Higher Education?

In an otherwise confused and incomprehensible discussion about academic life in the NY Times, Mark C Taylor made one comment that I actually agree with: “Nothing represses the free expression of ideas more than the long and usually fruitless quest for tenure.” I’ll leave aside whether or  not it’s a fruitless quest, but Andrew Hacker makes a similar case in The Atlantic.

A lot of the pressure to publish is tied in with the pressure to earn tenure. You argue that tenure actually doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do—it doesn’t preserve academic freedom.

Here’s what happens. Academics typically don’t get tenured until the age of 40. This means that from their years as graduate students and then assistant professors, from age 25 through 38 or 39, they have to toe the line. They have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can’t be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We’ve seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don’t change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they’ve been trained to follow. Continue reading

Tenure, RIP?

A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Tenure RIP?  makes for interesting reading.  I’ve pasted it below.

Some time this fall, the U.S. Education Department will publish a report that documents the death of tenure. Innocuously titled “Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009,” the report won’t say it’s about the demise of tenure. But that’s what it will show.Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell even further in 2009, dropping below one-third. If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors. Continue reading

Familiar Storyline.

Surprise, surprise – she was crazy all along – no other questions need to be asked:

The revelations about the past of the biology professor accused of shooting three colleagues to death at the University of Alabama Friday are stacking up by the day.

First came the news that the professor, Amy Bishop, shot and killed her teenage brother in suburban Boston under hazy circumstances in 1986. Then that she was investigated in 1993 in an attempted mail bombing of a Harvard professor who was evaluating her work as a postdoc.

While much is still not known in the case, all the facts seem to be pointing to one question: how did a person with such a troubled past appear, from the outside, to have been carrying on a successful, normal life?

Case closed.

Shooting For Tenure

I know, I know, but bear with my horrible double-entendre. New York Times has some details about Amy Bishor’s saga. Apparently, she was denied tenure, appealed, won the appeal and then was not tenured anyway (provost’s decision). Again, nothing justified shooting your colleagues in retaliation, but hopefully this story will bring some of the tenure procedures to the public attention:

Mr. Anderson said that months ago, the university administration overruled a successful appeal of the decision to deny Dr. Bishop tenure in spring 2009.

“She won her appeal,” he said, “and the provost canned it.”

The university has declined to elaborate on the details of Dr. Bishop’s tenure application, saying only that she was denied last spring and that she could stay at the university only until the end of this academic year. Even if a faculty member successfully appeals a tenure denial, the final decision rests with the administration.

So this “final decision rests with the administration” part deserves more attention, I think.

Idaho State Fires A Tenured Professor.

Apparently not even being tenured and being supported by the faculty can help you keep your job in Idaho:

The Idaho State Journal reports Habib Sadid confirmed Friday that university president Arthur Vailas had terminated his employment.

In a statement, Vailas said his decision was in the best interests of the institution.

A university faculty appeals board determined a week ago there wasn’t enough evidence to fire Sadid, but Vailas was not obligated to follow that recommendation.

Sadid, who was suspended for what administrators say is unprofessional and insubordinate behavior, contends his history of speaking his mind about problems at the school led to the disciplinary action.

Idaho State officials argue free speech rights do not allow him to make slanderous statements.

I wonder what sort of “slanderous statements” he made? I wonder if this story is similar to the case of Butler University student who was threatened with a lawsuit and is not threatened with disciplinary action for criticizing upper administration? When does critique of policy become a reason to fire a tenured professor? I mean at least they found something on Ward Churchill before they fired him. Here it seems like the case where administration went against the recommendations of its own faculty – I’d like to know more details…

Here‘s an earlier story from InsideHigherEd about Sadid – he sounds like your regular (even if highly irritable and outspoken) critic of administration – again, criticism of policies, however uncivil and impolite, serve as a ground of termination. I’m assuming he will sue, I’d like to see what comes out of it. My favorite part? This is done for the good of the university, president tells us.

“Gratuitous Mischief:” Tenured Faculty

I came across an article in The Symptom (over at lacan.com) entitled “Towards a Theory of the Tenured Class,” and there were some passages that just made me giggle out loud (I’m not sure because it rings true or because it’s just plain silly-I’m going with a combination of both!). For one:

To professors with a taste not just for jargon incomprehensible to common people but also for otherwise unacceptable contradictions, tenure offers authoritarian leverage in mind-fucking.

And this one:

Predisposed to pontificate, if not to bluster and bluff, they develop a resistance to doing first-hand research as beneath them, something strictly for the lower academic classes, much as those who become bosses become incapable of doing menial work. Indeed, especially if trained in philosophy, literature, and sociology, rather than history or economics, tenured profs are in my observation prone to making stuff up, often outrageously. When George Orwell once quipped that only intellectuals with a taste for peculiar ideas could be so stupid it was obvious that he didn’t know tenured profs, some of whom can be yet stupider at no cost to themselves, who are, in effect, a licensed jerks. The inspiration for this critique was a sociologist who seems to take particular glee in demonstrating how sociologically dumb an academic sociologist can be. A Victim of Tenure I rank him to be. Outrageous Stupidity becomes for the tenured the analogue of Conspicuous Consumption-an inexpensive privilege that Thorstein Veblen attributed to the “leisure class.”

Continue reading

God Is (Sort Of) Dead (But Not In Texas).

Great story from the state of Texas: 

“God is dead.” That phrase, from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, is among the philosopher’s most well known — and most hotly debated. 

At Temple College, a community college in Texas, the words in the original German — Gott ist tot — have been barred from a professor’s office door. While the college says that to leave the phrase up would offend others and constitute and endorsement of the phrase, the professor and others see a double standard in place, and a violation of academic freedom.

Kerry Laird, a literature and composition professor who does not have tenure, is in his first year at Temple. He said that, as a student and instructor, he always enjoyed the way professors use their office doors to reveal bits of their personality and to challenge students with cartoons, artwork, and various phrases. So when he started at Temple, he put a cartoon up showing Smokey the Bear, a girl scout and a boy scout and the tag line: “Kids — don’t fuck with God or bears will eat you.” He received a complaint and decided that he understood why the college “might not want the f-word” in the hallway, and so he decided to put up something else.

My favorite part of the above quote, you ask? “…a literature and composition professor who does not have tenure” – so the real message of the piece is not about “academic freedom” but about “academic etiquette” – feel free to express your views on your door after you get tenure, silly!