Tenure: the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow where the educator can nestle into like a comfortable chair until death or retirement put paid to their years of professorship. The good old days, right?
Tenures are going the way of the dinosaur, and that may just be a good thing. Professors, whether tenured or not, should be assessed yearly, by both students and administration, to see if their skills are valuable enough to remain in good standing with the college.
The loss of tenure comes with alleged fear on both sides of the debate. The first, which is rooted in the academia mind-set, is without tenured professors there will be a loss of freedom of speech by those teaching in a temporary position (adjuncts). Those who are hired only temporarily are afraid to speak out since it may jeopardize their standing with the colleges, preventing them from rehire should they “rock the boat.” This reluctance is a fact as some of those interviewed requested their names not be revealed in case of reprisal. Many adjuncts feel tenured professors have a freedom to teach and speak what and how they feel.
The second side sees it similar to term-limits in congress: non-tenure will bring fresh minds, more dialog in the classrooms and force instructors to work hard for their placement in colleges.
A college moving to purely adjunct-driven teaching should not create a fear of job loss or alleviate the need for professors to continue stretching the bounds of their position, to reeducate themselves and never settle into an attitude of complacency.
An adjunct professor of history at Boise State, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “As far as tenured professors, I do believe in some way that a person that has made it through the rigors of a doctoral program should be compensated differently. To attract the type of professors the school needs to become a university of distinction it seems that it would have to add more to their compensation package if tenure were eliminated. If you gain more research and development because of a more competitive environment it might be worth it but you would have to make sure you are able to attract and keep qualified and motivated professionals in the positions.”
However, if a tenured professor heading a department drills said department into the ground, nests into their role like a pasha directing his subjects, then that reflects badly on the college, the department itself and finally the students who are witness to the lack of skills offered by the ineffective teacher. And those professors should not be able to hide behind a tenure-enabled academic mindset, which has gone on for ages.
This attitude should also come as a relief to over-stretched, over-budgeted colleges who are witnessing their usual financial resources drying up rapidly. Though, once a college dips its toe in hiring a glut of adjuncts, they see the savings of doing so reflected on their bottom line.
There is little academic freedom with tenured professors, especially those who have lost touch with education itself. When they are ineffective instructors disallowing controversy in their classes due to their “I am right, you are wrong” mentality, then there is a very large problem occurring.
According to Jack Stripling in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Tenure’s protections make it difficult to get rid of incompetent faculty and can promote a culture of complacency among those who have attained the status.”
One of the best ways to run college faculties would allow the faculty to become contractual workers, beginning with a four to five year contract, giving the college those years to phase out programs which are not working, implement new ones and keep the academics alive.
A tenured professor within the English department, who also wished to remain anonymous, said, “Tenure is designed so that professors have the freedom and liberty to pursue their research. It exists to protect the freedom of thought of professors. That said, I think 5-year contracts for adjuncts would be great. This would provide them with job security.”
President Richard K. Miller, in an article written for Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, pointed out, “Nobody comes to Olin because they’re looking for job security. People come to Olin because they’re looking to make a difference.”
Indeed, those who are no longer making a difference in a university environment should reevaluate their reasons for staying, as should the college administration for allowing them to stay. With each consecutive year at Boise State, the administration should reflect on shedding the college of its own complacent hangers-on. Perhaps it is time to provide limited-issue contracts to educators rather than be shackled with them “till death do you part.”
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