Tenure Trouble

Tenure Trouble

Why should college and university professors have job security, when so many other Americans are losing theirs? From U.S. News & World Report to the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post, powerful voices are asking that question, and answering that tenure in academia has become obsolete. The academy, they argue, should submit to the logic of the market: because university managers need flexibility, because more cost-effective ways must be found to deliver educational resources (like replacing senior professors with new people who will work for less). Academic freedom—the justification for the tenure system—is not part of this reasoning.

Since there are black pundits who oppose civil rights and women who denounce feminism, it was inevitable that there would be a tenured professor who’s against tenure. Richard P. Chait, who has tenure at Harvard (in the School of Education) is that professor. He’s been quoted all over the place during the last year. He served as a paid consultant to the University of Minnesota regents in their recent unsuccessful attempt to abolish tenure—which led some to describe his occupation as “hired gun” and “hit man.” Meanwhile, as professors at elite institutions are angrily debating Chait, college and university administrators everywhere are quietly hiring more and more temporary and part-time adjuncts, instructors, and lecturers who will never have a chance to earn tenure. The dirty little secret of the tenure system today is how many college teachers are denied its protections.

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Lima