Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jumping the Gun: On Tenured Radical and Lumpenprofessoriat on Tenure

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.]


The Constructivist said...

Speaking of tenure!

cps said...

OK--I found a little time to enter the fray this morning.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, I've updated the post itself.

Professor Zero said...

Tenure + union is what I'm for. But I
think the abolition of tenure is what it would take to get most faculty to unionize. I suspect this is what TR and also Bosquet are thinking of.

The Constructivist said...

What happened in NY was a move from the state coupled with a move by the professoriate. Some of my colleagues helped found UUP and they always point out the state saw it in its interest to bargain once for SUNY (and prevent make striking illegal). Why anyone would get unions if they lost tenure is beyond me. And why wait to lose them before trying?

profacero said...

Get unions if they lost tenure, no. Realize, if they lose tenure, that they do NOT have friends in the Big House, maybe. I only say this because at my quite large state university even AAUP meetings generally only have a very few lukewarm attendees.

I also remember back in graduate school, in a very liberal town, trying as a first step toward unionization to get T.A.s to sign a petition requesting health coverage. Very many of them were afraid to do it, saying they thought their (future) dissertation directors might see their signatures and refuse to write them letters of recommendation, so that they would never have jobs. The *only* professor who signed that petition was a foreigner, from a country where health insurance was universal, so that he considered our request a normal one and not "radical."

ACTUALLY, though, as I write this, I realize that if faculty are this timid WITH tenure, they will probably not get militant without it - probably they will start fighting over crumbs.

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).

Anyway: I am *so* against the idea of abolishing tenure. I think the people who are for that, are really naive. It takes a very privileged situation to not see what things would be like...

I'd favor tenuring people sooner and more easily, so that it weren't so hard to move around after tenure and so that less energy had to go into it.

One could make *promotion* standards hard etc., but when people are in fear of their paycheck and so on for so long, and hostage to possibly abusive colleagues for so long, it isn't good. To say the least.

STILL, the answer is not to abolish tenure, it will make things worse.
After all, it's the tenured people who can feel safe to unionize ... right?

The Constructivist said...

I'm with you on these issues.

The Constructivist said...

And I've linked to your open thread post!