over the years, much to the detriment of people starting families.
Having read volumes of criticism over the last few hours, I still don't see what would be lost in the change I propose. Yes, implementation would be tricky, esp. since those with tenure would predictably argue for 'grandfathering,' which would defeat the purpose. But that's an issue to address after the direction has been established. And the gain to students, and to recent Ph.D. grads, would be real.
I could not agree more, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading this honest and commonsensical approach to this issue. (and the comments it has triggered).
From my position at a big 10 U (and my partner's) I see so many cases where tenured faculty enjoy low teaching loads, while a large percentage of their colleagues teach double the course-load for half the money, and scramble to publish pay for their own conference travels, and go on the yearly job-whore fair (again, at their own cost).
ok, so my own sour grapes might be kicking in. "some of my best friends have tenure" and all that;-)
to ignore the bitter taste for a moment, what your article pinpoints are the ways in which this system perpetuates precisely this kind of smackdown/tension(which we are witnessing via the comments sections).
while tenure still exists, in its current incarnation, so too will the second-class citizenry that is permeating academic departments across the country.
as far as advising graduate students goes. as a newly minted English PhD, I received excellent advice about my academic work, but the advice about teaching, the job market, and the profession *as it stands today* was more than lacking. ("why are you applying for jobs that require you teach composition?" "you don't want to teach *composition* do you???")
i love the intellectual life, i love teaching, hell, i even love academia. but something's got to give. there's got to be some sort of middle ground here that addresses the disparity.
As the only dissenter here, I suppose I am the one offering the "smackdown" and the “ad hominem” argument. I didn’t think that’s what I was doing. Instead, I thought that I was simply raising the possibility that, writing from a different corner of “academia,” perhaps Dean Dad’s vision was a little truncated. Sure, abolish tenure at your institution if you wish. As I said, I’m not opposed to experimenting with fixed term contracts. Don’t assume, however, that the rest of the world operates like your institution does. From my “standpoint,” you have a solution in search of a problem.
However, given the comments in this thread, I see there is a bigger issue at work. Underlying many of the comments is the assumption that people who have been successful in academic careers – and made at least one strain of higher education in the U.S. the envy of the world – should tear down the system to provide employment for, to quote the Dad, “the badly-underemployed recent grads who have been shut out of full-time work altogether.” I don’t follow. If you find yourself shuttling from adjunct position to adjunct position or from yearly contract to yearly contract, believe me: they are just not that into you. You should use your talents elsewhere and not waste your time. To argue for a change of the rules of the game is fine, but the “sour grapes” that I referred to earlier seem uncomfortably obvious. We live in a risk-reward society in which, yes, even in academia, some will win and some will lose. I don’t like this and it does offend my egalitarian sensibility, but, after all, it is the way of the world. To see the problem with the sentiment underlying Dad’s solution, consider the following: name one other line of desirable work in which there aren’t more candidates than slots. Until you do, it is back to lurkerdom for me.
P.S., Sour grapes ad hominem? I’m not convinced. While Nietzsche could often be spectacularly wrong, his insights into the role of resentment in human affairs have, I think, stood the test of time.
"If you find yourself shuttling from adjunct position to adjunct position or from yearly contract to yearly contract, believe me: they are just not that into you. You should use your talents elsewhere and not waste your time."
Without all the adjuncts and temps, how on earth would a massive proportion of classes actually be taught (or administrative work be undertaken)?
I certainly respect the fact that you are in the only dissenter here, but I do take issue with the concept that if you find yourself in this position it's the individual, and not the system at fault.
this is not to valorize *all* adjuncts and demonize *all* tenured faculty--but an inordinate amount of valuable academic work--teaching, administering, researching--is undertaken by those who are not in the tenure stream.
“Without all the adjuncts and temps, how on earth would a massive proportion of classes actually be taught (or administrative work be undertaken)?”
No argument whatsoever! My point is that smart, hardworking people can do so many other things. Given that the “dream job” for someone in such a situation is such a long shot, it is worth moving on. What does tenure have to do with this? Without it, people with plum jobs will still have plum jobs and people temping and adjuncting will still, in effect if not in label, be “temping” and “adjuncting.”
“I certainly respect the fact that you are in the only dissenter here, but I do take issue with the concept that if you find yourself in this position it's the individual, and not the system at fault.”
On the fence. I hope I’m not so obnoxious as to believe that luck does not have a considerable role to play in such matters. At the same time, lots of hard work has something to do with it as well. Is it fair? No, certainly not, but I think the idea that things would be very different without tenure is fanciful and based on a mistaken reading of the “adjunct problem.”
“this is not to valorize *all* adjuncts and demonize *all* tenured faculty--but an inordinate amount of valuable academic work--teaching, administering, researching--is undertaken by those who are not in the tenure stream.”
I agree wholeheartedly and also strongly support the unionization of adjuncts. The conditions under which many adjuncts labor are inexcusable. Again, though, blaming this on tenure is barking up the wrong tree altogether.
No, I'm not suggesting that the people in charge of the system tear it down. It's already down. That's the point. It has lost the capacity to reproduce itself in its present form. Check any report on the rise of part-time labor in the academy since, say, 1970. The trend is glaring and unmistakable.
That the tenure system is a dinosaur, lurching towards the tarpits, I take as given. I'm proposing that we construct a workable alternative before it gets constructed for us by people who have no understanding (however 'truncated') of academia. If you have a better idea, by all means, put it out there! I have no illusions about my ability to get this done by myself -- at best, and only with the help of others, maybe I can nudge a badly-needed and much-delayed conversation forward.
In the interests of intellectual honesty, though, I must insist that we retire the notion of 'meritocracy' as applied to the tenure system. In a true meritocracy, incumbents have to defend their positions against newcomers. In a tenure system, incumbents are protected against newcomers. Perhaps a contract system would allow something closer to a meritocracy...
Like others, I'm not sold entirely on the idea of eliminating tenure. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater and all that. And I'm worried that you would get a raft of people working towards the evaluations: more short term projects, constant stream of smaller publications so you'll have something to show at the year, triennial, etc., review. As well, you would likely have other faculty, in on the evaluation, trying to use this as a way to turf out people they personally don't like ("Look! Prof. X's evaluations are half a point lower than mine and he does business history where we all know that environmental history is the wave of the future! Let's dump him and hire someone different!").
Consider, as well, the enormous amount of administrative time and effort that would need to be devoted to what amounts to a tenure cycle with every faculty member being widely evaluated. One of the toughest committee assignments to fill at my institution is the FPC (Faculty Personnel Committee) which considers all the contract renewal, tenure and promotion applications. Imagining that work multiplied to consider all the faculty in a division on a regular basis is pretty staggering.
That said, I wish that administrations were more courageous about enforcing the standards of work from the faculty. It still burns that I bust my butt working on my annual report, sweating bullets wondering whether my two conference presentations and two small publications stand up when the deadwood down the hall who has NEVER published anything beyond a "Letter to the Editor" gets the same "satisfactory" ranking from the dean's office.
I don't think Dean Dad here intends, but I know at many schools, financial incentives would mean that they'd release people as they moved up the salary scale, and hire newer people just because they could pay them less.
I'm really not sure how salaries would be affected; there's no profit end of most higher education, merely saving money, and money's really tight these days, especially at state institutions.
On the other hand, Salary "condensation" seems to hit a lot of schools now. Would more experienced faculty be able to demand larger salaries, or would there be an overall downward pressure because we were all on the market all the time?
If you have no faculty committed long term to the school, who do you have develop curricula? Why should a faculty member put a huge effort into developing a new class when s/he doesn't expect to be able to teach it more than once or twice? (Because it takes a year or two to figure out a curriculum well enough to propose new classes or changes, mostly.) Curricular work is time consuming, and takes several years to work into place at a four year school. How does one do good work with curriculum if one isn't there more than five years?
Who evaluates teaching when there's no faculty who have long term experience (because they cost too much)?
Will institutions do a real search for each position every four or five years? Or just when there's a perceived problem? How much will those searches cost? And who in a department will be willing to put in the time or effort to make a real search when they're also on the market in a few years? And when they're colleagues and friends are applicants in the search?
Without a tenure system, I imagine many faculty going on the market every few years just to have some minimal security, and then finding no security, leaving the profession to find other employment.
Ahh, you say, that will help new PhDs. But who will be willing to take on PhD students when they don't realistically expect to be at a given R1 school for more than 5 years? The pressure to publish in those schools will become even more intense than it is now, I would guess. It takes a huge amount of effort to mentor a graduate student well; who will be willing to spend that time if it's unrewarded, and in fact, means you have less time for what counts as teaching or research?
What happens to mentoring junior faculty?
Finally, self-governance becomes a total joke without tenure.
Business is a lousy model for education, to be honest. That goes doubly if the model is short-sighted management which pays CEOs huge salaries to respond to shareholder demand for high short term profits rather than long term growth and profitability. If we look at some of the huge layoffs and outsourcing issues in businesses, we see models for disaster in education.
I've been around education a while, and I've only once or twice seen the tenure system abused. At my institution, with tenure, I could be fired very quickly for dereliction of duty if I showed up drunk or didn't show up at all to do the work that I need to do.
I grew up in a family involved with unions, and I know that workers in those unions could be fired for dereliction or whatever.
If there's a problem with dereliction, or incapacity, then the institution needs to deal with that at the individual level, even if it means documenting the problem to the union and faculty self-governing mechanism. I've seen tenured faculty fired, and while it's not pretty, it's not impossible either.
A poster above suggested incentivized pay, and that's one of the things my institution tries to do. It seems reasonably effective, and would be more effective if we weren't constantly cutting the budget to balance the state budget.
1. Pay raises. How to balance the incentive to just let people go after they've cycled through 2-3 contract sessions in order to replace them with new, cheaper hires?
2. Research. How to get any kind of long-term projects done if one only has short-term contracts?
3. The teaching/research division. Assuming this would work at "teaching" schools, and that it would be more of a problem at research schools, how to address the furthering of the gap between these two job markets?
4. The academic freedom thing did come up at IHE, and I do think it's a real issue for both teaching and research institutions.
5. Generally, what's the down side? Obviously a major change like this would have some advantages, and some disadvantages. I wonder what you see the disadvantages of this as being, and how one would address them.
Generally, I have to admit, I don't care one way or the other about getting "tenure"--I'd kind of prefer to get rid of it, myself, if doing so meant I could move when I'm ready and pace my research a bit better. I certainly see a lot of the problems you identify in my department. But I really wonder about the downside.
At really "high end" institutions, the down-side of tenure is, I think, less of a problem. What I know of the economists at Harvard, or MIT, or Columbia, or Berkeley, or Chicago, or Northwestern, or Wisconsin...suggests that they are motivated very strongly by a desire to find out how the world works, and a very strong desire to be recognized as excellent. Tenure there is probably neither a strong motivator nor a major problem once people are tenured.
It's at mid-level research institutions, and at "teaching" institutions, that tenure provides the strongest early-career motivation. And where it can have the least desirable later-career consequences. For most people, those later-career consequences don't exist, because they (we) are more internally motivated than externally motivated. We want--need--to do a good job, by our own lights, and we continue to be more-or-less productive. Tenure protects us, but absent really dreadful administrators and absent political interference, we don't really need it.
The other issue about tenure comes with the end of mandatory retirement rules. What was originally seen as a guarantee with an expiration date is now a guarantee without an expiration date. That's a problem (see, for example, Larry Summers' comment in his resignation letter that the median age of the tenured faculty at Harvard is 60. If fewer and fewer people are retiring, universities will find it more and more difficulty to bring in the brightest of the new generations. At my own institution, the median age of tenured/tenurable faculty is 58. Yikes.)
But that concern about incompetent administrators and political interference has some resonance, I think, for a lot of people. It's not hard to find current examples of administrators without the spine to stand up for their faculty. It's not hard to find legislators who are all too ready to interfere politically in universities. In private institutions, donors.
My own prefered system combines longer-term contracts with some additional protections against abuse. I like a shorter (3-4 year) probationary period, followed by rolling 6-year contracts. For each year in which a faculty member earns a "satisfactory" performance evaluation, one year is added to the end of the contract. And dismissal must, finally, be for cause.
I think it's essential that the faculty be involved in developing--and monitoring and revision--the performance evaluation systems, so that what constitutes satisfactory performance is as transparent and as objective as possible. I think that a system of appeals, involving faculty as ajudicators, for annual evaluations is a good thing. And I think "term limits" for administrators may also be a good thing as well.
I believe security is essential for people to do good cholarship and good teaching, to take chances, to be offered the opportunity to take risks professionally without immediate dire consequences. But I do have some reservations about making it a lifetime guarantee.
I was addressing specifically the IHE Comments section. Though, perhaps, you're alluding to the fact that you commented on the IHE Comments section?
And to DD, I'm not sure I'm willing to back all that you propose, but I so appreciate your "thought experiment." Write on, DD. Write on.
Merit pay is a mixed blessing in the context of a tenure system. Yes, it allows the rewarding of high performers, and yes, it could potentially light a fire under some laggards. More commonly, though, the laggards become amateur lawyers, and spend their time bitching to all and sundry and filing endless appeals. They don't go away, they just ferment. I'm not convinced it would solve anything.
Salary compression is sometimes a problem, what with the generational ratcheting-up of entrance requirements for the tenure track. I think my proposal would bring salaries more in line with actual value to the institution. If we're serious about controlling costs without going all-adjunct, we have to do this.
I think Bardiac is over-emphasizing the 'term' part, and under-emphasizing the 'renewable' part. As I pointed out in the original entry, most people in these systems are renewed. If anything, I think more people at the beginning of careers would be renewed than currently get tenure, because the stakes would be lower. Unlike a tenure decision, which is forever, my system allows for (eventually) correcting mistakes.
Could an evil manager pervert this? Of course, but that's true of tenure, too. We've all heard of good people denied tenure wrongly, and we've all seen deadwood. The difference is that managers are judged on the success of the areas they manage. I have a powerful incentive to provide the best teaching faculty I can, since if they start going off the rails, the college starts to die.
The points about curriculum and mentoring strike me as minor, at best. My previous college didn't have a tenure system, and faculty were on one-year renewable contracts, and curriculum got developed and faculty got mentored. It can be done.
This is a topic for another entry, but I'm beginning to believe that faculty self-governance, if not carefully confined, is simply institutionalized conflict of interest. Let those with lifetime tenure, who are completely immune to the consequences of their actions, call the shots. Yikes! With power there needs to be accountability.
I've already addressed the academic freedom issue, but just to recap, adjuncts don't have any. I'm trying to address the proliferation of adjuncts by drawing in the best among them to replace the worst among the current full-timers. There may be other mechanisms for doing this, but I still haven't seen an argument to convince me that this is a bad idea.
The one point that gave me real pause had to do with science labs. In research U's, startup packages for science faculty often include huge amounts of money for lab equipment. In cases like that, it may make sense for the terms of the contract to be longer, to amortize the cost of the equipment. Point taken.
The downsides of this plan? It would be tough to implement without grandfathering, but grandfathering would make it pointless. It would have to be done at a whole bunch of places at once, to neutralize the 'competitive disadvantage' problem at recruitment (and to give those who get displaced a fair shot elsewhere). Doc is right that there would have to be some safeguards put in to protect people from being fired for their political opinions. The economics of it are hard to predict -- some commenters worried that reducing the labor surplus (by silencing the siren call of tenure) would raise salaries beyond what the market would bear, and others worried that everybody would get entry-level pay, all the time. I really don't know. But I know what we're doing now is unsustainable.
And I know the current generation of under-employed new Ph.D.'s would get a much better deal than they do now.
On firing people with tenure: I did a quick check, and the total number of times that has happened here since the college was founded was (let's see, carry the three...) zero. It's effectively impossible. I've read that it costs a college an average of five years of the person's salary to make them go away. That's insane.
Finally, though, thanks to everyone who made the effort to be civil and thoughtful in their comments, whether agreeing or not. I'm proud that the readership of my blog is more sophisticated than the readership of IHE, judging by its comments section.
F'rinstance, it's basically impossible to fire a tenured prof at DD's CC (heh), but it is doable elsewhere. In DD's CC, faculty governance is consistently dysfunctional, especially at the Department Chair level, but at other colleges, Chairs and other positions rotate and have fewer direct issues. In DD's CC, DD has to deal with a faculty member who has such contempt for his students that he calls in sick twice a week, while this is totally outside my experience.
The problem is that there are institutional issues at DD's CC which exacerbate the problems caused by tenure, so putting tenure aside seems to make a lot of sense. The solution, to my mind, would be to begin to address the institutional issues (ten year Department Chairs, faculty who do not self-police, a union contract which makes it particularly difficult to fire a member, etc.), then see if tenure is still the problem.
That said, I think it's a good idea to have tenure end at, say, 70. Give the kids a chance.
I'm thinking about the economics of abolishing tenure and replacing it with contracts.
But those same skills reduce mobility and, as DD notes, help keep salaries lower than they would be otherwise. It's not just that faculty "pay" for security through lower salaries, but that tenure reduces our relative investment in skills that make us marketable to other institutions.
I have plenty of problems with the tenure system, but my point is that abolishing it has this particular cost to it. I should add that I think this cost is especially significant at CCs and liberal arts colleges.