Killing Two Birds with One Giant Stone: Tenure
Why the decline of tenure and tenure-track faculty has lead to other problems and conflicts in higher education.
I largely achieved my goal of stimulating discussion with my last post. In fact, Michael Bérubé (upcoming MLA President) had a little chat with me on Twitter (Rosemary G. Feal is following me now, too!). I didn’t embed the discussion here, but please click through and read it for yourself. Professor Bérubé noted the work that the MLA has done to defend academic freedom and encourage faculty to revise their faculty handbooks.
He admitted that what I (and many others) am trying to advocate for is a different issue. But, to me, it’s the same thing. One of the reasons academic freedom is eroding and faculty are increasingly powerless to stop it is because those either on the tenure-track or tenured are in the minority. They are outnumbered by administrators, who have the time and resources to create and implement policy, while faculty are increasingly over-worked and unable to advocate effectively and create change in their own institutions. Those of us who are off the tenure-track? We’re not allowed in the room. By restoring tenure for the majority of faculty, we could more effectively advocate internally for our academic freedom.
When only one quarter to one third of the faculty working and teaching at a university have the protection of tenure, discussions about academic freedom tend to be limited and limiting.
The discussion that evolved (or perhaps devolved) in the comments to my posts involved old debates surrounding disciplinary boundaries and more pointing fingers at who is responsible for the casualization of academic labor. To me, these debates (if we can call them that) reflect a deep insecurity fed in large part by the scarcity of resources (read: tenure-track positions) available. Every single position that comes up then becomes a fight, a battle to justify each group’s specialization or sub-discipline. If we could service every single one of our courses with a tenure-track position, would these debates be as acrimonious as they are now?
I realize that it is naïve of me to think that these conflicts are ever going away. But I think that the playing field becomes much more level in either case when appropriate levels of tenure are restored to the faculty, making the debates themselves more reasonable and productive.
And I swear on Friday I’m going to write my final reflections on my Peer-Driven class from this past semester.
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