The Challenge to Tenure

The Challenge to Tenure

In his essay “Tenure Trouble” (Dissent, Winter 1998), Jon Wiener presents much too narrow a view of the rising opposition to academic tenure, its rationale, and causes. Following Wiener’s precedent, let me disclose that I was a tenured faculty member for over thirty years at three private universities—Brown, the New School for Social Research, and New York University. Although currently retired, I still teach as an adjunct. I served on NYU’s promotion and tenure committee for the arts and sciences faculty in the 1980s.

Wiener is certainly right that the cost-benefit concerns of university administrations and boards of trustees have led them to trim faculty salaries by reducing the proportions of tenured and even so-called tenure-track faculty, who can be replaced by adjunct, part-time, and nontenured full-time teachers at considerably less expense. Trustees and elected state legislators with control over the budgets of public institutions are often conservative Republicans anxious to reduce government spending. In addition, the academic versions of the “culture wars” have identified arts faculties, especially at elite universities, with a trendy liberal-leftism centered on “identity politics” and “political correctness” perceived as institutionalizing the outlook and slogans of the student radicalism of the sixties. A New York Times article by William H. Honan, “The Ivory Tower Under Siege” (December 28, 1997), fully documents a campaign across the country by trustees and politicians to impose heavier teaching loads and stricter standards for tenuring and granting paid sabbaticals on university faculties.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima