Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guarantees are gone?

The "free ride" may be over. After all, in the real world there is no "job security"...now it is touching the academic world.

"What if College Tenure Dies?"

July 20th, 2010

The New York Times

In 1975, 57 percent of all college professors had tenure or were on a tenure track. In 2007, that number had fallen to 31 percent, and a new federal report, to be released in the fall, is expected to show another decline for 2009, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this month.

What are the implications of the decline of tenure? Does tenure promote students' learning or raise the level of academic scholarship?

Critics of the system, which provides job security, say that it promotes mediocrity and sloth among an aging academy, blocking opportunities for young scholars, and encourages useless research as tenure candidates vie to be published in jargon-filled journals that no one reads. Tenure's defenders say that professors who have it are better able to challenge students by risking unpopularity, and to express opinions without fear of retribution. What will happen to American higher education if tenure disappears?

Adrianna Kezar...

[Adrianna Kezar is an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California.]

We do not know what the implications are of the decline of tenure. Few studies have been conducted and those that have been done are not conclusive. What we do know, though, is that higher education institutions have generally not put policies and practices in place that would make non-tenure track faculty successful.

It is not a good situation when professors have no office or materials or supplies, have limited technology and administrative support, are not paid for office hours (thus discouraged from meeting with students), have no job security -- wondering semester to semester or year to year whether they have a job -- and have a limited ability to prepare, since they find out they teach within days or weeks of a class.

While these conditions vary at campuses, they exist fairly broadly across higher education. We have a major problem, and higher education leaders have taken almost no responsibility to do anything. Everyone says that limited money prevents change to support non-tenure track faculty, but many changes can be made that cost little or no money (with the exception of pay equity -- which is also direly needed).

Why have tenure track faculty not organized to stop this trend? Many did not notice it was happening. I have repeatedly been on campuses where there is almost a collective denial, even when you present the numbers. Often tenure track faculty benefited from the situation, with non-tenure track faculty doing the work they disliked, teaching lower division courses, remedial education and large classes.

Some campuses have made it difficult for faculty to organize and have a voice as decisions have become more centralized within institutions. So it is a combination of the faculty's lack of knowledge and apathy, and institutions' efforts to keep this trend in place for economic reasons. This combination of forces has proved difficult to overturn, particularly as the non-tenured numbers are so large now. I think people who actually realize how major the trend is throw up their hands and think how can we possibly get back now?

Cary Nelson...

[Cary Nelson is Jubilee professor of liberal arts and sciences and professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and president of the American Association of University Professors.]

Tenure and academic freedom together ensure that faculty members can speak forthrightly in their classes without fear of retribution. They have made American college classrooms places where students can be challenged and inspired. They have helped make American higher education the envy of the world.

As at-will employees, adjunct faculty members can face dismissal or nonrenewal when students, parents, community members, administrators, or politicians are offended at what they say. If you can be fired tomorrow, you do not really have academic freedom. Self-censorship often results. Without economic security and due process, academic freedom cannot be protected. Poor faculty working conditions create poor student learning conditions.

The huge increase in the percentage of faculty teaching on a contingent basis — not eligible for tenure, teaching on short-term contracts — has sharply curtailed academic freedom at some institutions and weakened it elsewhere. When most faculty members were eligible for tenure, the principle of academic freedom was powerful enough to protect even those without indefinite tenure. Now that is increasingly less true.

Among the widespread myths about tenure is that it enables faculty members to avoid teaching and pursue their research instead. Yet out of more than 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States, only about 10 percent have significant numbers of faculty members heavily devoted to research. The overwhelming majority of American teachers only teach. Yet they rely on the minority of faculty members doing research to keep disciplines and student textbooks up-to-date. America’s ongoing research thus helps sustain the quality of our teaching.

The only way to preserve and rebuild our higher education system is to grant long-term adjunct faculty members the protections of tenure and appoint more tenure track faculty. As the American Association of University Professors first argued at its founding in 1915, faculty members must be able to speak out against popular orthodoxy without fear of reprisal if higher education is to do what our democracy requires. That is the right that tenure protects.

Mark C. Taylor...

[Mark C. Taylor is the chairman of the department of religion at Columbia University and the author of "Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities," to be published in September.]

Tenure is financially unsustainable and intellectually indefensible. The fundamental problem is liquidity – both financial and intellectual.

If you take the current average salary of an associate professor and assume this tenured faculty member remains an associate professor for five years and then becomes a full professor for 30 years, the total cost of salary and benefits alone is $12,198,578 at a private institution and $9,992,888 at a public institution. To fund these expenses would require a current endowment of $3,959,743 and $3,524,426 respectively and $28,721,197 and $23,583,423 at the end of the person’s career. Tenure decisions render illiquid a significant percentage of endowments at the precise moment more flexibility is required.

Capital is not only financial but is also intellectual and here too liquidity is an issue. In today’s fast changing world, it is impossible to know whether a person’s research is going to be relevant in five years let alone 35 years.

If you were the C.E.O. of a company and the board of directors said: “We want this to be the best company of its kind in the world. Hire the best people you can find and pay them whatever is required.” Would you offer anybody a contract with these terms: lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal, regardless of performance? If you did, your company would fail and you would be looking for a new job. Why should academia be any different from every other profession?

To those who say that the abolition of tenure will make faculty reluctant to be demanding with students or express controversial views, I respond that in almost 40 years of teaching, I have not known a single person who has been more willing to speak out after tenure than before. In fact, nothing represses the free expression of ideas more than the long and usually fruitless quest for tenure.

It is a mistake to pose this question in all-or-nothing terms – either you have permanent tenured faculty or itinerant adjuncts. A middle ground will address most of the problems. After a trial period of three to five years, faculty members who merit promotion should be given seven-year renewable contracts. For this system to work effectively, these reviews must be rigorous and responsible.

All too often lofty defenses of tenure mask the self-interested search for job security. Higher education is in a state of crisis. If we are to provide the education our students and children deserve and our country and the world require, we must confront these questions openly and honestly. The abolition of tenure will create a more flexible faculty that can be held responsible in ways that have been impossible for far too long.

Cathy A. Trower...

[Cathy A. Trower is a research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.]

Like the old work rules of newspaper guilds and auto workers, the tenure system, hatched in another era by a generation of mostly white males, does not fit contemporary economic realities, nor does it accommodate today’s faculty who work within the system under very different, and increasingly complex, expectations.

Research shows that Generation X values qualities that are in conflict with this system: collaboration, not competition; transparency, not secrecy; community, not autonomy; flexibility, not uniformity; diversity, not homogeneity; interdisciplinary structures, not disciplinary silos; and family-work life balance, not “publish or perish” careers. The COACHE project at Harvard finds widespread confusion, even exasperation with the tenure system among over 10,000 early-career faculty respondents to a national workplace-satisfaction survey.

The old tenure model is simply unattractive for too many individuals and institutions. So far, we have only tinkered with traditional tenure systems through incremental changes such as stop-the-clock provisions and paid leaves, mentor programs and part-time tenure tracks. These marginal changes have not overcome the inertia that has produced, almost indiscernibly, a status quo where tenured and tenure-track faculty members are an endangered species.

What if we could start from scratch to design a more flexible academic employment system? A “constitutional convention” (aided by one or more national foundations, an alliance of national organizations or disciplinary associations), at which a representative sample of faculty members, selected to mirror the diversity the academy presumably desires, should convene to rethink tenure policy.

Based on what we have heard, with ever more desperation, from tenure-track faculty members and from those kept off of it, I think the rules they would design would be different.

Some features of a newly imagined faculty workplace might include variable probationary periods, with extensions for parenthood, rather than a fixed seven-year up-or-out provision for tenure; a tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching; a non-tenure track that affords a meaningful role in shared governance; interdisciplinary centers with authority to be the locus of tenure; broader definitions of scholarship and acceptable outlets and media to "publish" research; tenure for a defined period of time; and the option to earn salary premiums while forgoing tenure entirely. Fresh perspectives are likely to generate fresh ideas. Unless we ask, we'll never know.

I believe the academy should enable this generation of scholars to write new rules that accommodate new values and new times — yet preserve the core values we still espouse. Surely, it's time to reconvene.

Richard Vedder...

[Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University.]

My academic department recently granted tenure to a young assistant professor. In so doing, it created a financial liability of over two million dollars, because it committed the institution to providing the individual lifetime employment. With nearly double digit unemployment and universities furloughing and laying off personnel, is tenure a luxury we can still afford?

There are two reasonable arguments for tenure. First is that it protects academic freedom, shielding professors with unpopular views from retribution. Supposedly, this increases intellectual diversity, promoting universities as a marketplace of ideas. Secondly, tenure is a fringe benefit that makes academia more attractive to the best scholars, in so doing reducing the salaries needed to lure them.

While tenure has undoubtedly protected some good people from losing their jobs, it actually may on balance reduce intellectual diversity. Many ideologically driven tenured professors use their job security to aggressively thwart efforts to increase alternative viewpoints being taught. Hence conservatives often feel that they are frozen out of good academic jobs simply because the tenured faculty dominating departments simply do not want alternative perspectives given academic prominence. And, given competition for good talent, really good scholars have little fear for job security if harassed because of their academic viewpoints.

The fact is that tenured faculty members often use their power to stifle innovation and change. Because of the enormous fixed costs that tenure imposes, colleges cannot quickly reallocate resources to meet new teaching and research needs. Tenure contributes to the inefficient and expensive system of shared governance, where decision-making is by committee, and compromise and deal-making trump sound policy-making, including introducing cost-saving innovations. Is it no wonder that university administrations are gradually eliminating tenure by stealth, simply by hiring non-tenure track people for most new jobs?

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