Retrenchment

The nearest university to mine is considering laying off tenured faculty members. I have written elsewhere that I an very “pro” tenure for research institutions, but less so for K-12 and community colleges; colleges like mine, where research is done but it not emphasized a lot, are (were? My thoughts on this are currently evolving) a gray area for me.

I am not sure where St. Cloud State falls. They might do enough research for me to definitely be “pro,” or they might fall into the gray area. Regardless, it would be absolutely foolish of them (in the long-term, anyway) to lay-off a tenured faculty. This will make recruitment of new faculty difficult. Why, if she had other options, would a new hire choose to work at a school that got rid of tenured faculty members?

You do not want to be the first school to eliminate tenure.

On my evolving thoughts on tenure: I am generally becoming more “pro-tenure.” This is because I think that job security generally produces better (and more creative) workers. I am not sure why I was less pro-tenure before—perhaps some lingering elitism. Either way, I have not thought of this nearly enough to decide on my official opinion on tenure.

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3 Responses to “Retrenchment”

  1. Erica Says:

    My only beef with tenure is the process– it puts tremendous pressure on us junior faculty for six (or in my case, seven) years. I don’t know if that’s bad enough–I don’t think it is–to constitute a decisive reason against it, because I agree that job security is good. Though I must also say, I know of people who got tenure and never published another thing and only did the minimum of teaching and service. Again, this is not clearly a bad enough downside to override the job security considerations. Plus, what’s the alternative? Yearly reviews? Then the pressure is never-ending. At least this way it’s confined to a short time span.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Erica,

      I had written a while ago that I did not think that we should have tenure for K-12 and community colleges, and maybe not for low-research liberal arts colleges. I think that I wrote that because I was thinking about some of the “slackers” who get tenure and then just laze about.

      However, I now think the solution to the problem is not taking away tenure; rather, I think that there might be other aspects of the job that might make people not want to contribute. I have already seen that some people might not like to do service because they think that the administration will not listen to their ideas; so one solution is to give professors more power in how the university is run. There seems to be a strong correlation between “tuning out” and “a lack of autonomy;” the solution might be to grant more autonomy to the workers.

      In the other hand, maybe we should not expect everyone to do service, research, and teaching. Perhaps we should allow people to gravitate to what interests them. This could create nightmares when scheduling classes if no one wants to teach, but we could probably let departments work this out on their own (maybe I teach five classes on semester, and a colleague teaches none).

      In an ideal world, I think that more jobs should have tenure—not just teachers. Since this world is not ideal, I think that we would have to put up with some number of freeloaders. However, I think that the number of slackers would be much lower than I initially thought provided we give people a good amount of autonomy.

      As far as the pressure for the 6 un-tenured years: there is probably a better way, but I cannot think of one right now. My only thought is that we remove the deadline. Perhaps we move to a system that begins with a two-year trial contract. Essentially, the hire would have a light form of tenure, and would have to be pretty incompetent to get fired. After that, the hire would graduate to something akin to an “Assistant Professor” position. The hire could spend an indefinite amount of time at this position, and apply for tenure once his/her case is strong enough. This would happen right away for some superstars, or it may take 10-15 years for others. This would at least allow the individual to choose how to concentrate the stress. The disadvantage is that they would be untenured during this time, and so could be terminated at any time until they get tenure.

      This would also remove the discussion of “stopping the tenure clock” for families—there would be no “clock” to stop, save for a self-imposed one. This would eliminate the one-size-fits all approach to tenure that we have now, and would allow people more control over their careers.

      There are probably lots of holes in that proposal, but it is the best I can come up with at this time of night. Do you have any suggestions?
      Bret

  2. pro-Tenure « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] I am now pretty firmly in the pro-tenure camp for liberal arts colleges. Loyal readers have seen me evolve from “not sure” to “probably” to “definitely.” A recent […]

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