I believe in Tenure

…and unlike the US House of Representatives, I don’t believe in magic. Other than the magic of a really good song, a first kiss, and the ability of a story to transcend the now.

About 40 of my 54 years have been spent on or around a campus, or in higher ed administration. My earliest years were spent hanging around a college campus, sometimes even getting involved with faculty and students willing to talk with a six year old about birds. When I was 16, I started hanging out at my Dad’s college once again. I wasn’t quite as precocious and adorable, but I did like to talk to folks and listen to them.

The multi-faceted roles of faculty make them interesting people for anyone willing to take the time learn about their interests.

Some tenured faculty were paced and steady, as inexorable as a glacier. These were the ones everyone knew could be relied upon. They taught, they published, they served on committees.

A few were clearly just hanging around. These are the ones that the anti-tenure crowd claim to hate the most.

Some were the young hotshot rising stars. Making a name for themselves and working fiercely long after gaining tenure.

A few were climbers. The faculty rank was something to fall back on if things didn’t work out after learning they liked the taste of administration. Most were bright enough to wear a velvet glove. A small number  kept the steel fist shiny and in full view. And still they became presidents, if only briefly.

And of course, there were the curmudgeons. The ornery keepers of the flame that had staked out their territory at the institution. Sometimes their territory was the whole of the institution. These were the ones I liked best. Willing to take on any administrator, challenge any idea, in order to protect the core of the institution. They would accept new ideas when defended and presented well, but would do their best to destroy garbage ideas.

The fact is, not all ideas of presidents, vice presidents, deans, or even state officials, are good and worthy. Someone needs to be able to stand up to them without fear of summary reprisal when stupid comes to call.

If I can’t convince a tenured professor to work with me, I am either carrying a stupid idea or I don’t deserve my job. If I can’t take time to listen to the concerns of the professoriate I don’t deserve my job.

The tenured faculty are the core, a steadily shrinking core, of the college and maintains the values of the academy especially the search for knowledge,  and the sharing of that knowledge.

There are valid criticisms of individuals with tenure. Tenure is, as things of great value often are, expensive. It also looks to some as a free ride or a life-time of ease. So it becomes a target for those who claim to seek the efficiencies of something better. Unfortunately, I don’t think the tenured faculty are blameless. They could have done better policing their own ranks. They could do better fighting for improved treatment of adjuncts. I suspect though most choices are/were difficult ones.

Regardless, I believe in tenure and want to work with institutions where tenure is a real and living thing.




The Walrus of the Apocalypse

I am not he as you are he as the end is near
And we are all together, red, white, or blue hats
See how they run like pigs from a gun see the punches fly
I’m crying

Sitting at a Sonesta waiting for the van to come
Corporation tee shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you been a naughty boy. You let your face grow orange
I am the candidate, they are the losers
I am the walrus, orange face and white eyes

Mister rent-a-cop-man sitting, pretty little rentals in a row
See how they fly like hats in the sky, see how they run
I’m crying, I’m crying
I’m crying, I’m crying

Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
I am the candidate, they are the losers
I am the walrus, goo goo g’ joob

Expert texpert choking smokers
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you? (Ho ho ho! He he he! Ha ha ha!)
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they smiled
I’m crying

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the chief”
Ooh, they point the finger at you, Lord
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, oh
But when the taxman comes to the door
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, no

I ain’t got no politics
So don’t lay that rap on me
Left wing right wing up wing down
I see strip malls

It’s the bad cat white developer
Who’s created this whole damn squale
It’s the pyramid scheme of dirty jobs
And who’s gonna build your wall

Who’s gonna build your wall, boys
Who’s gonna maw your lawn
Who’s gonna cook your Mexican food
When your Mexican maid is gone

Who’s gonna wax your floors tonight
Down at the local mall
Who’s gonna wash your baby’s face
Who’s gonna build your wall

We’ve got fundamentalist muslims
We’ve got fundamentalist jew
We’ve got fundamentalist Christian
That’ll blow the whole thing up for you

But as I travel around this big ol’ world
There’s one thing that I most fear
It’s a white man in a golf shirt
With a cell phone in his ear

Hup two three four
Keep it up two three four
Hup two three four
Keep it up two three four
Company sound off!
Oh, the aim of our patrol
Is a question rather droll
For to march and drill
Over field and hillIs a military goal!
Is a military goal!
Hup two three four
Dress it up two three four
Hup two three four
Dress it up two three four
By the ranks or single file
Over every jungle mile
Oh we stamp and crush
Through the underbrush
In a military style!
In a military style!
Hup two three four
Keep it up two three four


“I am the Walrus” – The Beatles
“Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall” – Tom Russell
“Colonel Hathi’s March” – Disney’s The Jungle Book



Check Your Myths at the Door

“Golf is game of inches.”

“Drive for show, putt for dough.”

Drivel. Complete and utter bullshit. The wisdom of the ages is wrong and it is statistically wrong. And the truly bloody thing is that it was so easy to check with a simple thought exercise.

Would you rather compete one-on-one against a professional golfer for 10 drives for total distance in the fairway or for 10 putts from 10 feet away?

In August, 2010 Michael Agger in Slate wrote about why most golf statistics whiff  and Mark Broadie‘s research into golf statistics that demonstrate the relative contributions of each part of the game – driving, approach (to the green), short game (pitching and chipping), and putting. Further, the book Lowest Score Wins by Barzeski and Wedzik takes these concepts and turns them into practical advice and guidance about the game.

The simple facts are these:

  1. The farther you hit the ball on the first shot on a par four (a “scratch” or near-perfect golfer takes an average of 4 strokes to play the hole) the shorter the second is.
  2. The shorter your second shot needs to be, the shorter the club you can use. Players tend to be increasingly accurate with shorter clubs.
  3. The closer to the hole your second shot lands, the easier (shorter) your third putt is.
  4. And so on.

In other words, hit at as long as possible (and keep it safe) so that your next shot is short as possible. Repeat.

Why did people believe the myth for so long, that putting mattered more than a driving?

Here’s a new truth: The last thing that happened is what you remember best.

Yep, we tend to forget how we started out. We most remember the end. And why does this matter?

Because it is probably not the only arena in which we act this way. I think is especially true of higher ed. Too often we focus on things high school GPA, SAT/ACT scores, status at entry, and other characteristics reflecting 17/18 years or more of personal history. With the creation of state longitudinal data systems over the last (almost) decade, we are getting closer to at least understanding the impact of other aspects of those 18 years of experience. As we get further along, I suspect we are going to come to a very clear conclusion – wealth and poverty are pretty much all that matters. Without addressing the negative impacts of poverty, nothing else will matter. This is pretty much the conclusion I have come to after looking at so much data on student outcomes.

This is why the work of scholars like Sara Goldrick-Rab and Tressie McMillan-Cottom is so important.

The myth of merit is a great myth. It gives us comfort and allows us to feel special about our own accomplishments. Somehow we earned our way. This despite the fact that we pretty much always end up close to where we start out. Exceptions allow us to reinforce this belief. “See? She did it, so all the others can.”

This is not to say that merit and hard work don’t have a role to play. They do. Just like putting. Once you are on the green, they help you get all the way to hole. And the prize. It’s getting to the green that counts.

Any fool can putt. It is the simplest stroke in golf. Driving a ball 250 or 300 yards down the middle of the fairway is much, much harder, especially multiple times.

Any fool can putt. I will happily compete head-to-head in putting contest from 25 feet with any professional golfer. After all, they are only expected to make that putt one time out of 10. I can do that. So can you, almost on the basis of pure luck alone.

In other words, how close you are born to the green makes a difference.

Check what you think you know. Is it real or a myth?