Monday, March 31, 2008

Seven Years Is Enough

The recent blog exchange on tenure has now been picked up by Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education as well as by Professor Zero with her Modest Proposal. I thought perhaps her post might be about hungry adjuncts eating administrators, but no. Instead it's an even more shocking proposal -- tenure at hiring. Although I'm intrigued by such a proposal, I had posted previously an even more modest proposal that I would like to revisit here.

My proposal is simply that institutions adhere to a slightly truncated version of the current AAUP Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The AAUP writes:

The total period of full-time service prior to the acquisition of continuous tenure will not exceed 7 years, including all previous full-time service with the rank of instructor or higher in other institutions of higher learning.
If generally enforced, I believe this one principle would solve many of the current problems with tenure. The constant escalation of tenure requirements and time to tenure is one of the chief complaints of those involved. This makes tenure into a moving target such that no one knows where to aim. It tends to make every tenure case cloudy since one can always imagine that more and better teaching, research and service could have been done, or even point to a case where more and better was actually done thus ratcheting up the standards one more notch. It also produces a tenured faculty whose own records of teaching, research, and service slowly fall behind the current standards such that committees may find themselves turning down junior faculty for tenure whose records are substantially more distinguished than some full professors in the department. This is a situation that can only end in tears -- or law suits.

If institutions restrained themselves and required no more than seven years of full-time work for tenure, these situations would not arise. There is actually a physical limit to how many books and articles can be published, how many courses taught, and how much service can be done in seven years. It may be high, but it is finite. And while some institutions may decide to push closer to this limit while others decide to provide more latitude, and while some might give more weight to teaching and service while others focus more exclusively on research, there is actually an upper limit to the amount of work that will be extracted from junior faculty before being granted tenure.

Thus, if a search committee wishes to hire that very attractive candidate with great teaching evaluations, six articles and a book contract for their position, that would be fine — just notice that the candidate has those very impressive credentials because they have been a Lecturer for five years and a Visiting Assistant Professor for three years already and so should be hired with tenure. If a committee doesn’t want to take that plunge, fine — there are many recent Ph.D.'s they can hire without any teaching experience or publications that can be hired into a tenure track job for the whole seven year probationary time. Or they can find someone in between and let them go up for tenure after two or three years instead. But no one would ever be expected to work for more than seven years, in any combination of jobs, and then be expected to spend yet more probationary time for tenure. Nor is it necessary. It is already abundantly clear what that person can accomplish in seven years. It’s on their vita.

Unfortunately, the AAUP statement then goes on to fatally weaken this otherwise admirable standard by adding that
the probationary period may extend to as much as four years, even if the total full-time service in the profession thereby exceeds seven years
What this exception really means is that faculty are subject to never-ending probationary periods and that there is no upper limit to how high the requirements for tenure can go. For instance, suppose after ten years as a full-time Lecturer, one is then hired into a tenure track position and asked to spend another four years on probation; and then another four years after that if they move on to yet another institution. If after eighteen years of full-time teaching they are then granted tenure, their vita may look substantially more accomplished than any vita of someone who has been working full-time for only seven years. If their vita becomes the new standard for tenure in the department what has really happened is that the probationary period for tenure has been increased from seven years to eighteen, since it is no longer possible for anyone to meet those requirements in only seven years.

Seven years is plenty of time to demonstrate scholarly promise, to show teaching and service excellence, and to document anything else an institution might legitimately want to know about a faculty member. Seven years is enough.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Damn You Barack Obama, You Pretty Motha Fucker

"Damn You Barack Obama, You Pretty Motha fu-ker," a poetry slam by Darian Dauchan. Yet another of the many amazing cultural artifacts being inspired by Senator Obama's campaign. November is going to be amazing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Surrendering Tenure

Citizen of Somewhere Else and Professor Zero as well as others have recent posts on the politics of tenure in response to Tenured Radical's recurring call to end the inhumane system of tenure on the ethical grounds that it does harm to its participants. I have posted on this issue several times, both on its larger issues and on my own more personal damage, and Citizen of Somewhere Else links to one of these. Since this topic has come up again, I thought I would take the time to add in my own two cents worth.

The punch line from Tenured Radical's post is: "But here is another reason that tenure is wrong: It hurts people."

There are lots of things that have hurt me in academia, but tenure is NOT one of them.

I have been hurt by the lack of health care from my years as an adjunct. I have been hurt by the uncertainties of working as migrant, contingent labor in academia for more than a decade. I have been hurt by Deans, Provosts, and by some of my colleagues who put time and effort into delaying my start in a tenure track line and in further delaying my final tenure decision for another decade. I have been hurt by decades of debts and low wages that I may never recover from. I have grudges, depression, anger, rage, and issues aplenty from my sojourn through the academic labor market. But the one thing that has NOT hurt me is tenure.

Tenure has put an end to these predations.

There are certainly problems with work in academia. But getting rid of tenure is not the solution. It's like telling someone with a headache that decapitation will help. It may be brutally effective, but it's not advice you want to take.

We have a very clear picture of what academic work without tenure looks like: contingent labor. I believe it is naive to think that getting rid of the current inequities of the two-tier job market will result in a single tier of high-wage, full-time jobs with benefits. The much more likely scenario is that we will all be adjuncts together. As Professor Zero writes:

I think the abolition of tenure would be an CEO-administrator’s dream. The entire workforce would be contingent, and certain research and development stars could be retained through very high salaries and the elimination, for them, of all but the most specialized teaching and all service except on projects which directly benefit them.

Otherwise, teaching and research would be conducted by casual laborers at the mercy of staff managers, who might not have actual training or experience resembling that of the people they were managing.

In fact, I would argue that one of the reasons the tenure process has been made harder, longer, and more acrimonious is precisely to make it something that faculty will cease to defend. Sadly, this is a strategy that may be working.

Elsewhere, Professor Zero comments on the argument that revolutions are made when everyone shares in the worst oppression.

ONE OF THE MAIN THINGS I learned in graduate school was by chance, from a historian. His dissertation argued contra Marx that you don't get positive progressive developments as a result of terrible situations, but as a result of good times. I don't know if that's always right but it has always seemed to me to be a useful corrective to the idea that it takes really bad times to get people to wake up and do something (they may wake up and do something, sure, but it won't necessarily be progressive).

This seems to me to be the strategy of abolishing the tenure system. It is a wager that as the salaries and benefits of the professoriat sink, they will be spurred to collective action. The particular action, though, may not be the progressive one we would wish for. In the lifeboat, we may instead rashly throw overboard some of our most vulnerable and most recent additions to the profession as we seek to save our livelihood. For instance, it is unlikely to be an environment where issues such as race, gender, and sexual orientation will be addressed in thoughtful and deliberate ways by the profession.

Although I'm not entirely comfortable with Citizen of Somewhere Else's "reform" label, I'm willing to tolerate it. But the position that seeks to abolish tenure shouldn't be seen as any kind of "revolution." It is simply a surrender.

Searching for Spring Break...

Lumpenprofessoriat, your number one spot on the World Wide Web for spring break photos! Somebody please explain this google image search result to me:

"spring break crowd"

How does this dry and obscure academic blog come up number one on the search page and ahead of such sites as:, and even wtf??


More Obama music videos for the LumpenProf by way of The Constructivist including this La Bamba / Obama riff by Austin band Cerranato:

and this wonderful, and wonderfully unlikely, Central African Makossa version of Fired Up and Ready to Go by Fojeba:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I'm Against It

I have the urge to learn this song so I can belt it out during a faculty meeting.