Why being denied tenure is a big deal

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torontoprofessor

Unionist wrote:
I wish you luck. But I also invite you to ponder why, even if you find one, the right-wing opponents of tenure will outnumber them 100 to 1. Will you at least concur with that proposition, or do I really need to crawl through the muck of the anti-intellectual dinosaur crowd?

I absolutely concur. I am perfectly aware that the great majority of commentators who advocate the abolition of tenure are on the right -- all too often on the looney right. I'm sorry if I said anything to suggest otherwise. All I said is that I do know people who argue from the left against tenure. As in, I have some colleagues who have produced such arguments, from the left, around the departmental water cooler. My brief google searching certainly bears out your point: the vast majority (you're probably right, like 100 to 1) of the commentary against tenure comes from the right.

Unionist wrote:
And if you do concur, how would you explain that phenomenon? Doesn't it seem counterintuitive that the left would be defending a perk of the allegedly wealthy and comfortable, while the extreme right would be knocking it down? Just look at some of the "arguments" in this very thread?

It is, indeed, counterintuitive. There's a kind of populist rightwingerism that mixes anti-intellectualism with an anti-establishmentism and with a "rugged individualism" that sees tenure as a privilege enjoyed by effete liberals unable to hack in the marketplace. (Not much of an analysis, I know.)

sanizadeh

I have worked in the industry and now in the academia for a few years. The tenure process is flawed on many points IMO. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on new  professors, forcing them to : 1) try to publish every nonsense they can, because publishing is pretty much the only criteria, 2) keep their research in the mainstream, avoid any controversial topic or challenging any big gun in their field, and 3) keep their mouth shut and not engage in any disagreement with the higher administration. In addition, there is very little mentorship or help (which is common for a new hire in the industry).Then once you get the tenure, the pressures are lifted almost immediately. Post-tenure performance evaluations are mostly meaningless (unless you are a REALLY lousy professor). If you don't get the tenure, then as others said, it is pretty much the end of your academic career.

While tenure does help protecting academic freedom, IMO it does not protect the ones it should have: the young untenured professors who have new ideas that go against the mainstream or want to challenge the system. The tenured professors are already part of the establishment, have their network of contacts and have their own gang. In every university I have been to, academic environment almost resembled a mafia organization with gangs of senior professors fighting each other over control of departments, policies, programs etc. And the university admins are the worst. Never seen any high level management so paranoid, fearful (and revengeful) of criticism or disagreement, something that I rarely saw in my years in the industry (in Canada).

Now in the particular case in Alabama, without excusing what she did, one wonders why Bishop's tenure was denied. Her resume  (http://www.uah.edu/biology/amy.html ) and publications (http://www.uah.edu/biology/amy/publications.html ) seem impressive. She was known to have challenged the administration on a number of occasion. It was said that the faculty recommended her for tenure but the university committee denied her tenure.

 

Unionist

BillBC wrote:

As for freedom of speech, I don't think it's been in much danger at universities for quite a long time, tenure or no tenure....that's what faculty unions and faculty associations are for...

Well, Bill, I've given you the case of Norman Finkelstein and his denial of tenure for purely political reasons - I do wish you and others would familiarize yourselves with that very important case.

And here's [url=http://www.rabble.ca/babble/activism/university-ottawa-vs-activist-prof-... Canadian one[/url] which was discussed extensively last year on babble - in this case, a tenured professor was fired on grounds that have nothing to do with sexual misconduct, to say the least. Please, please read about [url=http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/]the Rancourt matter[/url], and tell me that freedom of speech is safe in our universities.

 

sanizadeh

Unionist wrote:

As I said, without tenure, people with your notions would make decisions about whether academics could preserve their positions or not - and that's the best argument I can ever imagine for the need for tenure.

Not necessarily. Protection for academic freedom can be guaranteed in job contract and protected by faculty associations. As far as I know tenure is not a common practice in Europe but I doubt academic freedom is less practiced there than the US. Not to mention that there have been several cases of tenured professors being fired from their job in North America (e.g. Sami Al-Arian even before his arrest).

A_J

Tenure is important, for all of the reasons already stated, but no one should just assume it's automatic. And people going into this career path should be aware that not getting tenure is a possible pitfall.

It's great to have, but even some people who work really really hard for it aren't going to get it. That sucks for the individual in that situation, but the professor in the OP mentions that many academics transfer to other schools or look at other career options (and there are plenty for some in such a privileged position) early on, rather than risk being rejected for tenure. That seems wise. No one is trapped into a crap shoot, a decade into their career, that will either set them up for life or ruin them. People need to be more aware of which way the winds are blowing (is my department growing? Are there retirements coming up? Is my specialisation in demand? etc.). Most (but never all) people paying attention should make it through fine - the key is being humble enough to not assume you're guaranteed tenure.

BillBC

Unionist wrote:

 Please, please read about [url=http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/]the Rancourt matter[/url], and tell me that freedom of speech is safe in our universities.

 

 

Unionist, the Finklestein case is a good example, and I can't argue with you there....but Rancourt is the guy who gave everyone in his class an A+ because he wanted them to learn, not work for grades, citing the fact that Socrates didn't give grades.  This is not freedom of speech, it's a gross dereliction of duty, or at least it can be argued that it is.  Not a good example in my opinion.

Unionist

Rancourt is a frightening example. "Gross dereliction of duty" - what was his "duty"? To grade students according to someone else's unpublished standards? To fail some so that prospective employers could rely on GPAs or letter scores to make recruitment decisions?

Just contrast Rancourt's behaviour with some of the cavalier statements made above about how hard it allegedly is to be fired if you have tenure. You and others are telling me that an academic can be lazy, incompetent, not show up for class... and still carry on... but Rancourt shows what happens when there is an ideological dispute, and that is frightening. I'm not alone in thinking so, as a glance at the source material should convince anyone.

B9sus4 B9sus4's picture

Mr. Unionist, sir.. thank you for mentioning Dr. Finkelstein. That's an issue that frequently keeps me awake at night, seething with rage. 

That a horrid little weasel like Dersh -- a sadist, an apologizer for torturers -- could slander a man like Finkelstein.. it's disgusting. It's one of those things that leads me to have little hope for the future.

Thanks for the links. I hadn't seen that one where Noam praises Norman. Two men of the age. Men who will be remembered when all their haters are long turned to dust.

sanizadeh

But unionist, don't your examples show that the tenure process does not really even protect academic freedom (the only reason for it), and therefore, there is even less reason to support it?

Unionist

'

Look, sanizadeh, I think your comments throughout this thread have been coy and I'm not that interested in responding on that basis. If you oppose tenure, why not say so? I gave an example of how tenure, a fundamental and extremely important protection of academic freedom within the heartland of imperialism, is fragile and under attack - and you use those examples to invite me to abandon even that single protection, because it's not working perfectly!?

Just spit out whatever words you want - "get rid of tenure, it's a mafioso thing" (you used the word "mafia"); OR "strengthen and defend tenure, it's under attack!". But not the coy stuff, thanks.

 

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

So back to the thread topic, this is an issue to jump on considering the topic?

 

The inference could be made, Ms. Bishop is being justified.

 

Just a thought.

torontoprofessor

The Rancourt case is shocking. And he had tenure. I think that I should ammend my claims above as follows: you can descend into a pit of mediocrity (zero research, mediocre teaching, zero service) and maintain tenure as long as you keep a lowish profile. Part of keeping a low profile is having an ordinary grade distribution, and sticking to the course description when you teach. I think that I'll read more on Rancourt to get some sense of what happened.

Remember Philippe Rushton? He published racist stuff back in the 80s. I dimly remember calls to fire him, but these were resisted by the University of Western Ontario.

BillBC

Unionist wrote:

Rancourt is a frightening example. "Gross dereliction of duty" - what was his "duty"? To grade students according to someone else's unpublished standards? To fail some so that prospective employers could rely on GPAs or letter scores to make recruitment decisions?

 

His duty is to grade students according to generally accepted standards.  If I refused to grade students, or if I persistently failed to show up for class (instead of once in a while, which you can get away with), or if I refused to teach women in my class, or men, I'd lose tenure, and rightly so.

There are limits to the protection of tenure.  If I constantly made racist remarks in class, or taught that the Nazis were right about Jews, I'd be fired, and rightly so.  As I've read here elsewhere, the right of freedom of speech is not absolute, and neither is the protection of tenure.

Unionist

Fine, Bill, you've taken your stand and supported the firing of Rancourt, and made rather exaggerated comparisons if I may say so. I can't quite tell whether you support tenure as a means of protecting academic freedom, but it appears you don't. I still would invite you to read the Rancourt materials and try to get to the bottom of why he took the stand he did and look at all the factors - and then consider whether there are any issues of academic freedom at play.

 

BillBC

Philippe Rushton...I remember that case very well.  He taught that Asians were more intelligent than Europeans, and Europeans were more intelligent than blacks.  His research was I think mostly second hand rubbish.  I was surprised at the time they didn't fire him....probably they should have...

 

sanizadeh

Unionist wrote:

'

Look, sanizadeh, I think your comments throughout this thread have been coy and I'm not that interested in responding on that basis. If you oppose tenure, why not say so? I gave an example of how tenure, a fundamental and extremely important protection of academic freedom within the heartland of imperialism, is fragile and under attack - and you use those examples to invite me to abandon even that single protection, because it's not working perfectly!?

Just spit out whatever words you want - "get rid of tenure, it's a mafioso thing" (you used the word "mafia"); OR "strengthen and defend tenure, it's under attack!". But not the coy stuff, thanks.

I did say that in my opinion tenure does not protect academic freedom, and it is not the only way. IMO the long-term contract options that are common in universities outside North America, avoid the flaws of the tenure process. For preserving academic freedom: mandatory employer commitment in the contract in this regard, and enforced and protected by faculty unions or associations.

BTW I used the word mafia to describe the university environments in general, not the tenure process.

BillBC

Sorry, to make myself clear, I do support tenure as a means of academic freedom, though I think that grossly slacking off after you get tenure should lead to a review, since slacking off is not an expression of academic freedom.

I would argue that refusing to grade your students is not an expression of academic freedom either, which is why I'm not sympathetic to Rancourt.

 

torontoprofessor

I dunno, BillBC. Every undergraduate knows of professors who give out As like candy. It might be a ridiculous thing to do, but there are ways around it short of firing someone. First, a course grade is usually officially given not by the professor but by the department: at Toronto, the department chair has to sign off on every grade sheet. The grades filled in by the professor are merely advice given to the chair. Usually, the chair just signs off without thinking about it. But in an extreme case, the chair could refuse to sign the grade sheet, or just change all the grades to a straight "pass" (essentially treating the course as pass/fail). If a professor persistently hands out all A+'s, the department could set a standardized exam for that course, and then hand out grades to students according to their performance on that exam. So, as I said, there are ways around a professor who wants to give out all A+'s, short of firing him.

Unionist

BillBC wrote:

I would argue that refusing to grade your students is not an expression of academic freedom either, which is why I'm not sympathetic to Rancourt.

 

He didn't refuse to grade his students. He gave them all A+. Do you know why he did that? Was it because he was too lazy to mark their papers? Why not look at the materials I've posted (and others) and form a conclusion based on all the information?

Anyway, I'm pleased that we agree about the role of tenure in defending academic freedom, even though in some extreme cases, how those principles are applied may be difficult or controversial.

ETA: Just remembered - one of our daughters is taking an undergraduate course where the lecturer announced - on day one - that she does not hand out any A+s. Should she be fired - or just denied tenure - for "gross dereliction of duty"?

 

j.m.

torontoprofessor wrote:

I dunno, BillBC. Every undergraduate knows of professors who give out As like candy. It might be a ridiculous thing to do, but there are ways around it short of firing someone. First, a course grade is usually officially given not by the professor but by the department: at Toronto, the department chair has to sign off on every grade sheet. The grades filled in by the professor are merely advice given to the chair. Usually, the chair just signs off without thinking about it. But in an extreme case, the chair could refuse to sign the grade sheet, or just change all the grades to a straight "pass" (essentially treating the course as pass/fail). If a professor persistently hands out all A+'s, the department could set a standardized exam for that course, and then hand out grades to students according to their performance on that exam. So, as I said, there are ways around a professor who wants to give out all A+'s, short of firing him.

There are other strategies that give the appearance of indiscriminate marking, such as ranking within evenly distributed terciles/quartiles/quintiles that correspond to letter grades or ranges, or switching between high and low means for assignments and tests, and then telling the students that they "generally performed well" or "generally performed poorly". As long as all grades aren't visually lumped together students won't be able to complain even if they only know the average, and no chair is going to deeply analyze the marks to pick up on this if the professor changes between terciles and quintiles and high and low means.

So, you can be a back-room schemer and get away with it, or you can be transparent about your grading and get burned and scrutinized at every turn. The point is that both are highly manipulative in their strategies and only one tends to get caught.

 

torontoprofessor

There's a possibly aprocryphal story that Alonzo Church, at UCLA, used to give every student an A. At some point, the university complained about this, and insisted that he end this practice. So, the next time he handed grades in, he gave all the men an A and all the women a B. The university refused to accept these grades, and insisted that he submit a new grade sheet. On his new sheet, he went back to his old practice: he gave everyone an A. As the story goes, the university never complained again.

Unionist

I had Church's Introduction to Mathematical Logic as a text in an undergrad course... several decades ago! Thank you for that story which I had never heard, TP - my respect for Church is rising at a rate equal to the slope of the tangent to a rather exponentially excited curve!

 

BillBC

torontoprofessor wrote:

There's a possibly aprocryphal story that Alonzo Church, at UCLA, used to give every student an A. At some point, the university complained about this, and insisted that he end this practice. So, the next time he handed grades in, he gave all the men an A and all the women a B. The university refused to accept these grades, and insisted that he submit a new grade sheet. On his new sheet, he went back to his old practice: he gave everyone an A. As the story goes, the university never complained again.

 

He was probably a lovable old coot...his picture makes him look like that.  Lovable characters can get away with a lot.  The rules are never enforced equally....

theboxman

There's also a valid pedagogical argument that can be made against the practice of grading, insofar as it can be seen as counterproductive to the facilitating of learning outcomes. Anecdotal, certainly, but at least in my experience, it can be hindrance as the focus of attention becomes the mechanisms of evaluation distracting from the course material in itself. That said, this could be indicative of ill-thought means of evaluation. Nonetheless, in this respect, refusing to grade students (or giving them all A+s) could be understood as falling under the domain of academic freedom so as to ensure that a particular pedagogical practice is not presupposed to the exclusion of others. 

j.m.

theboxman wrote:

There's also a valid pedagogical argument that can be made against the practice of grading, insofar as it can be seen as counterproductive to the facilitating of learning outcomes. Anecdotal, certainly, but at least in my experience, it can be hindrance as the focus of attention becomes the mechanisms of evaluation distracting from the course material in itself. That said, this could be indicative of ill-thought means of evaluation. Nonetheless, in this respect, refusing to grade students (or giving them all A+s) could be understood as falling under the domain of academic freedom so as to ensure that a particular pedagogical practice is not presupposed to the exclusion of others. 

There is no such thing as valid arguments in the world of academia: there are only inflated egos battling it out in an ugly war of low-stakes. The notion of "valid argument" becomes real only as egos emerge victorious :P

Well, at least some of the time...

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

And then there are threads where the motives and rationalities of murder are derailed and debated.

torontoprofessor

OK... Summing it all up.

I think we are all agreed that academic freedom is extremely important. Many of us believe that tenure is the best way to ensure academic freedom, though some disagree with this view. Even tenure supporters agree, I think, that in certain extreme cases (relentless sexual harassment, extreme dereliction of duties like refusing to show up for class, plagiarism) a tenured professor might appropriately be fired. Among tenure supporters, there is some disagreement about the conditions under which a tenured professor might approrpriately be fired: I conjecture that focusing on controversial cases might make the disagreements look greater than they are.

Also, it really sucks to be denied tenure, but it sucks a lot more to be poor.

jas

Unionist wrote:

my respect for Church is rising at a rate equal to the slope of the tangent to a rather exponentially excited curve!

words that beg to be taken out of context...

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

And I think that any site committed to "progressive" ideas, shouldn't promote tenure.  It's sure gotten us far.  :rolleyes:

j.m.

RevolutionPlease wrote:

And then there are threads where the motives and rationalities of murder are derailed and debated.

Take my last post as a manifestation of the sickness of the institution itself. There is a lot of symbolic violence that occurs within the institution that works on people to the point they develop antipathy for their peers. I think this is another aspect of the story.

By the way, does anyone know of a study done on the mental health of people in academia?

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

I did one, they're pathological.

j.m.

RevolutionPlease wrote:

I did one, they're pathological.

I've done an informal one, same results.

Many tend to forget that they're not surrounded by people who dislike their personalities, profession or the institution itself (at least enough to want to leave). And then they cannot comprehend why someone intelligent wants to leave it! Talk about having a beam in the eye!

skdadl

I'll defend tenure on principle, and I believe that to a degree it has demonstrably worked in defence of freedom of thought and research. University communities tend to be at least slightly more progressive on average than most North American communities, and the good profs (of whom there are many -- no, I mean it -- they're there) give their students the shock, and the tribute, of expecting them to learn to work and behave as peers, not as subservients. Even now, that is unusual in our culture. Genuine independence in our culture in fact means you have to be a rebel to some degree; in theory, anyway, it is a presumption in universities, and I think it is a shock to most young North Americans when they are first challenged by that presumption.

 

It isn't quite the same as labour organization, but we defend the principle the same way, even when we know that fewer and fewer people are unionized and very few have tenure.

 

I do think that universities need some kind of intellectual/spiritual/political revival. I won't be able to describe this very well or fully here, but I think that a lot of, maybe most academic research has been horribly corrupted by the culture of professionalism, which is not what tenure is supposed to be about. Maybe most of what goes on in most organizations is petty and boring and useless to the rest of the world, but when that's true of a teaching community, it's worrisome because young people can perceive that very fast and can become disheartened very fast.

 

I've spent a lot of years editing academics, many of whom I adored and learned from, but I've often been appalled at how little so many of them care about their writing, which means they don't care to work out their thought fully. Honestly, some of them might as well be cranking out sausages, and the sausages would at least have the virtue of being tasty and maybe even nourishing. By now, a lot of them don't even see the problem; they're doing what they were trained to do, so they think they're doing the right thing.

 

 

Unionist

Skdadl, thanks for that, but you're overqualified for this thread. I'm putting your name in for tenure.

skdadl

Unionist wrote:
Skdadl, thanks for that, but you're overqualified for this thread. I'm putting your name in for tenure.

 

LOL. Story of my life. As my family always used to say, "Why can't she get a real job?" I've often wondered that too.

Snert Snert's picture

Huh.  The discussion of tenure is interesting enough, but I'm finding the OP a little creepy.  I'm sure that formally, or if pressed, the author (Wormer) would insist she's not trying to justify multiple homicide, but still.  As Agent 204 notes, she sure does sympathize. 

When George Sodini also killed three people, I'm glad nobody wrote an article entitled "Why being shunned by women is a big deal".  Gross.

 

Caissa

Why are workers' rights once again up for debate on Rabble?

skdadl

I dunno, Snert. I've always been willing to think about those things, about the psychology behind such massacres. It's true that I get into trouble for it, but I don't dismiss the questions as merely "gross." There are political reasons for focusing on the victims, but there are important reasons for understanding as well.

G. Muffin

You know, Skdadl, getting fired for being ill is a big deal, too.

And yet, you know, I think you'll find I didn't kill any lawyers.

G. Muffin

We all have our own personal horror that we deal with.

We suffer enough.

Let's Try To Minimize The Pain.

It's not Ghandi-Esque; it's Socko the Clown.

Playing Everywhere.

Right now and for all of time.

 

G. Muffin

I guess the reason I didn't kill my erstwhile boss is because I don't suffer enough. If I really suffered, I'd be a Dead Man.

G. Muffin

Dead, White & Crazy & Male & Gay.

Oohh, yeah. And a rock star.

And I would unleash a string of copy cat suicides.

And I would look down at my work & wonder where I went wrong.

Here's where DFW went wrong --> he kicked the chair.

Never, ever kick the chair (if you have an extension cord around your neck).

Check your voice mails first.

Because you never know who's going to call you & whisper preposterous things to you.

Snert Snert's picture

I don't disagree.  In fact, as loathesome as Sodini was, I did end up pondering what life would be like as a shunned person.  I guess I see a very fine line between pondering such things to understand, and pondering them in order to (slightly, sort of, kinda) justify.  But I hear what you're saying.

In this case, I'm finding it most fascinating that this woman seems to have a bit of a violent streak.  Funny how nobody seemed to follow up on all the inconsistencies in her brother's killing at the time, including allegations that she tried to hijack a "getaway car".  I do hope someone follows up now.

And as with someone like Sodini, it's not all that hard to understand why they're in the situation they're in.  Specifically, it's not that hard to understand why a violent misogynist like Sodini wasn't popular with the opposite sex.  Similarly, this woman sounds like one of those people who just have the stink of weird on them.  It's not that shocking to me that a tenure committee made up of people who would have to work side by side with her if they approved her tenure chose not to.

G. Muffin

Snert, if you don't disagree, then you agree somewhat.

Yes, we have a lot to learn from Sodini.

And Mark David Chapman.

And Charles Manson.

And Adolph Hitler.

G. Muffin

We have tragedies because we shun the shunnable.

We should just mock them, gently, like we do with Ayn Rand.

And she's dead for fuck's sakes!!!

G. Muffin

If you try to shut up the shunnable, they will just get more & more extreme.

At best, you have Thomas Szasz.

At worst, you have Jim Jones.

One of those people is not like the other.

E. Francesca Allan is wishing to face off against E. Fuller Torrey

Who the fuck is EFT?

Treatment Advocacy Center -- Kendra's Law -- Andrew's Pain but Kendra's Law

G. Muffin

There is more than one reason I wish to emigrate to the USA.

Caissa

Professors are workers: they create, preserve and distribute knowledge.

G. Muffin

Thank you, Caissa. I'll tell my father that.

remind remind's picture

Please do name what "tenured professors and professions" are on the side of the "left", besides perhaps sociology?

 

And I am hardly anti-intellectual, as being against tenured neoptism, where "intellectual" peers tell each other they are wonderful is hardly intellectual pursuits, when was the last time there were earth shattering/changing deliberations and findings that were non-mainstream coming out of the tenured set anyway?

 

And get over the shock of finding those on the left being against tenure here, I find lots of other  what I consider to be right wing or neoliberal nonsense being espoused here continually too. Such as rtelling people they are more than other people....that is so egalitarianly progressive! :rolleyes:

besides that, in addressing the thought terminating cliche crowd,  to be anti-intellectual one would be advocating closing down higher education facilities as opposed to advocating for lowered tuitions, or fully fiunded, so more can access  the "hallowed halls".

 

 

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