Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bizarro U

Here is another timely post from the Tenured Radical. Sadly, I seem to be working at the bizzaro world opposite of the institution TR inhabits. TR writes:

Here's the good news: my dean (I think of him when he does good as *my* dean) is trying to get the provost to approve putting tenure-track lines in programs. This is a very good move ... making The Program less vulnerable to departments screwing up or getting shirty on us or not tenuring people because they only hired them as a favor to us in the first place but they don't like them enough to really want to keep them. And frankly, most departments don't "get" interdisciplinary work and we have to spend endless hours explaining what The Program does, and that it is really A Field, with Journals and Graduate Programs and Stuff. I don't know why they don't ever seem to understand this, but they don't. Or they do, and then they say, "Yes we'd be happy to hire with American Studies as long as the person can teach two sections of statistical analyis." It's a lot like saying, "I'd love to hire someone who can teach History. And Physics. Whaddya say?"
Tenure-track lines in programs IS a very good idea.

Sadly, at my bizarro world university, the Dean and Provost are busy dismantling and demoting our interdisciplinary department, with its own tenure-track lines, into an assortment of disconnected programs with no tenure-track lines. The current faculty is being dispersed and sent back to our various disciplinary homes where no one will "get" interdisciplinary work, and where hiring, promotion and tenure for interdisciplinary work will take a backseat to disciplinary requirements and needs.

I'm not picky about the titles given to our interdisciplinary programs -- they can call us a department, a program, a center, an institute, or a posse for all I care -- but without faculty control of hiring, promotion, and tenure the academic quality of these interdisciplinary programs will suffer as will the simple quantity of hours devoted to teaching and research in these areas. It's a real loss for our institution, and a giant step backwards for faculty governance on our campus.


  1. Sounds awful. Something like that happened at Penn about twenty years ago, where they tore apart Am Civ: a lot of people woke up one day with the equivalent of refugees sittingnext to them in a department meeting.


  2. All the Americanist I know eventually end up in English departments, God knows why. Administrations cling to the disciplinary matrix as it was laid down by God and Moses in the 1950s out of expertise fear - that is, that they won't be able to tell what a student graduating as an American Studies student has expertise in, for instance. Expertise fear is academia's own endogenous moral panic, and it comes along around every ten to twenty years and does infinite amounts of damage.

  3. I like the phrase "endogenous moral panic." That certainly seems to capture the fear of all things that don't fit neatly into disciplinary boxes.

  4. I am one of those people hired by a department as a favor to an interdisciplinary program and oy, do I feel the endogenous moral panic.