So the New York Times is wondering “What if College Tenure Dies?” Then they invite the usual suspects to comment. Cathy Trower from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, however, is new to me and her logic is so twisted that it makes my head spin:
Research shows that Generation X values qualities that are in conflict with this system: collaboration, not competition; transparency, not secrecy; community, not autonomy; flexibility, not uniformity; diversity, not homogeneity; interdisciplinary structures, not disciplinary silos; and family-work life balance, not “publish or perish” careers. The COACHE project at Harvard finds widespread confusion, even exasperation with the tenure system among over 10,000 early-career faculty respondents to a national workplace-satisfaction survey.
So I followed the links and read her research. It’s a survey rating asking pre-tenure faculty to rate their job satisfaction. Here’s what they wanted to know about tenure:
The survey asked pre-tenure faculty to rate their level of clarity regarding four aspects of tenure: process, criteria, standards, and the body of evidence required. Along the same scale, the survey asked pre-tenure faculty to rate their level of clarity regarding their sense of whether or not they will achieve tenure. Faculty then rated their level of agreement with the following two statements: “I have received consistent messages from tenured colleagues about the requirements for tenure,” and, “In my opinion, tenure decisions here are made primarily on performance-based criteria rather than on non-performance criteria.”
Just because the tenure system may be administered badly in some places is no reason to get rid of tenure. Getting inconsistent messages from tenured colleagues is not the same as saying the whole system should be abolished. Inform the same survey participants of the alternative and then see what they think. Here is the alternative from another participant in the same forum:
It is not a good situation when professors have no office or materials or supplies, have limited technology and administrative support, are not paid for office hours (thus discouraged from meeting with students), have no job security — wondering semester to semester or year to year whether they have a job — and have a limited ability to prepare, since they find out they teach within days or weeks of a class.
Eradicate tenure and that’s what you’ll get. Adjuncts everywhere. Guaranteed. Particularly in the humanities.
PS I can’t wait to see what Marc Bousquet does with this story.