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Tenure and the Alt-Ac Higher Ed Critics
August 14, 2013 - 9:00pm

Alternative academics (Alt-Acs) are by definition off the tenure track.

The irony is that the very behaviors that tenure was originally intended to protect, that is the ability to research and share findings that are unpopular and challenging to the existing status hierarchy, are actions that are often characteristic of the alt-ac community.

According to the AAUP's Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure:

"A college or univer­sity is a marketplace of ideas, and it cannot fulfill its purposes of transmitting, evaluating, and extending knowledge if it requires conformity with any ortho­doxy of content and method."

Where alt-ac professionals often direct critiques are inward, toward the higher ed system. Without the protections afforded by tenure, any critical analysis that offends higher ed leadership may result in significant career consequences for the alt-ac critic.  

Why would someone on the alt-ac track be perhaps even more likely than our tenured colleagues to offer opinions about the higher ed system that question existing norms and structures?

Our Discipline Is Higher Ed:

Whatever job that alt-ac professionals find themselves engaged in on campus will probably entail a focus on the system and workings of higher ed. We see how the institution runs because we help to make the place go.   Our community and peers are other folks also working each day to help the institution meet its goals. It seems natural that we will see areas where we can improve, and to think about the systemic obstacles and enablers to change.

Academic Training:

Alt-ac professionals bring a critical eye to the system of higher education, and to the institutions that we work. We have been trained with the same orientation and tools to question and uncover, to disconfirm the hypotheses of ourselves and others, and we will naturally apply this critical orientation to academic contexts in which we work.

Change Is Part of Our Professional Orientation:

The single defining and universal feature of all alt-ac careers is that we seem to all deal in change. Change in how our institutions are organized and run. Change in how teaching, research and service is designed, delivered, and enacted. Change in how we meet the expectations of our students, faculty, and alumnae. Change in how we interact with accreditors, regulators, and policy makers. Higher ed is an incredibly dynamic business. It is invigorating to be able to contribute to constructing new models for post-secondary education.

It is not hard to see where alt-ac professional may offers ideas for change that are unpopular and unwelcome by some folks in academe. The status quo always benefits some group.  

It is a challenge to offer ideas for change in the absence of institutional job protections.   

The tendency, I fear, is to play it safe. To avoid giving offense.  

The alt-academics on your campus may have some good ideas for change (and some bad ideas), but if they self-censor out of career concerns then the community will never know.

This is not an argument for a tenure track for alt-academics. Rather, I wonder how we can develop a higher ed culture that invites critique and rewards challenges to business as usual.

Ideas?

 

 

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