Tuesday, May 17, 2005

VDH on Tenure

Victor Davis Hanson has yet another great article. This time he pontificates on the issue of tenure on college campuses. He makes the point that the idea of not being able to fire someone who is tarnishing the reputation of his employer or who does not do a good job exists only for teachers. Why? Good question.
McCarthyism is evoked as the only bleak alternative to tenure. Once untenured professors find themselves on the wrong side of popular majority opinions, politicized firings will supposedly follow.

Yes, we have all heard that tenure is required to maintain academic freedom and ensure that all ideas can and will be thrown around on a college campus.
Why then does uniformity of belief characterize the current tenured faculty? Contemporary universities are among the most homogeneous of all American institutions, at least in attitudes toward controversial issues of race, gender, class and culture.

Except all ideas aren't heard, at least not for long. Go find yourself a non-tenured professor at you local college who is conservative (if you can). How free do these folks feel to express their ideas (which by the way are shared by many students and in most cases the majority of the parents paying the tuition)?

He goes through some of the history of tenure and major universities and the pay differentials in the country and then drops what I think is the real bomb of it all that lefties don't want to address.
Reasonable people can debate what would be lost with the abolition of tenure. But the warning that, in our litigious society, professors would lack fair job protection is implausible. Renewable five-year agreements — outlining in detail teaching and scholarly expectations - would still protect free speech, without creating lifelong sinecures for those who fail their contractual obligations.

I would go farther than he does. Many professors might very well lose their jobs without tenure... because they stink. The good ones, no matter how controversial, will find a job at another college if they cross a too-easily-offended board. I really don't worry about losing my job because I know I am good at what I do and it happens to be in plenty of demand. If someone isn't good at what they do (and representing the image of the university is part of their job) then perhaps they should go find another way to make a living.

What would happen if tenure went away? What happened with free agency? Instead of worrying about losing their tenure the best professors would start looking on the open market. Schools that can't provide good pay, low crime campuses, competitive research environments and a good working environment will lose their best professors to places that can. The new professor coming out of industry with a resume and some skills will likely make more than many of his peers who never ventured into the "real world" and the schools will compete for them. The schools that can't compete well will wind up with the lesser staff.

Parents will react by either sending their kids to "better" schools or demanding much lower tuition. More viable research will get done (with it's associated funding for the school) because more people in industry who get paid to be good at what they do will have more of an interest in working with their local university to drive that research (in case you don't know most schools are limited in what they can pay non-tenured professors even if said individual is bringing in big time grant money).

So I would argue that free enterprise would do the same thing to universities as it does in the general business world. I didn't hesitate to switch companies and move to a better one making more money when I wasn't happy at my last one. I won't hestitate to do it again. I think I am "normal" in this regard. Some companies fail and some have great success and reward their employees for creating that success.


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