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Utah to do away with professor tenure?

From the Leiter report: Lawmaker's bill would end tenure for Utah profs

This deserves a long scree, but it's late and I have a reading list quota still to meet. So I'll limit myself to two points:

  • One of the main reasons for tenure is to protect faculty who express unpopular opinions. Academia at its best should be about the free exchange of ideas. Recently a Brooklyn College adjunct had his contract threatened because of his views. Ultimately he was allowed to teach there, but only because of pressure put on the university administration. Adjuncts lack the kind of protection tenured professors get. I have no problem with bad teachers losing their jobs, but taking away tenure full-stop is going too far.

  • Tenure takes years to reach. All over Utah there are people who have been doing the things academics are supposed to do - teaching, writing papers, supporting their universities - in the expectation that if they met benchmarks they could reasonably expect tenure. It's not a hard-and-fast promise, true, but still it's an expectation agreed to by both sides. Which makes this monumentally uncool.

So much for the non-interference of government in private business, I guess...



Feb. 19th, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
You make some good practical points about where the money is coming from, and about the fact that professors at state schools are legally state employees As a child of public education (through my M.A.) I should have known more of that. You're right, my implication that state schools were like private businesses was misplaced.

You mention the football coach who is fired for expressing an opinion his employers disapprove of. Maybe this is because I'm an academic and not a coach, but I don't really have a problem with that. A coach's job isn't to express opinions of any kind, but to win ball games and nurture a program that is important to alumni and students. A professor's job is to help students learn a new subject and to further develop human knowledge in some specific area - both of which necessarily involve asking challenging questions. (In the first case, those questions can be pedagogical; I routinely ask my students why a certain position is wrong to get them thinking about their reasons behind an assumption, without really believing the position I'm having them question is right...)

This goes both ways, btw. My M.A. program had a psychology prof who was quite controversial for her gender views. She thought the best road to happy (heterosexual) relationships was for women to submit to men, both because of cultural expectations and innate human nature. In Cleveland this didn't go over in a big way, but just having her around and arguing for that view led to some really interesting (and useful!) dialogue. This was a good thing, in my view. In a big way she was fulfilling the role of the university and of education generally. It just seems like that's something that should be protected.



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