June 27, 2003

Should Tenure be Abolished? Vote Now!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 27, 2003 08:01 PM

IA, those categories are not mutually exclusive, which makes a survey question difficult to answer (and you won't quite know what the results are
telling you). One could feel that no, it shouldn't be abolished, but yes, it should be modified. It would be clearer if the 2nd and 3rd options said: No, the system should stay the way it is; No, but it should be modified. Although one could argue that this is implicit in the current options, I think it's better to be explicit about it.

Posted by: Eszter at June 28, 2003 01:23 AM

Good point. In fact, the character limit for options with this polling software does not allow for much nuance. With option 3, I tried to enter "Not abolished, but modified" but got cut off.
So here's what I mean:

Yes -- tenure should be completely abolishd

No -- current system of tenure is fine and should be maintained

Should be modified -- tenure should not be abolished, but should be modified

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 09:25 AM

Oh, I can't believe they don't allow that "many" characters. That's a bummer, it seems like a cool little free tool, I've alrady added a link to it on my weekly announcement list (I'll have to add a note about limitations).

Posted by: Eszter at June 28, 2003 09:41 AM

It's definitely a nifty little tool (thanks again to "Adjunct Spouse" for pointing it out). And since it's free, it seems churlish to complain. But the character limit is a limitation.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 09:46 AM

Maybe that's why those polls at the newsites are so simplistic! I'd assumed conceptual problems, but maybe they are technical.

Posted by: Rana at June 28, 2003 12:47 PM

No, I think you were right the first time, Rana :) It's probably conceptual. I've been looking into polling software: looks like you can get a far superior application if you're willing to pay (which I'm not, but which newsites presumably are).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 01:32 PM

I'm curious about what people mean by "should be modified." Full disclosure: I voted for the clean answer, "Yes." I see little advantage to tenure as it stands. It seems ineffective at protecting academic freedom, and has far too many bad side effects.

Now I *could* go for something that guarantees 6 or 8 or 10 years by contract before another (post-tenure?) review. Is that still tenure? But tenure, as it stands, ends up protecting not just un-orthodox ideas, but sloth as well.

On the other hand, does this mean a race to the bottom. Will it mean that the 60-year-old (middle-aged in our field) scholar is forced to compete with the newly minted Ph.D.s to put out Least Publishable Units rather than work on her magnum opus? That seems a fairly likely and undesirable outcome.

Posted by: Alex Halavais at June 28, 2003 02:40 PM

Well, I don't know what "modified" means, either. But since I often encounter the statement that the tenure system should not be ablished but modified, I thought I'd include it as a response.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 06:22 PM

Well, I voted for modified and I was thinking of something like 10-15 year contracts. It would be a much less settled life for professors but then maybe fewer people would choose it and the ones who did would care more about it. Of course, any time you change a system, some of the people already in it get a raw deal, but that doesn't seem to me a compelling reason not to make the change.

And if I may think out loud on a tangent here, I'd guess there's about zero chance that a university could pull off substantially changing or modifying tenure. The best bet would be a state legislature somewhere; unfortunately, your best friends in that fight would be professor-hating fundamentalists.

Who knows, might be worth it.

Posted by: ogged at June 28, 2003 10:42 PM

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago in the previous century, I heard Milton Friedman say that tenure should be abolished. I thought he was right then, and I still do.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 2, 2003 10:34 PM

This is the one I was looking for when I posted the above


I enjoyed your essay "Monastery or the Market?" I guess the easy come back to academics who complain about corporatization is to ask if they are willing to give up sex.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago in a previous millennium, Milton Friedman was fond of telling us that he was opposed to tenure. he citied Smith's Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter I, Part III, Article 2d. and the history of the university in medieval times which began with students hiring professors. Those are market models.

Oxford and Cambridge were run as monasteries until late in the 19th century. The dons were required to be clergymen.

American universities were modeled after 19th century German universities. German universities were state institutions without apologies. The professors were state officers appointed by the government. The idea that the government should subsidize, much less, tolerate an institution whose purpose is to oppose the established order would have been laughed at as an obvious absurdity. No sense of humor those germans, no drug problems either.

In the 20th Century, Abraham Flexner, brought the German System to Johns Hopkins and reformed medical education. Men like Harper (Chicago) Lowell (Harvard) and Butler (Columbia) began the revolution at the beginning of the 20th cent. which was completed by Kerr (California), Pussey (Harvard) and Brewster (Yale).

So from a historical perspective, you are right the system is corporate, but it is statist, not market oriented and a real market system would look very different.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 4, 2003 11:19 PM