Tenured Radical has posted another great broadside against tenure over at her place, so I figure I'll use it and a now-golden oldie from Lumpenprofessoriat to pick up the conversation on the wisdom of rethinking and expanding the tenure system where Craig Smith of FACE Talk and I last left it.
So if you've read TR's and LP's posts, you'll see the good old revolution vs. reform debate underlying the differences in their perspectives on tenure. TR emphasizes the toxicity of the system while LP points to one school that's trying to detoxify it.
Or maybe a better metaphor for the difference in their approaches would be the abolition vs. colonization debate--is it better to abolish tenure or for academics dissatisfied with the system to migrate to places with reasonable approaches to it? To take the plantation metaphor a step further, ought faculty to burn down the Big House or escape the plantation?
If these latter metaphors make you a bit uncomfortable, then they've done their job. It is thoroughly ridiculous to suggest, as I've done, that tenure-track professors working at schools in or aspiring to join the Billion Dollar Endowment Club are in any sense of the word enslaved. (The nontenurable-as-migrant-labor metaphor at least has some merit to it.)
Maybe I'm putting words in TR's mouth by mapping this metaphor onto her post, but it's only at private institutions and in right-to-work states that her opening assumption that tenure and unionization are mutually exclusive makes any sense. Rather than putting their efforts toward abolishing a system that works at the vast majority of higher education institutions in the U.S., as several of her commenters have suggested, why don't the tenured radicals at private institutions and in right-to-work states go ahead and try to organize? The Yeshiva case was a bad decision; I'm sure either President Clinton or President Obama would appoint a Supreme Court justice or justices who could help to overturn it.
In the meantime, taking over faculty senates and other sites of governance and pushing for the nature of scholarly work to be reimagined and revalued--and not just by administrators, but by faculty as well, for I encountered a lot of resistance to the Boyer Commission's recommendations from some of my most productive colleagues (in garnering grants and publishing research), even at a teaching institution like mine--is one way to go at privates and right-to-works. Forming an AAUP chapter or revitalizing an existing one at the same time is even better.
There's much more to be said on this, but I have a long day of student conferences, broken up only by a department meeting, waiting for me on campus. Be back later....
[Update: Sequel percolating. In the meantime, check out chasing the red balloon's tracking of this anti-tenure meme-in-the-making!]
[Update 3/20/08: Craig Smith joins in.]
[Update 3/25/08: One of Craig's blogging partners in crime, Phil Ray Jack, preaches it! Meanwhile, profacero has started an open thread on this emerging discussion.]
[Update 3/26/08: Lumpenprofessoriat has a great response, which includes the suggestion to label Tenured Radical's position "surrender." While it's true my slavery metaphors were more obviously tongue-in-cheek, even my revolution vs. reform dichotomy was not all that serious, particularly given Craig and my ongoing conversation on tenure in which we were questioning such binaries.]
[Update 3/28/08: Here's my latest salvo in the tenure wars--actually, it's a cease-fire proposal. There are a bunch of belated responses to the TR/Oso Raro exchanges, from Chad Orzel, Timothy Burke, Dean Dad, and Dr. Crazy.]
[Update 4/3/08: Whoops, I missed undine's brilliant pieces at Not of General Interest! And the new one from profacero.]
[Update 4/8/08: Belated link to Dr. Crazy's latest at Reassigned Time. And to Eric Rauchway's at The Edge of the American West.]
[Update 4/11/08: Laurie Fendrich at Brainstorm jumps in.]
[Update 4/13/08: Undine tries it once more, with feeling.]
[Update 4/16/08: How did I miss the soon-to-be-tenured Dr. Virago's post from last week?]
[Update 4/19/08: Laurie Fendrich offers two models for replacing tenure with multiple-year contracts over at Brainstorm.]