Perhaps I’m a little overly sensitive due to a series of hostile editorials in my local paper, but I’ve been noticing a lot of anti-tenured professor material out on the Internet lately. You know, the kind of stuff describing our cushy 12 hour work weeks and $120,000 annual salaries. While that bothers me, it doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is when people inside academia make the same kind of arguments which are only slightly better tethered to reality.
Here’s one from an historian at the beginning of their career as related by AHA President Tony Grafton (subs. only):
A junior historian and blogger addressed me directly in an open letter. This focused tightly on a problem also raised by some of the commentators on other blogs: the economic situation of the profession and “the plight of junior scholars”: “Of course, the current attacks on the humanities hurt all of us in the profession, but they hurt some of us much more than others. For those scholars who are tenured or more established, the current climate might mean that they have a higher number of hostile students, or more annoying and time-wasting ‘accountability’ measures foisted upon them. For junior scholars, however, the stakes are much higher: career life or death. When the budgetary axe swings down, tenured faculty will not be cut, but lines will go unfilled, and those tenure-track lines will be replaced by adjuncts, and it will be the scholars of my generation who will be filling those adjunct slots, trying to make ends meet on meager salaries without health insurance or job security.”
Tell that to the French, Italian and Russian Departments at SUNY – Albany. “But that’s languages,” you say. “Nobody will ever cut jobs in real departments.” Tell that to the entire faculty at Antioch College. Isn’t this what the “crisis in the humanities” is all about?
Yesterday in IHE, an English Professor at Carnegie Mellon sarcastically (at least I hope it was sarcastically) proposed a new organization to send tenure faculty out to pasture:
AOU would work to remedy this bias against youth. It would, through a rigorous screening process, pinpoint faculty who are clogging positions and select them for hits, or “extra-academic retirement” (EAR). While this might raise qualms from the more liberal-minded among us, we would argue that it is more humane, both to potential faculty who otherwise have been shunted aside and to those languishing in the holding pattern of a withered career, than our current system. The retirement would be efficient and quick, and strictly limited to those who, as the saying goes, have their best years long behind them.
You don’t have to be Marc Bousquet to figure out the problem with the academic job market is not tenured people occupying their lines too long, it’s the lack of enough tenure-track lines to begin with. The adjunctification of the professoriate over the last thirty years hurts tenured faculty by devaluing what they do. It illustrates to the powers that be that we can be always be replaced by someone else who works for much, much less. Our salaries stagnate. Unhappiness flourishes.
Certainly tenured faculty are in a better position to withstand budgetary assaults than contingent faculty, but why can’t we unite against the common enemy? Isn’t it better to have a job worth fighting for even if you never quite make it to that position?