Tenure and Excellent Professors
The recent court ruling in California will send shock waves through higher education. For years bureaucats have attempted to quash tenure in the academy. According to the recent legal ruling, California elementary and high school teachers, can be given tenure in two years. Generally, in the academy, it takes seven years. A quote from a recent news article reads:
“This suit is not pro-student. It is fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality,” California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt said.
And I would agree that the ruling is anti-public education. Tenure in the academy protects academic freedom and stalls the whims of incompetent and vengeful administrators. One of the hallmarks of a grand education is to study differing points of view. Tenure protects the voices of the minorities and their points of view. It levels the politics so that one ideology cannot dominate every professor that is hired and every student who enrolls.
Having watched academic regimes come and go for years, I can literally see how tenure protects the heart of academic rigor. All of the politically-charged regimes had differing goals and set about to mold the university into their image. Unfortunately upper management is not often brilliant. Academic administrators have a lot of ego and often believe their way is the only way. Their points of view are what I term, “fundamentalist.” They do not want to hear differing points of view on important issues that effect students and the university at large.
Religious Studies is an emotionally charged discipline because so many administrators are unfamiliar with the academic study of religions. Their view of religions comes from their childhood or their own religious practices, if they have any. Without tenure, in my years as an academic, I know that at least one of the bureaucats would have destroyed our program is a heartbeat. She did not believe in studying many religions. She believed that her religion was the only legitimate one that students should study.
And I understand that some professors are truly bad teachers. When I think back over my own education, I had only one teacher that really appealed to me. What makes a good teacher? I tell my students that it is their responsibility to learn how to learn. Every professor has her/his own teaching style and emphases. This is a good thing. And students benefit from different teaching styles. Students need to learn to adjust to different types of professors because it will teach them how to adjust to all types of people in their future careers. If a student encounters a truly bad teacher, it can be a challenge to work harder and an opportunity to overcome.
And while I would be the first to admit that many incompetent professors are protected by tenure, I would also argue that great, intelligent, and inspiring teachers are protected also. So often, the hard-working and creative professor threatens older and more experienced teachers. I think of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
Obtaining tenure can be more of a political enterprise than an award based upon teaching excellence. Young professors who are hired into a mediocre university cannot outshine their superiors. This is the kiss of the death for tenure. I remember one Dean saying to me, “You are making us all look bad.” So they must listen and become whatever their superiors want them to be until they obtain tenure. Then they can let their lights shine!
I believe that tenure in the academy is at risk in the coming years. Adjuncts are replacing full-time faculty at alarming rates and the bureaucats who are running universities like it that way. They can gain complete control over these part-timers who will never receive tenure.