Tenure is not a political issue.

3 09 2010

There’s an essay in the NYT today (which I found via UD) that reads like a joint book review of the two tomes by Andrew Hacker and Mark C. Taylor. Both are recent violators of Rees’ Rule, namely tenured faculty who hate tenure but still haven’t seen fit to give it up yet. It’s not like it’s a bad essay. Indeed, UD is rightfully mostly complimentary. Nevertheless, statements like this still drive me bonkers:

The higher-ed jeremiads of the last generation came mainly from the right. But this time, it’s the tenured radicals — or at least the tenured liberals — who are leading the charge.

Man bites dog! Liberals hate tenure! Give me a break.

Tenure is not a political issue. the most obvious reason for this is that it protects conservatives as well as liberals. Therefore, it’s just as valuable in business schools as it is in history departments. And like democracy itself, it even protects the rights of hypocrites who cling to it for their entire careers and then decide that they want to abolish it.

The less obvious problem with the notion that tenure is a political issue is the failure to recognize the multiplicity of opinions on the “left” side of the political spectrum. I know plenty of nominally “liberal” college professors who don’t give a fig for one of the most important tenets of liberalism, namely empathy for those less fortunate than you. That’s why they don’t speak out against adjunct exploitation. That’s why they abuse the administrative staff. That’s why they write books towards the end of their careers saying that the tenure they enjoyed for the last thirty-odd years is a horrible, horrible thing.

This reminds me of my general response to the now-tired argument that universities don’t have a diversity of opinions because there aren’t enough self-identifying Republicans on the faculty: Who says you need Republicans to have a diversity of opinions? If you’re a yellow dog Democrat like me, you probably know as many people who practically stopped speaking to you over the Clinton/Obama divide two years ago as I do. But even beyond politics, people at the lower end of the job ladder still need just as much protection from people who nominally come from the same section of the political spectrum as they do. Indeed, if we accept the supposition that academia is full of liberals, they likely need more protection from their own side than they do from the view Republican business school professors skulking around the ranks of upper administration.

In short, tenure is not a political issue because academic politics knows no political boundaries. Pettiness is the enemy, not politics.




One response

4 09 2010

Right. Immediate self-interest trumps remote ideology, no matter that the latter lends itself more readily to impassioned articulation.

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