Friday, November 30, 2007

 

Just a Job

Picking up on the premodern vs. modern theme of yesterday's post, Grad School Friend (who is on the tenure track at a research university) sent me a note about how his department received the news that he was seeing someone who lived in another time zone:

After the faculty became aware of her
existence, as my girlfriend from out of town, the department chair had a
talk with me about how this news has negatively affected my position in
the department. I was instructed to tell people that "I love it here; I
would never leave;" etc. My solution, to make him happy, was to let him
spread a counter-rumor, that [she] was attempting to get a job [there].
And then I dropped it for non-discussion on the matter, which has been
hard. [She] has gotten to the point of making excuses to avoid my
colleagues. I see this as the same issue: The "modern" side pushes me
to treat this entirely as a job and nothing more, but the "pre-modern"
side expects me to treat this as my life.

Amazing. And deeply, deeply sick. (The department, not Grad School Friend.)

The premodern/modern mashup of higher education leads to some really bizarre behavior. Respect gender equality rigorously in your pronoun use, but make sure you have a stay-at-home wife to prepare your tenure file. (Dr. Crazy rightly went to town on this one.) Hire for merit, but not too much merit, because that brings flight risk. Train people in graduate school to perform cutting-edge research, then hire them to teach basic Intro classes. In the case of the Ivies, proudly proclaim both your 'diversity' and your rejection rate, and pretend not to notice the contradiction. In the case of the big Midwestern schools, treat football as a secular religion while farming out your intro classes to adjuncts. Ratchet up the tenure requirements for younger hires, but give those new hires hell if they dare to look elsewhere, or even to date people from elsewhere.

This is sick, people.

Using the 'premodern vs. modern' lens at least gives me a sense of why certain things that just seem beyond reasonable dispute to me get some people all worked up. For example, the notion that academic jobs are just jobs. They are. They're good jobs, sometimes, and they can be very satisfying, sometimes, but they're jobs. There's an employer-employee relationship. An employee who wants to find another employer should have every right to try, and to try without judgment or sanction. An employee who wants to switch to another industry shouldn't be judged a washout or a failure. (And for goodness' sake, in what industry does the worst worker get promoted? Could we please call a halt to the 'all administrators are failed professors' canard?) An employee who wants to move geographically to be with a significant other isn't being 'disloyal' or showing a lack of dedication – he's making a perfectly valid life choice. And the idea that the employee owns his job – one popular definition of tenure – is facially preposterous. Can I sell my job to the highest bidder on ebay? Can I trade it? Can my kids inherit it? Is there a job market in the same sense in which there's a house market? Can something I own lay me off for 'fiscal exigency'? If not – and, not – then I don't own my job.

In any other industry, those positions would be so obvious as to be banal. In higher ed, they're subversive.

If you hold to the premodern understandings, then my friend has betrayed his department. How dare he find love outside of Third Tier City? Who does he think he is? What right does he have to leave, after all the time we've invested in him?

If you hold to the modern understandings, the questions themselves are absurd.

The folks who study generations are finding that workers – I'll use that word, and include myself in the category – under forty are less 'loyal' to employers than their parents were. It's often presented as “those silly kids, here's how to manage them,” which strikes me as backwards. To my mind, a lack of 'loyalty' reflects a clearsighted recognition of the objective reality that the world has changed. The combination of feminism and 'assortative mating' means that younger academics face the dreaded 'two-body' problem much more frequently than their forebears did, and in a rougher market. You can blame them for that and tell them to lower their sights, or you can recognize that the world has changed and they're simply adapting to it as best they can. Hell, if you really want to be useful, you could try to find ways to ameliorate some of those issues.

But that takes imagination. Indignation is easier, and offers the cheap thrill of a sense of superiority.

Asking highly intelligent, educated, ambitious, hardworking, three-dimensional people to forget all of the social and economic changes of the past forty years and know their place is nuts. My friend shouldn't have his 'standing in the department' jeopardized because he dared to find love outside the city limits. It's a job. It's just a job, like any other. That's all it is. There's more to life, and he's not a traitor for noticing.


Comments:
What is really sick is the suggestion that a decision about tenure can be shaped by your friend having a girlfriend who was not local. Reminds me of the insane response Dr. Crazy had not so long ago about looking for jobs.
 
I think the "just a job" position is reasonable and should be applied more often to life in academia. Dean Dad's friend's experience provides one good example and I believe the (alarmingly common) 60+ hour workweek is another. It's time to stop treating the job like a life.

That said, I wonder if part of the reason why "premodern" conceptions have persisted has to do with features that are fairly unique to the academic job market. That is, while the job is "just a job" it isn't "just like any other job".

First, the academic job market is very small. Often, the number of job openings in a given field and region over the course of a year is very small. So, if I lose my job, my options could be heavily constrained to a handful of universities that are hiring at that time. Furthermore, a new job is very likely to be outside of commuting distance of my current residence, requiring a move. A move may be difficult for those with working spouses, children, aging parents, or other extenuating circumstances. I don't see anything universities could do to address this problem.

Second, the hiring schedule for the academic job market is weird. At least in my field, hiring often takes place ~8 months before the new job starts. For those who fail to get a new job or who receive less notice than 9 months that they will lose their jobs, they're SOL until next year. That's a huge risk; what incentives can universities provide to offset it?

Third, the training that goes into becoming an academic is substantial not just financially and time-wise, but also emotionally. After graduating from high school, many lead a mendicant life, moving from sweaty dorm room to piss-stained apartment to vomit-smeared co-op without a real home. Their education and career prospects depend largely on a single advisor. Then postdocs, visiting professorships, etc. and countless other examples I'm sure you can imagine. After all of this, I suspect there is a strong desire for stability. Tenure provides that emotional reward. Dean Dad might be right that many don't wind up on the tenure track, but nobody is shooting for that just as no college football player is shooting to be a 3rd string pro player. The emotional value of the tenure goal exceeds what might be called its 'actual' worth, but that doesn't matter here and I think universities would have to be very creative to come up with a good alternative.

Does this assessment of the academic job market's peculiarities seem on target? If so, what alternatives do we have to the current tenure system?

Also, a few questions for Dean Dad: if tenure makes it easy for some to retire on the job, what makes it so hard to fire them? I mean, if you know somebody is deadwood, what in the tenure (as distinct from union or shared governance) system is tying your hands? How would adopting a new system release those shackles? Last, how much deadwood is there and how much of an impact does it have? I apologize if these questions sound... aggressive (?), but I'm trying to understand how the tenure system is making things difficult from the administrative side (with which I am, obviously, unfamiliar).

pg
 
Just an observation---Every time something TRULEY nutty happens at work, and I grouse about it, my partner reminds me that at any given time, 20 percent of the general population has some form of mental illness and/or substance abuse problem.

She then follows up with the question, "And WHY do you think folks in higher ed are immune?"

It IS nuts and probably not legal. My advice to the frightened untenured prof? Two-fold.

1. Document, document, document. You're in a nutty situation. Write everything down and time/date it.

2. Start looking around for other positions. Nutty chairs can do a lot of damnage. Get out while the getting is good.
 
PG: simply put, tenure means you cannot be fired or laid-off. It's a lifetime appointment. I suppose to be accurate, someone with tenure could theoretically be fired, but I suspect that criminal charges would have to be involved. Whoring your way through the Junior class will not necessarily result in being fired. It may, but there is ample precedent demonstrating that it may not. And because the mandatory retirement age was erased years ago, if one has tenure, then one cannot be eased or forced into retirement at, say, age 63 or 65 or 70.

It's a nice gig if you can get it.
 
Is there any real evidence that a majority or even a large number of tenured faculty members stop working, or is this justification for getting rid of tenure based only on anecdotal evidence?

If the latter is true, I can say anecdotally that I do not observe that tenured faculty members at my SLAC as "deadwood"--they are some of the most active scholars, the best teachers, and the leaders in campus service. It's just one SLAC, but anecdotes are anecdotes, right?

Tenure may go away at very large universities in urban areas, at schools that fill vocational roles, and perhaps in some other instances. But for the vast number of second-tier state universities, SLACs, other schools in rural areas, and "evergreen" classic liberal arts disciplines like English, Philosophy, foreign languages, maybe even math, etc., eliminating tenure would result, I think, in either a labor shortage to fill such crappy, low paid jobs in awful locations, skyrocketing labor costs, or really awful employees (i.e., the people who eke out Ph.D.s but don't get hired now).

Higher education with anything but vocational goals is not, I would say, pre-modern. It also proved to support the goals of modern society (i.e., Renaissance and beyond). Are we past that now? Maybe so, but there's still a strong liberal arts tradition in the American and European academies.

I wonder personally whether the elimination of tenure will go along with the further erosion of the Humanities in the US (and a real loss for our culture).
 
I'm amazed that they are so out of touch with the job market that they don't understand that all of their applicants didn't apply there because they were dying to live in the R1 town. They wanted a job and would shape their lives around it --

Really, if they were concerned about it, they'd offer a spousal hire or other kinds of placement help IF the girlfriend wanted to move to their town.

Otherwise, they should understand that much academic work happens off campus and it doesn't matter how far off campus! Believe me, whether hubby and I are in his city or mine, our students can find us and our research progresses.... it is a bit more complicated, but we've managed to be married for two years now long distance and it looks like we'll do at least one more... sigh.
 
It's also simply not true that tenured faculty members cannot be fired. Something as minor as a shoplifting conviction can get a tenured faculty member fired, and any school without a policy on faculty-student sexual relations is stuck several decades in the past. Performance issues may be tougher to fire for, but it Deans do the work to accumulate evidence of failure to do one's job, termination is possible. How easy is it to fire any professional employee who has worked somewhere for 8, 15, or 25 years? It takes some doing, even if they work in an environment without tenure.
 
PG:

Dean Dad might be right that many don't wind up on the tenure track, but nobody is shooting for that just as no college football player is shooting to be a 3rd string pro player.

The blogsphere is, of course, not at all a representative sample, but you'd have to work hard to throw a rock and NOT hit someone online who has opted out of tenure-track academia... the comparison to being a "3rd string pro player" is unfair (though often the sort of attitude that folks who do opt not to pursue tenure track jobs run into.)

- joyce
 
Isn't this exactly the situation that could result from a 3-year or 5-year review cycle without tenure, at any time during a career? Apart from actually warning the person of the reason they might get marked one notch lower on the annual evaluation of performance, of course, since that opens the department up to legal liabilities.

Second Line, there are cases where tenured faculty are returned to annual contract (or resign first), but they are rare if you hire good people. Further only "famous" ones make IHE and laws limit public discussion of many of them.

DD, you are right about the 60+ hour work weeks during the first 20 to 50% of a career in academia, but that has been the tradeoff in the past for tenure. Most research universities are happy to make that deal as long as the age-mix of faculty is fairly uniform. Would they get that if the faculty member knew their second 5 years would be measured against their first 5 years? Maybe not.
 
The answer is: "Indignation is easier, and offers the cheap thrill of a sense of superiority."

What is "Summarize in one sentence all of liberal politics," Alex?

Teasing aside, I strongly endorse the substance of the post.
 
Joyce:

Please forgive me if my earlier comment seemed harsh or unkindly. That wasn't my aim in making an analogy to football players. I was just trying to make a point about how I see the flashiness of a tenure track job as a motivating factor in why people get advanced degrees. Removing that motivation would need to be balanced by something else universities might provide.

pg
 
I was just trying to make a point about how I see the flashiness of a tenure track job as a motivating factor in why people get advanced degrees. Removing that motivation would need to be balanced by something else universities might provide.

That's very humanities-specific, though. Most of the people in my quantitative program consider an academic job as a last resort -- industry provides very interesting problems for a lot more pay.

Interestingly enough, among my cohort it is the absolute worst students who are aiming for faculty jobs (and I mean worst in every sense of the word -- not just worst grades/quals performance, but least motivated, least sharp, lacking in really interesting research ideas, etc.)
 
I don't wish to minimize the difficulties faculty face, but I do think that more faculty (and administrators) should work outside academia for at least a few years. I notice a lot more grousing from the straight-to-academia set than from those of us who worked as professionals outside academia (where 60+ hour work weeks were the expected minimum and less could result in firing!).

Many of these problems are common to most/all young professionals, and many of them are worse outside academia.

Not that academia shouldn't strive to be a leader that is the gold standard for employee treatment and work/life balance, but academia isn't uniquely, especially bad. In many ways it's the least of all available evils.

(And yes, in lots of industries the "worst workers" get promoted. The entire legal profession, being based on billable hours, is set up to reward those attorneys who work the most slowly and least efficiently -- or who lie about it. And there are other sectors of the workforce where employees "own" their jobs -- notably government employees.)
 
I'm assuming that this person is not in the sciences. One of the reasons we tend to expect loyalty from new faculty is that our department will invest tens to hundreds of thousands in dollars in setting up their lab. They need to get 2-3 major grants before that investment is repaid. In addition, new faculty at my uni have a teaching load that is half what the more senior faculty carry. Thus there are other people who are investing a lot of work and time in the curriculum so that our new faculty can get their work published for tenure. Also, the processes of the university are set up such that it takes a year to do just about anything - in that sort of environment, someone who is looking to leave isn't going to develop new classes, isn't going to be able to complete committee projects and isn't going to be able to create the kinds of relationships accross the campus that let you get things done. It would be silly to involve them in discussions about how to form the curriculum because they wouldn't be participating in it long enough to take responsibility for the changes they helped implement.

In short, the expectation of loyalty is based on an investment in the new faculty member on the part of the university and older faculty. What your friend is experiencing is nuts but in my discipline it would be fueled by a fear that the investment made in a person would not pay out. Given the need for such investment, I'm not sure how you could treat this like a job at a company. At a company, you can measure how much revenue is produced by your research / work and justify your existance that way. In the academy, the thing we get paid to do (teaching) rarely covers the cost of the thing we get tenure to do (research) unless significant grant money is involved.
 
Regarding the NFL/tenure track comparison, I'd back up anonymous' statement that it isn't so in the sciences (or at least it isn't so in chemistry). Most of the chemistry grad students I know plan for careers in industry, where the jobs are easier to get, the hours are shorter, and the pay is better.
 
It is sick. But in all fairness, it isn't confined to academia. It seems to be a common indulgence in most teaching positions and non-profits. (I've seen glimpses of it in other care work sectors as well, such as nursing, but I wasn't there long enough to say whether it was the particular atmosphere of the place, or something more widespread. My hunch is that it's widespread, and indicative of the weird position of something ackowledged as being both necessary and undervalued/undercompensated.)

My job, for instance, actively and explicitly promotes the "family concept," with 'mandatory' parties and social events (many of which happen to be scheduled so that you have to neglect your own family celebrations to go), and encouragement of people to address the group as "family." (Which gives rise to a lot of meetings starting with "Hello, family!" and other such ... yeah.) The boss is on record (though he later had those minutes changed) as saying "Some people feel like they have to choose between their families and their jobs. Well, yeah." and other such delightful things.

Simply put, in care work (and care-adjacent work), there seems to be a very strong push to make it a holy avocation. Okay, that isn't simple at all, but it seems to be what's happening. When you're underpaid and undervalued, particularly when you're doing something you know is important, there's this compulsion to say "it's not about the money, it's about the love of ______." This tends to translate into an age-related stratification - the older people are the ones who stuck around, and thus are likeliest to have actually bought into the ideology that whatever you're doing is a higher calling.

On its own, there's nothing wrong with the idea that you're doing things for wonderful reasons. It's not bad. It becomes bad, however, when it starts getting used as a club against other people. "If you don't love it here, why don't you just leave?" "You should pay to work at this mandatory event for your agency on your off time because you love it. If you don't love it, you're not working in the right place."

That, to me, is the problem.

(You get all sorts of neat ripples when you note that most people in these sorts of professions do enjoy their work and at least feel the tug of that higher calling. They just don't want to martyr themselves for what seems like no real impact on The Cause. These people (like me) get caught in a two-pronged (many pronged?) dilemma - do I leave entirely, and risk hurting my charges (clients, students, research, etc.), or do I sit through all this crap?)
 
Dean Dad--

In this and more than a few earlier posts on the same subject, lots of people--including me--have asked why and how tenure keeps administrators from firing bad teachers. Would you please respond?

I've been the union grievance chair at my SoCal community college for twenty years. I KNOW that I don't have a magic wand that will protect tenured faculty members who are habitually and persistently late to class or absent entirely. My magic wand won't help tenured teachers who never return student work, and it won't save folks who are abusive or sexist or racist--even if they have tenure.

I also know that I've never seen an administrator with problems like these even though I'm pretty certain that there are a few of them on campus.

Put another way, my long experience as a union guy tells me that tenure does not mean an iron-clad, guaranteed-for-life-no-matter-what job. Why do well-intentioned, clear-headed administrators like you think different?
 
Dammit, I didn't proofread carefully enough. What I meant to say in paragraph 3 is:

I've never seen an administrator COME AFTER teachers with problems like these even though I'm pretty certain that there are a few of them on campus.

--Philip
 
Oh splendid. As if it isn't hard enough for me to have a long-distance professor boyfriend, now I have to break up with him because it looks bad to his workplace?

Well, he's not tenure track yet, so I guess I can stay with him.
 
Since my email to DD triggered this post, I figured that I'd put in a comment myself.

First, to be clear, my having a girlfriend, now spouse, who lives in another city in no way threatened my long-term security here. I'm pre-tenure but safe.

To respond to Ivory, yes the investment in me is one part of it, and surely the less interesting aspect. That's the unspoken and obvious issue. The organization that employs my wife has made a much, much greater financial commitment in her, but their reaction to my existence was to be openly happy for her. In sharp contrast, my colleagues peppered her with questions about her intentions, making her rather uncomfortable, and several suggested to her and me that she drop her (very successful) career to come work here. While significant investment into employees is not exclusive to universities (or the hard sciences at universities)--a highly trained, specialized employee quitting can cost companies a lot of money and time--but this "how dare you leave" reaction seems to be a characteristic of universities but not most employers of highly trained professionals. The question is, Why?

To me, the answer seems to be related to a larger theme of this blog. The primary argument, as I understand it, is that American higher education is moving through fundamental changes, being forced primarily from the outside. These changes are not simply the conservative movement, though it includes this, but are part of much larger cultural and economic changes. But, as we know, institutions generally resist change and have a tendency to hold onto norms from its past. Culture, including institutional culture, evolves slowly. It isn't hard to see where the notion of an academic career being a "life" comes from when you see it from this perspective; the university system evolved from the churches--there is a reason why a Unitarian Church sits across Harvard Yard--and it wasn't that long ago that the formal connection was still there. The notion of it being just a job is more recent, driven partially by changes in the law. The two are in conflict, putting opposite demands on professors.

I wrote the email to DD not because I want to complain about my colleagues. My wife and I are very strategic thinkers, and we are more than capable of handling the situation. This is laughably minor. My reason can be summed up with the word "Why?" I believe that this odd behavior is reflective of larger dynamics--reflected in the earlier post about a guy who wanted to punish his "friend" for leaving after seven years of service--and I consider this and other odd stories to be avenues through which we can better understand the institutions many of us have committed our professional lives to. I read DD religiously, as it were, because he has insight that helps me understand what I am dealing with. This is hard to do on a daily basis--I'm amazed at how much written material he produces--but that's what is most important.

These are the questions, in my mind. What are the major dynamics and changes, and why do they exist? Then, we can better understand what steps can be taken. DD is not going to take tenure away, but there are politicians in the Republican Party who certainly want to, and money to universities continues to decline while demands go up.
 
Following up on the thread of academic vs. non-academic jobs, another distinction is that work as an academic, at least in my view as an R1 prof in a STEM discipline, is _never_ going to be done until some time after I become an emeritus prof. Sure, the semester ends and affiliated grading ends eventually, but there is always another followup paper to write, another grant proposal to submit, etc. In an industrial job it is easier to finish up everything, such as when making a change to a new position (same company or elsewhere). In a sense, the job becomes part of one's life since the job never ends.

DD Grad school friend, congratulations on meeting someone!
 
I have to chime in (and I'm not the pg who posted above) about the whole long-distance relationship (LDR) thing and how colleagues react.

I've now been in a LDR for over 6 months, and although I don't talk about it at work there are some people who know. The folks who know often ask if I'm leaving to go to his school (I'm guessing as a woman they expect I'd be the one to follow my man?), with the other option being that the relationship won't last too long (but I just see it getting increasingly serious).

Someone told an administrator and reported back the response: We're going to lose her, aren't we?

I've not felt that my bid for tenure is in jeopardy (and most people do not know), but those who know seem to be constantly checking about where I'm spending my free time (is it their business?) in a way that goes beyond the "how you doin'" hallway conversation. And these are people who are not friends, just colleagues.

I've been compared to another colleague who has sacrificed her relationships for the job, and compared to former female colleagues who left to follow their hearts. I've been asked if I can't find guys to date locally, or if I prefer it this way so my relationship doesn't have to interrupt my work (I'm always dying to ask these people to share with me the true extent to which their wives and children interrupt their work so I can brag about the superior nature of my LDR situation).

So ... I totally understand the situation in the original post. I'm not sure how I'd feel if my colleagues ramped up their interest from nosy speculation to something where I felt like I had to prove my loyalty to keep my job. I suspect it wouldn't go over well.
 
Is there any real evidence that a majority or even a large number of tenured faculty members stop working, or is this justification for getting rid of tenure based only on anecdotal evidence?
# posted by Inside the Philosophy Factory


1) Generally speaking, it's my experience that people don't WANT to work. Oh sure, they like to make money. They may even like their jobs, as they are. But chances are that the things they would do if they were given free rein are different from the things that their employers would ask them to do.

2) Two options for persuading people to match their output to the desired output are benefits (carrots) and punishments (sticks.)

3) If you give someone what they want, then once they have it the "carrot effect" is reduced. If you simultaneously make it extremely difficult to claw back that something or otherwise punish the individual, the "stick effect" is reduced.

4) GENERALLY speaking, those effects are fairly predictable. There are, obviously, outliers: some people will work hard, or even harder, with no supervision or incentives. Some people will produce shoddy work no matter what the incentives. but the general truth remains.

5) All faculty are not exceptions to the general rule.
 
And I'd like to make an amused note: When the faculty members talk about "bad" teachers, they seem to be discussing teachers like these:
I've been the union grievance chair at my SoCal community college for twenty years. I KNOW that I don't have a magic wand that will protect tenured faculty members who are habitually and persistently late to class or absent entirely. My magic wand won't help tenured teachers who never return student work, and it won't save folks who are abusive or sexist or racist--even if they have tenure.
Talk about moving the goalposts. Do y'all really think that only these types of infractions are, or should be, fireable offenses? Speaking for myself, I can say that those infractions described above are only a small subset of reasons that i would want a teacher to be let go.
 
sailorman:

You're right; I was stating the obvious. But my point is that tenure does NOT equal a job for life no matter what.

I'd like to see your list of other fireable offenses. I'm sure they're more gray, less black-and-white than my examples. The problem is that firing someone is absolutely black-and-white. While you might have the wisdom of Solomon, I don't think I'm willing to trust that all college administrators do.

I'm not trying to argue that tenure is a perfect system. We're imperfect beings, after all. But what's the alternative to tenure? I simply don't see how Dean Dad's idea--five-year rolling contracts--would change a thing.

--Philip
 
Sailorman: so what if I don't grant your assertion that people generally don't want to work? Doesn't the argument fall apart?

Are we really prepared to give in as a culture to the faith of economics without proof?

Again, is there evidence that profs stop working with tenure or just anecdotes (and economic dogma)?

Dean Dad? Sailorman?
 
"this "how dare you leave" reaction seems to be a characteristic of universities but not most employers of highly trained professionals. The question is, Why?"

I see it in other professions -- notably my own, law, but others as well. Young attorneys who leave firm-uber-alles firms before having "paid back" what it cost to train them (usually defined as "the moment we dump you a year before you make partner so we don't dilute our earnings-per-partner numbers") catch holy hell.

There is a very similar feeling in a lot of law firms, from partners who say "we gave our lives to this firm, and if you're not willing to, you obviously don't care enough." They also refuse to acknowledge changing culture that affects young associates (two-earner families, for example; it's a lot easier to do nothing-but-work if you have an at-home wife) but insist that young associates put in fully as much work as the partners did when THEY were that age, despite the fact that young associates today have far more demands on their lives. (And, frankly, far more hours are demanded by the firm today, which any firm can tell by looking at its historical numbers, but partners at that type of firm tend to insist it's "always" been that way.)

(And, as I noted before, all of this in a system that rewards slow work. If you do the same amount of work FASTER, you are penalized, so there's no way off the treadmill at a law firm; hours matter, not quality or quantity of work accomplished.)
 
I'd have to say that in biotech, if you have a position of any sort of responsibility there is a tacit assumption that you'll be finishing any project you get involved with. People who are obviously looking for jobs elsewhere are not given critical assignments and would certainly not be given opportunities to travel or get raises. I think there are penalties for "disloyalty" in the corporate world which are proportional to how hard it would be to replace someone if they left and how much proprietary information they know. A person who changes jobs frequently is not viewed well. Women who choose to have families often find they have to fight for the "good" assignments and someone with a spouse in another state would certainly experience some questions, though perhaps not to the same degree an academic would.

CEOs and high level execs usually don't just up and leave and frequently do allow jobs to consume their every waking minute - I think it's important in this discussion to distinguish between jobs with high levels of autonomy / responsibility / creativity and those that are plug and play - where a large number of people could walk in and pick up where someone else left off. For much the same reason, neither a CEO position nor a professorship is "just a job".
 
I am surprised that alot of people who commented missed the big picture since anyone who teaches Gen Y or after would have insight into this issue. Young people today value personal life and fulfillment more than a job or career, which to many is deemed simply work and not a full representation of the individual. Anyone working for big HR conglomerates are seeing corporations rethink their hiring practices to accommodate the changing attitudes and priorities of today's young workers.

First of all, companies have not been all that loyal to employees with offshoring and outsourcing jobs. The eighties and nineties saw companies relocate multiple times and penalize workers for not moving. The new approaches of some younger startups like Google show how the work environment has changed. Their offices, if you can categorize them as such, create a different work environment and philosophy on employment.

I feel some of the older 1950s corporate loyalty culture is trying to keep a stronghold, but for many reasons this mentality is going to end sooner rather than later.
 
I think that a lot of people that are attracted to teaching dislike uncertainty. See Phillip's comment on shades of gray. Any metric that's not easily quantified with little room for human error seems deeply suspect.

The fact is that most professionals live with that sort of situation just fine.

also, I can tell several sad stories about trying to discipline or fire a union employee. It wasn't in an educational setting but suffice it to say, the union, and it's elected officials know why they're there. It's to side with all the employees, not just the good ones. Unions do a lot of good work. But sometimes they can really be a pain.
 
If you post only as anonymous, it's hard to tell which "anonymous" you are sometimes ;)

Philip said:I'd like to see your list of other fireable offenses. I'm sure they're more gray, less black-and-white than my examples. The problem is that firing someone is absolutely black-and-white. While you might have the wisdom of Solomon, I don't think I'm willing to trust that all college administrators do.
There are really two options: allow the call to be made, or not. And if a prof can be fired, someone's gotta make the call. Will some admins do a poor job? yes, probably. But there's no particular reason to think that the inaccuracy of assessment will be biased only against faculty and not for them. (and of course, there's the fact that firing A creates room for B, who may well be more qualified and/or deserving of the job than A. tenure doesn't benefit "PhDs," it benefits already-tenured PhDs.

I simply don't see how Dean Dad's idea--five-year rolling contracts--would change a thing.
--Philip

??

Perhaps this will help: It WON'T change anything for those tenured folks who don't remain for five years.

But for the people who stay for longer, it means that their autonomy is somewhat more limited. they can do what they want for five years, but if what they choose to do doesn't work, then they get fired, so someone better can have a try instead. OTOH, if what they choose to do is great, then they get retained and set free for another 5 years.

It's just like tenure, except the choice to retain you only lasts for "five years" instead of "for the rest of your professional career."
 
Anonymous said...

Sailorman: so what if I don't grant your assertion that people generally don't want to work? Doesn't the argument fall apart?

Most of it, yes. There might still be an inefficiency in that you can't replace profs with better profs if they come along, but sure, i agree with your hypothetical. I just don't think it applies.

Are we really prepared to give in as a culture to the faith of economics without proof?
Again, is there evidence that profs stop working with tenure or just anecdotes (and economic dogma)?

I'm not really prepared to debate the "faith of economics" here. I will say that, as you noted, the concept that people don't generally like to work (which is much of why you have to pay them) is fairly well accepted; if you suggest that this isn't true I would anticipate the burden to be on you to prove such.
 
Sailorman: Of course I'll grant that economics plays a role in work. What I'm not willing to grant is that economics is the only reason people work, especially the only reason academics work. Arguably the most prestigious work we do (as producers of scholarship) often carries with it only economic cost to us. Why do we keep it up?

And the thing I really insist upon--in a line which you also quoted--is more than anecdotal evidence that tenured folks stop working. I understand that you have created a logical argument in support of the idea, but I would argue that your assumption is flawed, especially as it relates to a primary mode of the work tenured folks are supposed to stop doing, i.e. scholarship.

Furthermore, what of the argument that stopping tenure (as a form of reward, albeit not monetary) will be accompanied by a) higher monetary labor costs, b) a labor shortage, or c) a less skilled labor pool (people who don't get jobs do to poor skills will w/o tenure)?
 
One last comment about rolling tenure:

It might be that some people think that five-year rolling contracts will give administration an absolute right to decide whether faculty members would be rehired for another five-year cycle. People may be assuming that these decisions could be made for any reason--or for no reason at all, and faculty members in question would have no legal recourse.

That's simply not going to happen. Sixteen-year-old kids flipping burgers at MacDonald's have more legal protection than that.

Like it or not, we live in a litigious society, and if someone were not rehired, he'd have recourse to our legal system. Management would have to come up with some solid, concrete reasons to justify its decision. With two or three or four five-year cycles orehires under his belt, a faculty member would have even more protection from arbitrary and capricious decision-making.

So, once again, I don't understand what rolling tenure will college administrations. And, once again, I'd like to point out that 20% of the entire full-time faculty undergoing tenure review every year would be a logistical nightmare.

--Philip
 
One last comment about rolling tenure:

It might be that some people think that five-year rolling contracts will give administration an absolute right to decide whether faculty members would be rehired for another five-year cycle. People may be assuming that these decisions could be made for any reason--or for no reason at all, and faculty members in question would have no legal recourse.

That's simply not going to happen. Sixteen-year-old kids flipping burgers at MacDonald's have more legal protection than that.

Like it or not, we live in a litigious society, and if someone were not rehired, he'd have recourse to our legal system. Management would have to come up with some solid, concrete reasons to justify its decision. With two or three or four five-year cycles orehires under his belt, a faculty member would have even more protection from arbitrary and capricious decision-making.

So, once again, I don't understand what rolling tenure will college administrations. And, once again, I'd like to point out that 20% of the entire full-time faculty undergoing tenure review every year would be a logistical nightmare.

--Philip
 
Philip -- California's system is idiosyncratic. I honestly don't know what it takes to get rid of a tenured prof. in California (though I agree that you've defined deviancy so far down as to damage your argument).

In my state, and in most states, simple sustained non-performance of essential job duties isn't enough. In effect, you need an act of recognized moral turpitude that's directly relevant to the job.

Put differently: at my college, nobody -- nobody -- has ever been detenured. It was last tried about a dozen years ago, and abandoned when it became clear that the legal battle would last years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with uncertain prospects for victory. You may be right that it's not technically a job for life, but for all intents and purposes, it is.

The 'logistical nightmare' argument is even weaker. In most industries, workers are evaluated ANNUALLY. They handle it. We have 'post-tenure review' every five years, and that doesn't gum up the system too much. (The only problem is that it's completely toothless.)

Sailorman's point that tenure doesn't protect Ph.D.'s per se, but instead protects tenured Ph.D.'s, is spot-on. If a few stragglers get fired, that creates jobs for people who will actually perform. Given the shortage of jobs for new Ph.D.'s, I would think we'd both see that as a good thing. I know I do. Do you?

The folks who think I'm advocating a corporate style don't understand the corporate style. Even in jobs with annual reviews -- that is, most jobs -- it's possible to sue for wrongful termination based on damn near anything. After a probationary period of two or three months, you need documented cause to get rid of someone. What I advocate is moving from "they own the job" to "you need documented cause." As it is now, documented cause isn't enough, and that's both immoral and unsustainable.
 
Dean Dad, your last comment does sound quite reasonable. Some of us who read your cite every day for the very interesting issues you raise and the discussions they spark, however, wonder why it takes so long for you to state your case so clearly and convincingly.
 
Doh! Site, not cite. (Finals week.)
 
Dean Dad--

I'm a hard-core, red-eyed union guy. And I don't have a problem with "documented cause."

But if "documented cause" is insufficient to get rid of an undesirable after five years, and "documented cause" is inusfficient get rid of someone with lifetime tenure, then what's the difference?

I'll have to take your word for it (and I do) that only "moral turpitude" is sufficient to fire someone where you work--and in most other states--but that's not anything we're going to fix in this discussion. I'm on your side when you say that "[you] advocate moving from 'they own the job' to 'you need documented cause.'"

But we're talking about rolling tenure. If "documented cause" won't work with lifetime tenure, then it won't work with five-year contracts, either.

Put another way, if "documented cause" were sufficient to fire someone with lifetime tenure, then you wouldn't need rolling tenure, would you?

My problem is that while I've seen a few tenured, documentable deadbeats where I work, I've never seen an administrator willing to document squat.

--Philip
 
Dr. Po -- well, there's that pesky little matter of the day job...

Philip -- My argument is that renewable contracts would have a lower threshold than would tenure, since the 'own the job' conceit wouldn't hold. So 'documented cause' WOULD suffice for the renewable contract system, even though it doesn't suffice in the tenure system. That's the point.

If that means that my admin colleagues need to be more conscientious about spelling out expectations and actually writing up violations, so be it. Ready when you are!
 
Having spent time working in a few 10,000+ employee organizations, where every single employee was reviewed yearly, I am amused by the suggestions that a 5-year review would be too onerous. It's really not that bad.

And there are secondary benefits. If you do reviews more often, you get better at it--the system improves, gets more efficient, becomes less scary... You also develop a large pool of precedential decisions which increase overall transparency, and assist in minimizing overt digressions from the norm.

The goal of those reviews is usually twofold: to identify the stellar employees, and to get rid of the bad ones. And it's a good goal. Does anyone here think that it would be a bad thing to, once every five years:

1) have a blanket review of all existing faculty in the country;
2) fire the bottom five percent;
3) have a blanket review of all the existing non-faculty (unemployed, adjunct, etc) PhDs in the country
4) hire the top candidates to replace said bottom-dwelling faculty.

Seriously. What on earth would be wrong with that model? Why should the currently-tenured, essentially-unfireable, BAD faculty be allowed to sit there like deadwood when there are better candidates out there? How on earth does that enhance scholarship, increase academic freedom, help the profession, help the students...? Why is it so much more important for some people to protect the overemployed "bad" faculty than it is to protect the theoretical right-to-employment claims of so many qualified and underemployed candidates?
 
Good points (she says as someone who was raised in academia). There are other professions which are not "just a job" in their environments as well, although the type of expectations are different. Examples I'd think are lawyering and the Silicon Valley model (although the current example of job as life in that frame, I'd think, is Google, if you've read about their recruitment and workplace society).

As a historian, however, I have to object (slightly) to modern/premodern as your terminology. Of course, in its favor, you have a lovely sense of progress on behalf of the argued position: that academia should be a job.

The idea of "vocation" is old (the Church metaphor, but there are parallels with the shi--"gentleman-scholar"--in Chinese society not just in daoxue Confucianism, but in Confucius' model of shi as a moral/ethical model, not just a court rank of "advisor"). But the idea of dedicating your life to your work also has some distinctive post-Industrial Revolution additions to it. And the parallel image of the Japanese worker, as was portrayed in American literature when the Japanese economy was scary and/or idealized--the lifetime employment and dedication above all else to the Company--well, that model as far as heavy industry goes, is really post World War 2. (The work by Andrew Gordon on this.)

There's a tendency to see things that have become traditionalized--like academia--as the "way things have always been." While using history as a corrective to this is not perhaps the most noble use of history, rhetorically it is a useful trick. Perhaps a de-romanticized history of how tenure came to be should be brought into the discussion?
 
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