Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Examining "Reassigned Time: Tenure and the Adjunctification of Higher Ed"

Taking a turn around the blogosphere ~ revisiting that ole tenure thang, which must, I suppose, start with revisiting the much reviewed, forwarded, blogged and tweeted AAUP Report on Tenure Conversion. Skipping over those, although a link list would be informative (what is this academic compulsion to bibliographicate?), this is the one I stumbled over today via Gabriell Montell's post,"Saying No to a World Without Tenure," in the Chronicle's On Hiring blog.... following a trail that starting out from a humble Google alert set for "new faculty majority."

In Reassigned Time: Tenure and the Adjunctification of Higher Ed at Reassigned Time, Dr Crazy (blog handle not diagnosis) opens by stating that she hadn't been going to enter the Berubé vs Dean Dad (@ IHE) fray but needed to get it out of her system:

The tenure system isn't fair, nor is it about merit, nor does it serve all students or all institutions in the way that it is "supposed" to (however that is). Higher education generally exploits a vast number of people (especially in my own field, English) in order to achieve its ends (giving the largest number of students possible a college degree). This is not because higher education is a meritocracy, in which people who are "worthy" get ladder jobs. This is because higher education is not willing or able, for the number of students it enrolls today, to pay all of its workers a living wage. And it's not willing to do so because it doesn't have to and because it's not feasible within the current structure of higher education to do so.
but, basically dismissing, if only by implication, a "living wage" as mattering less than than the loftier consideration of academic freedom for a few, then goes on to quote herself on "why tenure matters" (right up there with "what do women want?" as a question that is not as answerable as might seem on the surface:
You know why tenure matters? Above and beyond academic freedom in scholarship and in the classroom? It matters because when we don't have strong administrative leadership, and I suspect this happens at all institutions in a variety of contexts at one time or another, somebody needs to be able to speak up, loudly and clearly, on behalf of students, on behalf of faculty, and on behalf of the future of the institution. Tenure has made little difference to me in terms of my scholarship or my teaching. I have never felt in jeopardy in those areas, and I think my institution values my autonomy in those areas. Where tenure has meant the most to me is that I don't have to hold back at all when it comes to fighting bullshit that will hurt my university, my colleagues, or my students. Now, my loud and contentious voice may not make any difference. But at the very least I do have the power to say my piece without fear of losing my job. And since I'm being put in a position where I'm being expected to "participate in" (read: authorize) things that entirely contravene our mission and our values, then I need that power and I need to use it."
I won't deny that We the Precariat need someone to speak for us. Unfortunately, too many potential speakers are more about blaming the victims ~ just read the comments they post at CHE and IHE . I don't know about your experience but out of the tenured faculty I've encountered over the past two decades, I can't count more than 5 who truly used their position with conscience, without exception, consistently and as theoretically intended. Not much of an ROI for the considerable investment, even without factoring in those who used tenure as immunity, even license to exploit and abuse underlings. You know the saying about what power does... why would tenured faculty be immune when public servants and even spiritual guides are not? Most are disinterested, reluctant to involve themselves: remember what Dante had to say about them. Plus there are those pesky naysayers who insist the system is dying ~ time to call in Dr K. I've met some personally and am even (gasp!) related to a few, heard what they had to say privately.

Many thoughtful comments follow the post and Dr C's Follow Up: Some Things about Academic Employment post. What do I think (m personally and not as a representative of anyone but myself)? Good points are made: the idea of tenure is appealing in an idealized Enlightenment kind of way, but with flaws honestly exposed. Laura's comment sums it up:

I think tenure is one of those things that's different at different places and so while it's a system that works at a lot of places, the places where it's not, make it look like a pretty bad system
She also commented at Dean Dad's:

I, too, am outside academia, by choice, in part because my only option is a t-t position doing things I don't really want to do or part-time, no benefits, badly compensated, temporary work. And we think migrant workers who pick our vegetables are treated badly. Try adjuncting for a while.
I'm with Laura on this. Some would and others have sold their souls for tenure. I might have even at the right time in my life. At another time, the process seemed more like indenture with more perks. Past the half century mark, the prospect of giving up seven years of your life that you will never get back is less appealing.., not to mention being all hooped out.

Anyway, as I was about to say, what I think about tenure surving doesn't matter because it's not going to happen. I'd make book on it and bet Jimmie the Greek would to. Betting on tenure and the university not changing beyond recognition is like betting against the house. Only fools do that. Better we spend our energies on possible futures. We can do that and live those teaching futures. Not all of us are orchids doomed to moral and intellectual shut-down outside the hothouse.

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