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.




Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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