By Professor Doom
Many is the time I’ve mentioned what tenure has turned into at many of our institutions of higher education. Tenure used to be a reward for scholarship, a seal that the professor was a legitimate researcher, and that he should have protection, so that he need no longer fear repercussions against whatever his research might find.
I’ll grant that “job for life” on paper sounds like a huge potential for a person to take advantage of things to just sit on his butt and do nothing, and I suppose it’s happened. But, back when tenure was about research and scholarly activity, this wasn’t a huge concern—the kind of person that devotes a decade or more of his life to studying minute esoterica isn’t simply going to stop just because he’s guaranteed a job in a subject he obviously loves. While this fear of “dead wood” faculty is often played upon to justify the elimination of tenure, the bottom line is it just doesn’t work that way in general.
I ask the gentle reader to think of something he’s loved doing for the last ten years…would the reader really stop doing what he loved just because he got permission to do it for the rest of his life? “Job for life” might sound great, but do realize the pay can still be very minimal, especially if the faculty member really isn’t doing anything.
I’ll grant that elimination of mandatory retirement laws have factored into the “deadwood” issue, and there are elderly tenured faculty around that probably should have retired years ago…but that’s a question of bad retirement law.
Nowadays, of course, administration has put a stranglehold on tenure. Instead of tenure being about research, it’s more about administrators awarding it to each other while leaving scholars in the cold (the most egregious example would be the president of Penn State getting a $600,000 a year tenure position in a weird department of no economic value, but I digress). Again, it’s not tenure that’s the problem there, it’s administrative plundering of the system—administrators with tenure were dead wood long before they got tenure.
Last year’s tenure shenanigans at public Kean University illustrates what tenure is for faculty members today: a lie and a deathtrap. See, some faculty were up for tenure, but no longer is tenure about faculty determining if the scholarship is worthwhile, instead tenure only flows from administration…it’s a stranglehold by those that probably shouldn’t be in that position, any more than they should be in control of any other part of higher education.
“..Farahi argued tenure, which is essentially a lifetime job guarantee, is "not an entitlement" and should not be given out lightly at the public university. But members of Kean's faculty union said most of the fifth-year professors up for tenure this year have spotless records and the unanimous endorsements of their college and department tenure committees.”
Now, tenure has lengthy rules about how it is to be rewarded. Administrators could follow those rules, but, that would require integrity. So, spotless records and unanimous endorsements are simply not going to cut it. Note the change here: scholars’ endorsements are irrelevant to scholarship now, it’s only up to the whims of administration.
I know of institutions that have done extraordinarily scummy things when it comes to promotion; the article I’m quoting from above is not really mentioning anything exceptional, compared to what I’ve seen with my own eyes.
What’s really neat about this is faculty that are denied tenure are fired. Hmm, an administrator can fire faculty with spotless records and unanimous endorsements, and then replace those faculty with minimally paid adjuncts, indirectly putting the difference in salary into his own pocket. President Farahi is shocked, shocked that anyone would consider such a possibility:
“…Farahi has denied faculty union allegations that he is using the tenure process to replace tenured professor positions with lower-paid adjunct professor posts…”
Oh, well, there it is, then. He says it’s not about the money he’d make. Naturally, for this denial to stick, he would have to be otherwise very popular, renowned for integrity, or in a position of absolute power no matter how corrupt he is.
Let’s talk popularity:
“Kean's faculty union announced the results of a "no confidence" vote in the university's office of academic affairs. Of the professors and librarians who participated in the largely-symbolic vote, 96 percent said they had "no confidence" …The vote is the third "no confidence" vote at Kean in recent years. The faculty union previously voted "no confidence" in Farahi and the board of trustees.”
Ok, so it’s not that the Poo-Bah is popular and loved. Even the worst U.S. presidents don’t get approval ratings of 4%, and manage to keep approval that low for sustained periods. That’s quite an achievement, but not one that leads me to believe I should suspect this guy just has the occasional disagreement with actual scholars.
Let’s talk integrity:
“Last April, for example, all 13 of the university’s NCAA Division III athletic teams were put on probation for four years after disclosures that academic classes were invented and grades were fudged to benefit basketball players.”
Ok, that’s just the entire athletic program, and lots of schools are completely corrupt in this regard. I’ll have to talk athletics at some point, I guess. Maybe he shouldn’t be held responsible for that.
Perhaps academic integrity is good?
“Three months later, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Kean’s accrediting agency, put the school on probation for numerous violations of academic and ethical rules. If Kean failed to make changes, it could have lost its accreditation and been forced to shut down.”
Ok, academic integrity is garbage, too. I again concede a great many schools are bereft of integrity nowadays. Maybe he shouldn’t be held responsible for that either.
How about his personal integrity? Well, there’s a discrepancy or two on his resume:
“…The résumés in question were submitted in 1994, 2001 and 2008 for routine accreditation reviews of the university’s public administration program.
Farahi said he has never claimed to have been acting academic dean at Avila College in Missouri. Nor has he boasted of publishing "over 50 technical articles in major publications," as the résumés state.”
Actually, there are numerous fictional claims on the resumes; he blames underlings, and so shouldn’t be held responsible for that, either, but I can’t help but be confused. This guy is responsible for a gigantic institution, but can’t make his own resume? Why would you trust something like that to underlings you don’t know, as Farahi claims?
Perhaps his administration has integrity? Again, no, there’s a plagiarism scandal in the administration, too.
Instead of being protection for scholars, tenure has turned into a method to get rid of faculty and replace them with marginal adjuncts. The only thing keeping this from happening is the integrity of the people running our institutions.
So, he’s not on top through popularity, or integrity…could it be that other thing I mentioned?
I maintain that scholars and educators, and not professional administrators, should be running institutions of scholarship and education. I’ll grant that it wouldn’t be a utopia, but how could they do a worse job than the plunderers we have now?
Think about it.