February 04, 2004

Dartmouth Dean Defines Hospitality

'The status of visitors, even popular ones, is always inherently vulnerable.'

-- Michael Mastanduno, Professor of Government and Associate Dean of the Social Sciences at Dartmouth College, on the termination of (or failure to renew) Ronald W. Edsforth's annual contract ("Professor's Departure Stirs Questions at Dartmouth")

Ronald W. Edsforth has been a "visiting professor" at Dartmouth for eleven years. Apparently some of the illustrious citizens of the Department of Government think this metic has overstayed his welcome.

(For every tenure scandal that revolves around allegedly corrupted and politicized motives, there are how many similar cases involving the nontenurable?)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at February 4, 2004 02:43 PM

I think the link to your comments from last April on "visiting assistant professors" is food for thought. I've been thinking about and playing with the idea on my site that, from a functional standpoint, a main reason for academic tenure is to protect the "early investors" in the Ph.D. market-saturation scheme from the economic consequences of their overproduction. If there's no tenure, then all professors are subject to the same market forces of too many Ph.D.s, and all can eventually lose their jobs or have their pay cut. On the other hand, if there is a "tenured" class of market players who can't lose their jobs to cheaper competition, they will be able to maximize their own income by producing as many Ph.D.s as their schedules can handle, far in excess of what would be needed to keep the market stable.

The problem with this plan, as I see it, is price cutting at the margin by the cartel. A "visiting professor" who's been in the same place for 11 years would seem to violate the normal expectation. Of course, so would adjuncts, another form of price cutting. And the example of Chris below, that you also discuss in your comment on my site, indicates how easily the hiring university can change the status of an employee to suit its needs.

I think cases like this would be the basis for a challenge to the tenure system. A private-sector employee dismissed after 11 years of (apparently) good appraisals would likely sue, if the employer didn't buy him out -- and this would be without any explicit expectation of tenure. The footsie and price-cutting at the edges, it seems to me, will be one factor that brings down this system.

Posted by: John Bruce at February 4, 2004 04:33 PM