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    A blog about education, higher ed, teaching, and trying to re-imagine how we provide education.


More on the Importance of Tenure

Same tired arguments against tenure. I have a slightly different response. Hint: it's about the money.

January 5, 2012

There has been more hand-wringing over in the Chronicle about how tenure is becoming/has become obsolete. It’s old arguments: tenure doesn’t lead to innovative research, it’s too expensive, most tenure-track positions are for teaching so what’s the difference, etc, etc, etc.


The comments are…interesting and revealing the way comments on the Chronicle always are (and actually less depressing than usual). As I have written before, I think that the answer to these concerns isn’t to get rid of tenure but to expand it.  I also think that one of the issues that is mentioned but doesn’t get the attention it deserves within the same conversation: the massive economic inequality between those who are on and those who are off the tenure-track.

It’s a vicious cycle: adjuncts get paid less because we are told we’re not doing the “same” work as tenured and tenure-track faculty, so we don’t do the work (mostly because we don’t have time or resources), so we don’t get paid more. But the economic disparity clearly fuels bitterness, resentment, and a sense of entitlement between the two groups. This, of course, is no way to promote a collegial environment.

There was an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day about how merit pay isn’t necessarily beneficial for the K-12 system, largely because it discourages collaboration. If teachers are in competition for a finite amount of merit funds, then the incentive is to look out for yourself and no one else.

Think about how this is also applicable to higher education. There are a very finite number of tenure-track jobs available so why work together when only one of you can get a job? And, where is the incentive for junior faculty to work with those who are off the tenure-track? Not to mention that what adjunct in their right mind would seek out to collaborate with a tenure or tenure-track faculty member when they read the condescending and dismissive opinions of their position?

Is tenure the magic cure-all? No, of course not. But we can find a way to eliminate or at least alleviate some of the disparity, then there will be more of an environment conducive to collaboration and collegiality. Tenure-track and tenured faculty didn’t decide to hire increasing numbers of adjunct faculty, but they do perpetuate the stereotype that adjuncts are somehow less than, and thus deserve less. Is it any wonder we can’t all just get along?

Addendum: Remaking the University makes a similar plea for those teaching off the TT in California’s public institutions.


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