Tuesday, November 24, 2009


*poof* The more I thought about this too-dramatic post, in which I argued that going to 5-year contracts would mean kicking everyone over 45 to the curb, the more uncomfortable I was with it, especially after reading the judicious responses from readers.

Read the comments--they're better than the post--and please chalk the original post up to too much caffeine. Sorry.


New Kid on the Hallway said...

I understand the arguments you're making here, but honestly, I think it overstates the awfulness of the non-academic work world. Not all non-academic employers are kicking older employees to the curb. Plus, the point of contracts is that they can protect both sides--contracts would lay out responsibilities for both chairs and faculty. This post lays out a parade of horribles, but how do we know that this is what *would* happen? (when it doesn't necessarily happen that way at institutions that currently use contracts? I don't think it's because the institutions with tenure keep the institutions without tenure honest, because I don't think there's any kind of serious competition between institutions with and without tenure. I mean, if there's a huge oversupply of Ph.Ds--which everyone seems to agree on--then institutions without tenure don't have to worry about market demands; they, like everyone else, have TONS of applicants.) And aren't chairs faculty too? Wouldn't they also be under contracts with requirements of their own? And don't such conversations as you envision with the chair happen at institutions *with* tenure? Abusive employment practices are abusive whether accompanied by tenure or not.

moria said...

I'm enough of a cynic to agree with you on this.

But the best, really the best argument I've heard in favor of tenure so far is Dr Crazy's recent argument that tenure is good not just for individuals but for institutions, and especially for students.

I don't know why my cynicism doesn't extend to a rejection of her argument. Maybe the prospect of a long weekend has me feeling more optimistic than I even know.

undine said...

New Kid, I agree--this is a parade of horrible, worst-case scenarios. If you think about it, the Ivies already have a version of this because they almost never tenure junior faculty; they figure that the prestige factor is sufficient reward for work without hope of permanence.

My feeling (and you're right: it's a gloomy, worst-case feeling) is that without the checks and balances that tenure (a kind of union, though not one that does a good job of protecting everyone) provides, there'd be a lot more pressure on the part of management to get rid of any worker who was expensive, either by virtue of salary/longevity or by virtue of illness, disability, etc. I'd also expect a much more adversarial labor/management relationship, with chairs being much more in a manager's position, perhaps with different contracts. Maybe they'd have some kind of special tenure, the way that administrators now get tenure and a tenure home automatically when they come to an institution. I wonder, too, whether the contracts would be for 5 years. It sounds like a lot given the lifetime contract of tenure, but if tenure's gone, why would they bother, really?

I hope this is just gloomy speculation, but the history of labor relations in this country doesn't make me very hopeful.

undine said...

Moria, absolutely. Dr. Crazy has covered the best reasons: the students. I thought I'd stake out the selfish reasons, even though the students are the real reason not to do this.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

undine - I guess then my question is this: if not having tenure sets up such a terrible inherently antagonistic labor relation, wouldn't (more) faculty unionize in response and wouldn't that equalize things (somewhat)? and also, if all non-tenure work is so inherently terrible, why do only faculty deserve to be protected from those conditions as opposed to any other kinds of laborers? I mean, it sounds kind of like either you have tenure or you have an inherently terrible antagonistic labor/management relationship... but the latter doesn't seem necessarily to describe the working conditions of all other professions in the US.

As for why (at least) five years: I doubt administrators would want to deal with the logistics of reviewing everyone and rehiring everyone every year - that sounds rather inefficient, kind of like running searches every year.

Also, I honestly don't think that tenure is necessary for faculty to be dedicated to their students and institutions (thinking about all the community colleges that don't offer tenure, for instance--I don't think their faculty aren't dedicated).

I mean, you and Dr. Crazy make a lot of important points, don't get me wrong. There are just certain points in this debate I have to pick at.

undine said...

New Kid, you're right again: I almost said something over at your place about the ways in which faculty like tenure in part because it grants them special protections against being fired--and really, why should faculty be the one class of worker that is so special that they're not affected by the economic downturn?

It would indeed be inefficient to have to evaluate and rehire everyone every year, but most schools have a more or less permanent (and ever-growing, as tenured people retire and aren't replaced) cadre of instructors and adjunct professors to teach their courses. Over at the CHE forums, the tales of people not getting contracts until a week before the semester begins are legion. That's doubtless a skewed sample, but if it proved to be more economically efficient for institutions to go to shorter contracts--and there'd be a lot of hurdles in the way of accreditation, right now, to do so--they would do it.

You're also right that you don't need tenure to be dedicated to your students, but depending on the metrics that the college is using to measure productivity and tasks associated with its mission, that dedication may or may not figure into your prospects for continued employment.

I guess I'm thinking of tenure almost as one of the checks and balances in the system, almost as unions are.

And thanks for your thoughtful way of picking at these questions.

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