[First published October 12, 2005] I have taught for most of my life in a university and had tenure. But I oppose its system of tenure. It has become a system that protects incompetent faculty, and a shield behind which many faculty take their salary, teach their courses from yellowed notes, do little real research, and spend much of their time socializing, pursuing personal interests, a hobby, or promoting their politics. It is an unbelievable life compared to that of the working stiff or the businessman. Faculty may teach six to twenty hours a week, depending on whether they are at a research university (one that has a Ph.D. program in most disciplines), or not. Aside from his teaching hours, the tenured professor is free to come and go. For those at a research university, teaching only six to nine hours, he may be expected to also counsel students, chair Ph.D. dissertations, and participate in department and university committees. But, through various ruses, he may avoid much of this. And indeed, if their incompetence and stupidly is known — and there are seldom secrets about this — he may be relieved of these academic obligations. Thus the dumber and less competent, the more free time to idle away at maybe $50,000-60,000 a year (if there is a faculty union, raises are across the board).
Those who suffer from this system are the students and fresh PhDs, from whom positions are held by the aged and feeble. With tenure, a guaranteed salary, and associated perks, these hanger-ons will not retire even when their lecture notes disintegrate from age and use.
There is something more here. The tenure system has enabled a coalition of leftist-socialist-Marxists (communist) professors to establish a politburo-like rule over an academic department. They control who is hired; who does not get tenure; the criteria for accepting graduate students into the department, and awarding them teaching assistantships, and grants; and the content of the curriculum. Because of tenure, this control is virtually impossible to change except by the death or, exceptionally, retirement of its members. And this is a wide-ranging coalition across departments and universities. They give good reviews to each other’s books; as peer reviewers, they recommend the publication of each others articles; as panel chairmen, they select who will be on a professional panel and who the discussants will be; and as grant application readers, they determine who will get funds for research; and perhaps most important, they decide what dissertations will be accepted. In other words, these tenured leftists move whole disciplines, such that they become marked by a dominant leftist ideology. Such is sociology, political science, and the humanities today.
The left shields their tenure by claiming it guarantees academic freedom. Don’t believe it. Even the tenured who disagree with the dominant left, or step on one of their icons (e.g., American “imperialism,” “greedy” capitalism, the Palestinian “just cause”), can be fired, or the conditions of their academic life made so miserable that they will leave. For the left, academic freedom is for the leftist professor, not the libertarian, conservative, or heaven forbid, Bush supporter. What applies to faculty is multiplied for students. To get a good grade and, most important recommendation (the coin of the academic realm), mirror the prof. on exams (if he claims white is black, then so it is), ask softball questions, or shut up.
What to do about this system? Legislators in some states are trying to pass an academic bill of rights (see link below) By itself, it will do no good as long as there is tenure to protect incompetence, malingering, and extremism. Other than getting rid of tenure (I favor five-year renewable contracts), the best way to deal with this is sunshine — transparency of what goes on with tenured academics. If outraged non-leftist faculty and students speak out with their personal stories, if what is going on within the university with tenure is disclosed, then this pollution will eventually be known by boards of overseers and regents, and those who support and fund universities and their projects. And students and their parents may start avoiding certain schools.
And finally, the poor worker, dedicated professional, and hard working businessman may see how their taxes or the tuition they pay for their children is being used. Especially, they will eventually see how while they work hard for what they earn, there is a malingering, money-sucking class like an ancient aristocracy, living within their university-castle, and surrounded by a tenure-moat
Links of Note
Links I Must Share
Harvard Law prof Alan Dershowiz has a long track record of leftist political views and defense of human rights. After 9/11 he began to speak out openly on the need to confront militant Islamacism and terror tactics. So it’s not surprising that yesterday he took on Columbia Univ. and its faculty.
Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University writes on the effects of left wing groupthink at universities, and the effect it has on career advancement and curriculum.
RJR: I’ve seen it all.
The recent firestorm of controversy over the Campus Watch website may be only the beginning. Now a new website called NoIndoctrination.org has the potential to draw wide public attention to the abuse of fairness and trust regularly practiced in today’s politically correct college classrooms.
RJR: This is the way democracy is supposed to work.