• August 29, 2015

Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education

Tenure, RIP 1

Tim Rue

Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the U. of Southern California, says non-tenure-track instructors often lack resources, like supplies and training, that contribute to students' success.

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close Tenure, RIP 1

Tim Rue

Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the U. of Southern California, says non-tenure-track instructors often lack resources, like supplies and training, that contribute to students' success.

Some time this fall, the U.S. Education Department will publish a report that documents the death of tenure.

Innocuously titled "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009," the report won't say it's about the demise of tenure. But that's what it will show.

Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell below 30 percent in 2009. If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors.

The idea that tenure, a defining feature of U.S. higher education throughout the 20th century, has shrunk so drastically is shocking. But, says Stanley N. Katz, director of Princeton University's Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, "we may be approaching a situation in which there will not be good, tenure-track jobs for the great majority of good people."

What does vanishing tenure mean for higher education? For starters, some observers say that college faculties are being filled with people who may be less willing to speak their minds: contingent instructors, usually working on short-term contracts. Indeed, the American Association of University Professors says instructors need tenure to guarantee that they can say controversial things inside and outside the classroom without being fired.

But others argue that the disappearance of tenure is actually not the worst thing that could happen in academe. The competition to secure a tenure-track job and then earn tenure has become so fierce in some disciplines that academe may actually be turning away highly qualified people who don't want the hassle. A system without tenure, but one that still gave professors reasonable pay and job security, might draw that talent back.

Ultimately, though, the future of tenure may hinge on a different calculation: Does its absence hurt students enough in the classroom—something research has shown—that the cost savings to institutions are no longer worthwhile?


The prominent shift in the makeup of the professoriate didn't occur overnight. It happened gradually, without any public endorsement or stated plan, as the byproduct of other concerns—primarily budget shortfalls and administrators' interest in gaining flexibility. Now, in whole swaths of higher education, including at many community colleges and at for-profit institutions, tenure is a completely foreign concept. And it is waning at many regional state universities and at less-elite liberal-arts colleges, as well.

But faculty members at major research universities, where tenure is still prominent, often continue to think of it as a mainstay. "We operate as if tenure is the norm, but clearly it's not," says Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California. "Believing we still have this norm has prevented people from acting. Tenured faculty across the country never mobilized to say: Wait!"

The New Normal

Twenty or 30 years ago, when tenure was, in fact, the norm, scholars used to debate its merits and what a college or university might look like without it. They studied the pros and cons of tenure and the handful of institutions that had gone against the grain and eliminated the tenure track altogether. Evergreen State College, a liberal-arts college in Washington State, famously rejected tenure in favor of renewable contracts in 1971. And Florida Gulf Coast University was established without tenure in 1991.

Now that tenure is disappearing across higher education, you don't hear the same kind of debates. What people in higher education do talk about is whether the system that has grown over the last 20 years—heavy on adjunct professors who are paid as little as $1,500 per course—is what educators would have designed if the destruction of tenure had been more purposeful. The universal answer to that question appears to be: No.

"To think the way some of the finest higher-education institutions in the nation educate students is with gypsy adjuncts who have to teach at two to three different places, that would not have been what you would have wanted," says Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. "You want faculty with a vested interest in the institution."

The AAUP has for years argued for the necessity of tenure. This spring Cary Nelson, president of the association, visited Principia College, a liberal-arts institution in Illinois where there is no tenure. "You could cut the fear with a knife," says Mr. Nelson. "Faculty members are guarded, they're not making courageous decisions about what to say, what to think, and how to challenge their students." (Jonathan Palmer, Principia's president, told The Chronicle that simply isn't true. "Tenure in and of itself does not induce or allay fears of faculty members," he said. "The deep, rich conversations we seek among our students and ourselves are not tied to tenure, but to the continuing desire to stretch, liberate, and educate.")

According to Mr. Nelson, though, the biggest loss isn't what professors can't say in the classroom. It's what they don't say to the president or the trustees—or to politicians. "The president doesn't really care what you say in your World War II-history class," says Mr. Nelson. "You can say what you want to about your subject matter, but don't think you can say what you want to about the president's edicts." Indeed, what's disappearing along with tenure, say its advocates, is the ability of professors to play a strong role in running their universities and to object if they think officials are making bad decisions.

"One of the jobs of tenured faculty is to raise a lot of questions and make people uncomfortable," says Martin J. Finkelstein, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. "Nontenured faculty are very cautious. They want to be retained."

Vanishing tenure may be bad for students as well as teachers. A couple of dozen studies over the last decade have shown that as the proportion of professors off the tenure track rises, the proportion of students who return to college the following year and eventually graduate declines. Some researchers, like Ms. Kezar, say that may be because contingent instructors typically lack teaching resources, including offices, supplies, or professional-development opportunities.

Not everyone is mourning the decline of tenure, though. Cathy Trower, a senior research associate at Harvard University who has studied tenure for about a dozen years at the institution's Graduate School of Education, says tenure's harsh up-or-out system—and the escalating demands for research and publication at the nation's top universities—is actually driving away talented young people. "More and more men and women are saying, I don't want to be on that fast track," says Ms. Trower, who has studied 11,000 tenure-track professors at the nation's research universities. "Many are saying, This system is broken, I don't want it."

Only 70 percent of the tenure-track professors Ms. Trower studied at research institutions said they would choose to work at their universities if they had it to do over again. Another study, this one of Ph.D. students at the University of California that was published last year, showed that the proportion of men who said they were interested in faculty jobs at research institutions dropped from 45 percent when they first enrolled in graduate school to 39 percent later in their graduate-school careers. The proportion of women dropped from 36 percent to 27 percent.

Ms. Trower says it is possible to run a university with hard-working, committed scholars who are off the tenure track. "I'm outside the tenure system," she adds, "and I work really, really, hard."

How Low Will It Go?

As the proportion of professors within the tenured ranks dips lower and lower each year, the question becomes: Is there a rock bottom below which the tenured ranks will not go, or will tenure eventually disappear altogether?

Professors who talked to The Chronicle say it may go as low as 15 percent or 20 percent of all instructors, and then reach a holding pattern. "I think the financial pressures are so severe that other than the selective, wealthy liberal-arts colleges and the public and private flagship research universities, tenure is just going to be a vanishing species," says Mr. Ehrenberg.

He is among the scholars whose research shows the decline in tenure is a bad thing for students. Such studies could create public pressure to bring back tenure, says Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University. "I think we're at a crossroads," says Mr. Bousquet. "Over the past 40 years, we've seen a growing trend to misrecognize tenure as a kind of merit badge for research-intensive faculty." Meanwhile, he says, "the majority of teaching-intensive faculty have been shunted out of the tenure system." In his view, all professors should be included on the tenure track, and that's what a report on the issue by the AAUP will call for this fall.

But higher-education watchers don't hold out much hope that the numbers on tenure will turn around. "In the end, these are financial decisions, and they are very hard to reverse," says Frank J. Donoghue, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University who writes about the professoriate. "Once a university opens the door to staffing courses with adjuncts, they save so much money it's almost unthinkable for them to stop."

Editor's note: This article, as first published, noted that a U.S. Education Department report is expected to show the proportion of tenured and tenure-track college instructors will drop below one-third in 2009. Several commentors point out, correctly, that the proportion was at 31 percent in 2007, already below one-third, and so we have changed the text to reflect the correct math for the correct year.


1. generally_academic - July 04, 2010 at 02:30 am

Wherever we come down on the continuation of tenure, we must agree that it needs more, constant thought, by the very nature of the good that does accrue to the institutions, their people, and our society from having (some/many) tenured faculty on the rolls.

1. Universities exist to generate new, innovative knowledge. That may seem a tired old cliche, but it is still true. There are few private businesses that exist to do that job, because there is rarely any profit in it (exceptions are in highly innovative technical areas with immediate payoffs; remember Bell Labs and the old IBM? Nowadays, Google and Microsoft.). It's primarily our job, and it is expensive, but the good that comes from it enhances and strengthens every part of our country, and gives more earning power and a better life even to people who never see the inside of a college building. Their survival depends on our survival, and tenure is a guarantee that we will survive the passions of the political moment:

2. This requires freedom of inquiry and freedom in communicating the results of that inquiry. Many, many of our students come into the classroom with their minds set against such things as "evil-lution," often because they don't understand the incredible advances in medicine, health, and the understanding of who we are, that comes with it. They need education, and that means resisting the know-nothing attitudes of their parents and our legislators (I'm in Texas) that would return education to concepts discredited generations before we came along. That means insulating faculty against these political pressures, so our research can move forward, and as it does, so also our teaching can (should!) move forward.

But there is no forward if we do not have faculty who can institute programs of research that they can reasonable hope they will have the time to see to completion. Tenure is a guarantee that we will have the time to complete those projects of theoretical and applied research that will return great benefit to ourselves, to our companions in our universities, and to society. The business model for higher education says, no results in this quarter (or semester, or academic year), out you go! You know the great good works that has been done by our universities because people had the time to see them through. Tenure gives them that time:

3. Which also means institutional continuity and innovation in research and teaching. A tenured faculty can give a university that real continuity over time that allows planning and development of programs that move us all forward, not sideways, into the future. Long-range planning of intellectual work can only be done by faculty with a long-range future at the institution; in other words, tenured faculty.

I'm violating my own preference against long posts, but the subject goes to the heart of who we are. We who are serious about this work have made a commitment to a life of learning, growth, and teaching discovery, need tenure to ensure we can do that life-long work, and to fend off the bottom-line, greed-is-good, Gresham's Law business/administration/political types who would destroy the best system of higher education the world has ever seen (where do our young people go to get a first-rate education? Tuva, or right here in the States?). Anyone who is sorry they made this choice, and would not do it again, should just leave, and right now (I notice none of those types have, according to the silence on the subject in the article). We need the space they're wasting for people committed to the good work we do.

Intelligent post-tenure review can "weed out the deadwood." For the rest of us, tenure allows freedom of inquiry and communication, continuity and innovation, and long range planning to prepare us for the changing world we are always moving into. And it allows us time to measure and contemplate the wonder of living and working in this world.

2. schwnj - July 04, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Many of the discussions and articles I've read in CHE about the decline in T/TT jobs talk about it in terms of the value of "Tenure" as a concept, and mostly how it relates to teaching. "Misrecognized" or not, at most medium to large institutions, T/TT is synonymous with "research faculty" and non TT are "teaching faculty." The decline in the proportion of TT jobs is about the economics of expensive research faculty teaching 2 or 3 courses per year, versus a lecturer who's paid $48K to teach a 5/5 load. When we actually reach the point of "the decline of tenure" is when we start to see balanced research/teaching/service assistant professor positions that aren't on the TT.

Also, as a researcher, tenure is quite important to me. It means that I can take chances researching the things I find most interesting. And, if things don't work out right away, I don't have to worry about not meeting some publishing quota.

3. roej107 - July 05, 2010 at 08:06 pm

"Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell even further in 2009, dropping below one-third. "

Just remind me, what is one-third as a percentage?

4. crne5907 - July 05, 2010 at 10:44 pm

The Chronicle is combining comments from two different interviews. While faculty members at Principia are vulnerable and anxious, because they have no job security, my impression from classes I visited is that the teaching is quite good. That said, contingent teachers are often careful not to offend stakeholders with power over them.

Cary Nelson

5. 22235933 - July 06, 2010 at 12:17 am

At our institution we were recently warned, indirectly, that as educators we are expected to teach only the "truth" about our subjects and refrain from discussing or injecting our personal opinions into them. This is despite the notion that we are experts in our field and might have drawn our own conclusions about the subject matter. Experts that are routinely paid HALF what we'd earn by working at McDonald's. The destruction of tenure means only one thing - the administrators that are hell bent on "putting butts in the chairs" at the highest tuition possible with the lowest overhead possible are going to win.

Adjuncts have no voice and now we are the majority of teachers in higher-education. At my institution, we outnumber full-time faculty 8 to 1 and yet, we have no voice. We can be replaced if we speak out against internal policy, say the wrong thing about a political candidate, or even assail the lack of our own voice. The ease at which we can be fired means that we will not speak out and education will suffer. There is legitimate harm in the tenure system but those injuries are substantially outweighed by the absurd and administrative-friendly adjunct system.

6. jwr12 - July 06, 2010 at 12:27 am

One argument for tenure that I rarely see made -- but that I happen to think is quite important -- is that it represents a way for universities to attract talented people into crowded fields while paying them nothing -- at least, nothing that makes a 7 year PhD seem like a rational graduate choice. Most TT jobs--despite being more than adjuncts get paid--are underpaid for the credentials involved. Throw into that the fact that a person has to scramble and sweat and move to a location that he or she may never have dreamed of, and the question naturally arises, why would a talented person with options bother?

Idealism about education, of course, is one answer, but idealism is a rickety foundation on which to build a long term relationship. You need something else in the mix. And long-term job security is an amortized chip a university can offer. I should also say that graduate degree careers all expect to cash in at some point. MBA's, MD's, Lawyers, school teachers etc. they all have a stage in their career where their economic security is established. While most faculty are indeed the sort of idealists who don't dream of "partner" money, they do respond to the ideal of an honest living.

For all these reasons, the erosion of the tenure track seems equivalent to me to the erosion of the pillar of the attractions of the academic career. Add to that what happens to wages when a position is adjunctified, and you're really making a PhD in most fields a profoundly irrational proposition. With all respect to Harvard, this idea that the TT is so scary it scares off talented folk -- who prefer the tamer waters of investment banking? -- strikes me as ludicrous.

IF Universities could offer about a 30% increase on starting wages, alongside decent term contracts, then MAYBE one could eliminate the TT entirely without damaging the flow of talent to the academy. Otherwise, it's just not serious, as far as knowledge and institution building goes. Who will become a historian of medieval Europe, and move across country to some small town, to teach for an entry-level clerk's wage, only to be turned out the door at the next trustees meeting? Or for failing to laugh at a president's jokes at an alumni reception?

And I wonder, as well, if critics properly calculate all the side work done by faculties -- the late night committee work, the innumerable side tasks -- and the costs of constant turnover as well. The bottom line also might not make a great deal of sense, as well.

7. rickw - July 06, 2010 at 06:40 am

There seems to be an assumption that "administrative flexibility" is somehow a good idea when it comes to new program implementation and revision of the curriculum. One may make the counter argument, however, that American universities and colleges are slipping in international standing because--among other things--of the rise of a new class of arrogant administrators who now dominate decision making in our institutions of higher learning.

The new administrative class has, magically, sold boards and legislatures on the concept that faculty are a commodoty, and as such should have little voice, or better yet, no voice in decision making concerning the curiculum or in meeting student needs. Often times this administrative class comes from the business sector and seeks to do to our universities and colleges what they have done to the economy.

At the university where I teach we have one senior administrator who has held a teaching appointment. Shared governance is in a shambles and the cut and gut mainia rules supreme. Sound familiar? Welcome to the new American university.

8. mainiac - July 06, 2010 at 06:55 am

BINGO rickw!

The business model has consumed (hawhaw) colleges and univs, at the expense of those who create the "commodity." Ask BP what firing the highest paid and talented engineers to cut costs has done for them.

9. 11242283 - July 06, 2010 at 07:20 am

There seem to be so many contradictions in this article and responses to it that I don't know where/how to begin in responding to it. I'm with #7 to a large extent: a culture of "administrative flexibility" and the reduction of faculty to commodities does not augur well for any discussion of dismantling tenure in a way that is at all advantageous to faculty as professionals who then somehow retain either professional level salaries or the freedom of inquiry so essential to universities. But that being said, I see little evidence at my own university that my colleagues want tenure in order (as Cary Nelson intimates) to assist in the running of the university. The overhyping of "research" as the end all and be all of faculty lives (to the detriment of either teaching or service) means that most of my "research" colleagues want tenure in order to be left alone to do whatever it is they do and that these particular colleagues have little or no sense of institutional commitment. And indeed, why should they? The whole reward system is structured to advantage those who pursue their research to the exclusion of other things and who don't worry their pretty little heads about mundane things like governance. They may rail at the general stupidity of many adminstrators (who thwart their personal research or career goals) but generally they aren't interested and as long as administrative flexibility advantages them, they'll stay uninterested (and are happy to do so). In fact, I imagine that in a tenure free system, these (relatively few) faculty would still probably prosper since their research independence is a myth anyway shaped as it is by the national funding priorities of grant-making agencies, foundations and the like.

While research is absolutely crucial to the functioning of faculty and their ability to transfer knowledge to and inspire others and to the liveliness of universities, in general, it has been vastly oversold as the mark of success for faculty members. As I am nearing retirement, I have seen many a tenure and promotion file in my day and have been amused over the last 20 years by how faculty with interesting yet relatively modest research profiles (which in fact is most faculty) write about this aspect of their lives as if they were soon-to-be recognized MacArthur Genius Grant recipients (it's not only our students who have outsized notions of their self-worth). And while I find this somewhat amusing, it's also quite sad -- that so many of my colleagues don't appreciate or value the other aspects of faculty lives and have bought into the notion that they are independent contractors who need to be left alone (thank you, tenure) to produce modest, interesting but not particularly earth shattering research.

Many of the dwindling number of faculty (especially at research institutions) find this system acceptable since it feeds into an academic celebrity culture which hold out the the promise of a ticket out of mundane things like teaching and governance ---- and, by the way, which is promoted by the Chronicle whose obsession with the movements and deals of a very small number of faculty in "People"-magazine like columns and naming 'stars' of the future is a symptom of this problem.

I don't know what the answer is to any of this, but while I hold adminstrators and academic leaders in large part responsible for where we are, I also think faculty should look in the mirror at we've done to the tenure system as well.

10. osholes - July 06, 2010 at 07:21 am

I agree with rickw and maniac, and will go one small step further. Boards bring a corporate model with them, including a short-term view of the future and little patience. They have been convinced by the administration that faculty cannot be trusted (all the more reason for the protection of tenure).

Now the alumni are joining the fray, at least the alumni that share the dislike of faculty with some trustees. So we see the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, whose goal is to put faculty in their place. Actually, it's to get even with all the perceived slights they've gotten from faculty who don't toe the line or give out high grades. Just track down the quotes from these people that are sprinkled through the Chronicle and you'll get the flavor of their dislike and disdain for faculty.

85% of the TT faculty at my college get tenure, and teaching is weighted most heavily (though the administration and board want more research to "enhance our reputation" - a story for another posting). The system generally works well, and with the administration and board we have now, we need the protection afforded by tenure.

Clearly, each institution is different, so let each institution decide it's own policy.

11. elksm11204 - July 06, 2010 at 07:38 am

When tenure was established, it was for teaching and related scholarly activity. My long-retired father-in-law was a full tenured professor of mathematics at a distinquished university with only a few publications. For most faculty today, it is synonymous with funded research and publications (and refusal to teach because it takes time away from research). In medical schools/healthcare, we have seen the toll that money and for-profit health care have on the system. Tenure died when it became for money rather than teaching/scholarly skills. For-profit education rips the heart out of what is left.

12. bmartin - July 06, 2010 at 07:48 am

An interesting analysis, but I would like to see the actual numbers not just the percentages. By what amount has the overall higher education enterprise increased since 1975? Is the increasing percentage of non-tenured positions due in part to the increase in for-profit institutions? Has the actual number of tenured positions decreased? I presume the actual report will include the numbers but it would be helpful to include these in the summary.

13. michpat - July 06, 2010 at 08:09 am

Bmartin makes a notable point. The trend is not driven on the merits of tenure. The entire higher education model is terraforming rapidly. Want a glimpse of the future of tenure and higher education? Ask a senior editor at a metropolitan daily newspaper about job security. Mainstream media faced the changes first. Universities are next.
Economics, technology, generational changes, governments, and globalization are just of few of the waves slamming into the academic world as you've known it. The already crumbling support structures of the 20th Century Academy will be hardly recognizeable in another decade.
Still young and believe in old-style tenure? Good luck with that. What passes for tenure in the not-too-distant future won't resemble what it does today.

14. tappat - July 06, 2010 at 08:26 am

Since when is 70% of a population a figure warranting the characterization, "only"? ("Only 70 percent of the tenure-track professors Ms. Trower studied at research institutions said they would choose to work at their universities if they had it to do over again.") Only 70% feel that things are terrible, so let's leave things alone -- see, it doesn't make any sense. 30% of the people express varying degrees of displeasure with the status-quo, so let's destroy everything and do what some portion of this 30% feel would be better -- see that's even worse!

15. bdbailey - July 06, 2010 at 08:41 am

The proportions mentioned in the article underrepresent the proportion of tenured or tenure track faculty teaching classes, since at research I universities where there is a higher percentage of T/TT faculty, they have a very light teaching load.

As the article points out, we have come to this point by default, not by design. So what are the alternatives? A return to a majority tenured faculty is probably not a realistic expectation. Also pointed out in the article is the model of renewable contracts. No mention was made of the length of these contracts. I worked in the North Carolina Community College system which has one year renewable contracts. The only time that faculty seemed to fear for their jobs is when enrollment in their area fell to the point that their program was in danger. That did not seem unreasonable. In Georgia, the newest state university uses 3-5 year renewable contracts. Again, this does not seem unreasonable to me. I worked for a couple of decades in private industry where we had no contracts and any day could be your last. There and in the CC system, I counselled students and workers that they had to continually be preparing for their next job, and it might not be where you are. This lifelong learning model does not seem to me to be at odds with the life of a professor. If you have been keeping current, and are good at what you do, you find another job.

Finally, a third model might be dual tracks for research and teaching. This is used in some disciplines at some institutions. If we really want our research faculty to focus on research, let them to that, and teach grad students. They should also run an annual seminar to update their teaching colleagues on changes in the field. Let teaching faculty focus on teaching, and enjoy pay and status that reflects the importance of what they do. It might not be equal to research faculty, but they should not be second class citizens in their place of work.

I am not tenured, my wife is. I don't buy the notion that you cannot speak your mind unless you have tenure. It helps if you try to do it in a constructive manner. But what about the courage of your convictions. That is all most Americans have to protect them. It does not take courage to speak up when you have nothing to lose. In fact, it may encourage frivolous complaining and long faculty meetings spent on unimportant issues - does that sound familiar??

16. evbiii - July 06, 2010 at 08:48 am

Am I the only one that thinks the feminization of the academy has led to the demise of tenure. It's funny how any prominent position loses prestige as soon as women become the fastest growing participants.

17. lgreco - July 06, 2010 at 09:11 am

The article states "A system without tenure, but one that still gave professors reasonable pay and job security, might draw that talent back."

As a dean at a non-profit university that offers no tenure but (very) reasonable pay, I have advocated an employment contract with a 3-5 year termination notice, convertible to a buyout option.

What other ways are there to provide some sense of job security that will contribute to an increased sense of academic freedom, in the absence of tenure?

18. physicsprof - July 06, 2010 at 09:16 am

Why nobody talks about the obvious reason for corporatization of HiEd and demise of tenure as a part of it -- changed attitude of the American public. You get what you pay for. If you abandoned your public institutions of education to their own survival (and many institutions' budgets have only 1/5 coming from state appropriations), if you force them to earn money they need, they will have no choice but to adopt a business model. Corporatization of HiEd is not the cause, it is the consequence. Reliance on cheap labor as well as bloated ranks of executives whose primary role is procurement and management of funds is not so much the malice of administrators as the sad situation they (and HiEd) are placed into by the taxpayers.

19. jthelin - July 06, 2010 at 09:34 am

I find it peculiar and hypocritical that many high level administrators (e.g., presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans) insist on having a tenured faculty position as part of their own administrative package. Best of all are the eventual press conferences when a president or provost or dean announces, "I want to return to my teaching, students and research . . ." -- even though their prior commitment to them is either dubious or long gone.

I would like to hear reports from colleagues nation-wide -- at your own institution, how many former administrators have "returned to the faculty" with tenure -- and very high pay?

20. 22205373 - July 06, 2010 at 09:40 am

This hysteria has to stop. The headline, the use of percentages rather than absolute numbers... I venture to say that the total number of tenured professors is higher than it has ever been. The cause of more untenured instructors, and thus the ratio of untenured-to-tenured, is the explosion in college enrollment. Tenure is not dead. Of course it may become that way if we act like it's a fait accompli.

21. generally_academic - July 06, 2010 at 09:46 am

Just a quick note on salaries now and then. I compared what I made 35 years ago with what that salary is worth in today's dollars [using the BLS's Inflation Calculator].
Now, I came to work at the worst-paying senior college in Texas, which was, and is, one of the poorest paying states in the Union. My starting salary as a TT Asst. was, in today's dollars, $46,500.00/9 months. Back then, that was a bottom-of-the-barrel salary in senior college higher education. Check the Chron's published survey of faculty salaries today, and see how we're really doing.

22. goodeyes - July 06, 2010 at 09:51 am

There has been a major growth in for-profit universities which might explain a great deal of the decline of those with tenure. There also has been a large growth in community college enrollment in which tenure is less common.

23. usclibrary - July 06, 2010 at 10:10 am

I agree wholeheartedly with commenter # 6. He/ she should write the next article for CHE.

24. mlisaacs - July 06, 2010 at 10:16 am

Just a few points:
1) The remaining tenured and tenure track professors are now managers. They manage the
adjunct faculty. They assume more and more service and administrative roles because there
are fewer of them to share the responsibilities. This results in less time for research and
interactions with students.
2. There will come a time (very soon) where young people will have no interest in pursuing
a Phd. It is already true in languages and the humanities. Assuming huge debts for
advanced degrees when there is no future will contribute to a loss of talent for higher education.
3. Grade inflation has come about as the non tenured and adjuncts are faced with student
evaluations that may cost them their jobs.
4. In our very litigious society, many people have received tenure who did not really deserve it.
The institution must prove incompetence and cannot demand excellence.
5. Tenure has been abused by some professors who simply stop growing and settle back to fix
up their houses on their sabbatic leaves.
Possible solutions: 1) Full time contracts with term limits. I have long thought that the 7 year
term is a good one. Every 7 years, faculty should be evaluated. If they do not carry their
weight in all aspects of collegiate responsibilities, they should be given a terminal year's
pay and dismissed. This would keep everyone on their toes throughout their careers.
2) Stop building palatial campuses. European universities do not build "cities" with
country club like housing and student unions. It is the concept of "competition" that
has driven this. Doing well in the magazine ratings and "looking good" in the brochure and
on line pictures has taken precedence over high quality teaching and standards.
3) Re-examine collegiate sports. The cost of maintaining this huge industry, which really
provides the "farm" system for football and basketball has no place in the training of
scientists, mathematicians, linguists, poets, historians, teachers, artists, and musicians.
Again, European, Indian, and Asian universities do not do this. They are going to provide
the world with the dominant educated populations if this country does not change.
It will, if it has not already, become a national security issue.

25. jwr12 - July 06, 2010 at 10:33 am

I'll add another couple of thoughts. First, I agree with those calling for more numbers. Tracking the crisis according to global percentages hides a number of important issues. One is absolute size of the faculty (as has been pointed out). Another is variation by discipline and institution. Another is reason for the adjunct position. I work at a big, land-grand institution, in a humanities department (for instance). While we employ teaching assistants to lead sections (and thus conduct a lot of class time), we have very few adjunct positions. The vast majority of students are taught either by FTE / TT faculty, or by them in combination with graduate students. We do have adjuncts, defined as short term instructors teaching entire classes. But virtually all (I can't think of an exception) are either 1) recent PhD's for whom we have created positions, because we cannot fund them otherwise and they do not have jobs or 2) spouses of university employees for whom positions were created as part of either recruitment or retention.

Now, I certainly don't think these positions are plums. I wish our PhD's had TT jobs and that the permanent adjuncts hired as part of retention / recruitment cases had full positions, in keeping with their very high credentials. (The luck of the draw here is often cruel, with one PhD spouse getting a job the other one is equally deserving of). But I note that (so far) administrative cost-cutting pressure has not converted this department into the type of pyramid the article describes. And I wonder how that works across fields. By contrast, our English department (as I understand) is much more like the anti-utopia described in the article.

26. trendisnotdestiny - July 06, 2010 at 10:36 am

Generally, I despise reductionary thinking. But here, the underlying complexity that is being discussed is about risk.

We might be helped to realize that every area of the economy is looking to shift risk institutionally onto individuals competing for spots in the global economy: this is the model that is set up and these are their governing rules.....

If we do not want to play by them, then we have to act collectively period... otherwise we accept that many of the comments/responses of this article are merely self- reported versions of perceived risk-shifting consequences.

However, we have to acknowledge that once a market is opened, it is damn hard to change the economic forces brought about by the revenue created from it.... (i.e privatized higher ed)

27. jeraldr - July 06, 2010 at 11:00 am

Thank you, #9, for adding a modicum of reason to this otherwise chaotic discussion.

I am one of those who earned a doctorate several years ago who chose not to pursue a tenured position because of the hassle. I am an academic professional who teaches and does research, and while it irritates me that I do not have the prestige that all faculty enjoy (deserved or not), I find the lesser status to be a price very much worth paying. Partly, I made the decision not to pursue tenure based on my age when I completed my doctorate (49) and partly because I am frustrated by amount of needless complaining and time-wasting I see in the life of a typical professor. It drives me mad to spend hours of time in faculty meetings listening to people arguing over political petty details when there is actual, interesting work to be done (not to mention a good and pleasurable life to be led). I am much more free do more interesting and meaningful work in my field outside of the tenure structure. I have always felt free to speak my mind within the bounds of civic discourse, perhaps all the more so because I am free from the need to seek tenure.

Finally, I've been working in academia long enough to know that there are too many faculty out there taking advantage of the job security that tenure provides to do terrible work, or worse yet, not to bother showing up. These people are a pain to work with and a nightmare for students, but there is little or no recourse for ridding ourselves of them. Also, I find it hard to believe that any institution worth working for would deny a talented professor tenure because they didn't laugh at a president's joke - is academia a meritocracy or not? And if not, why would I stoop to the level of working with such folks?

28. jeffoffutt - July 06, 2010 at 11:08 am

I'm not sure about the connection to resources. I believe the key difference is in commitment. Tenure-track faculty can have a long-term commitment to the programs they teach in; developing new classes, updating material, and investing time and energy this year that will pay off in better classes for the next decade. Tenure-track faculty also can ... See Moreafford to spend quality time with students. Part-time adjuncts and instructors have no external motivation to invest for the future, and often are not on campus enough to spend time with students.

Another difference is in local respect. When we discuss curriculum changes, the part-time adjuncts have no voice and many tenured faculty ignore the full-time instructors.

The article doesn't distinguish between part-time and full-time instructors. These are very different groups.

More reliance on instructors and adjuncts also puts more administrative burden on full-time tenure-track professors. Advising and admissions gets parceled out to a smaller percentage of the teaching staff.

29. jeff23 - July 06, 2010 at 11:08 am

Tenure's going away, and the sooner people get their heads around that, the better. When the recession hit, there wasn't a heck of alot of "national dialog" about the values of liberal education, etc. :)

30. teach4dollars - July 06, 2010 at 11:21 am

As an adjunct for 3 colleges, I am not surprised by the figures presented indicating TT on the decline and PT on the rise. I have noticed this trend as the number of advertised TT positions has decreased over the past 10-15 years.

Although my work is well-liked by the schools' where I teach, I am on a semester-by-semester contract. I have no job security. If enrollments fall, as they have in the past, my course has been and will be (again) cut or passed onto a FT faculty who need to fulfill their obligation. I cannot argue or fight my way into a course when I have no contractual obligation.

While hiring PT/adjuncts saves the university money, the students do not receive the same educational opportunities. As an adjunct, I may not be fully aware of the degree requirements, outreach opportunities, or research experiences available at the schools and cannot effectively advise students. Instead, I suggest they speak with a FT/TT with whom they have no previous contact with, since my course is their one and only science exposure. As a research-trained faculty, I too am missing out on the opportunity to continue scientific research and mentor students in the process. Adjunct are typically not invited to faculty meetings nor have voting power. In relying heavily on adjuncts, students and faculty are not receiving the benefits of academia. If TT jobs are on the decline, there should be a push for long-term contracts (full-time) and less reliance on PT adjuncts.

As Ronald G. Ehrenberg discusses "gypsy adjuncts" in the article, part-time faculty often need to find employment at multiple schools in order to make enough funds to support a family or the economy (e.g. buy a home and other material necessities). Without my job security, it was a difficult decision about when and where to buy a home. My spouse's employment ensured we could make the home-buying committment. Has the impact of adjunct employment on the local economy been explored, especially in small college towns?

So, why did I turn down FT industry/goverment opportunities and continue with this lifestyle, because I love teaching. I will continue to nervously await teaching assignment decisions every semester, and have a greater teaching load than TT/FT faculty for about half the pay, and share an office with my closest 25 adjunct "friends", whom I never see. The smell of freshy-waxed floors every fall and the smiles of students eager to learn draw me back to the classroom.

31. bigtwin - July 06, 2010 at 11:56 am

I don't know how the death of tenure can be avoided.

The current generation of profs have done nothing to defend or justify the tenure system, depts are churning out multiple times the number of grads for jobs available creating a pool of cheaper labour, most research produced by tenured has to impact or resonance outside university circles, politicians and the public have a low opinion of many professors and university politics. it sees that university administrators long ago made decided to abandon tenure.

I think the current generation of faculty deserves the greatest blame. Not once has the issue of tenure and adjunctification ever been raised at the AGM of my discipline's professional association. Not once has my dept recognized the fact that by accepting (and often demeaning) adjuncts they implicitly devalued their own worth and position. Not once did anyone in my dept raise concern over the number of grad students they were enlisting and churning out.

32. jwr12 - July 06, 2010 at 11:57 am

For Jeraldr:

You write, in response to my post (#6):

"Also, I find it hard to believe that any institution worth working for would deny a talented professor tenure because they didn't laugh at a president's joke - is academia a meritocracy or not?"

I will of course grant that my "joke" example was extreme. That said, note that I wasn't talking about TENURE decisions, but rather about renewal of the temporary contracts we often hear will replace tenure, to the benefit of all. And here, I think a reasonably expectable nightmare (as is touched upon by post 30) for most positions without tenure is constant worry that some hidden remark or shift in perception gets you fired. Frankly, it sounds like replacing tenure review once with permanent tenure reviews, only this time it's a system of rolling popularity contests.

You ask, "is academia a meritocracy?" Umm, I guess some would subscribe to this ideal; but in the real world, inevitably, there's a lot of politicing. And one real obstacle to eliminating tenure track positions is that you take a poorly paid position with the hope of some job security (after a bit of struggle) into a poorer paid position whose job security hinges on permanent politicing and struggle. And while it still won't be like working for minimum wage in a midnight call center - there are lots of horrible jobs in our economy -- it won't be the sort of attractive job that will serve to draw young people into the field. Our goal should not be to create jobs that are as bad as everything else.

33. ralbin - July 06, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I'd be curious to know what fraction of the non-tenure track faculty are in med school positions. There has been considerable growth of med school faculties in recent years. Many schools hire clinical faculty (both part-time and full-time) in non-tenure track positions and there seems to have been considerable expansion of these positions recently. These individuals usually receive long-term contracts and are in a very different situation than teaching adjuncts.

34. trendisnotdestiny - July 06, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The wealth and privileges of most societies can be, in most cases, traced back to the size of their middle classes.... We see growth in economies precisely where the middle class is exerting their purchasing power over the economy: India, Vietnam, China & Brazil etc....

Our middle class is shrinking and the baby boom generation is retiring.... most other considerations evolve from this concept as well as who is going to pay for services.... Hence, the perfect storm of neoliberalism:

privatize wealth so that government cannot tax the rich
cut social supports and services to barebones (including Soc Sec)
sell the population on innovation, new technologies
protect original markets, profit streams and bonuses

Tenure's place in this system is to be de-levered, shaved and used against competing labor forces to facilitate: individualism, hyper-production and a buffer for the status quo to maintain pre-existing hierarchies....

35. jsch0602 - July 06, 2010 at 12:12 pm

It seems that tenure would be appropriate for politicians as well. How many ideas remain unspoken because politicians fear voter reprisal? Let politicians get elected by the people twice and then grant them a 20 year tenure in office followed by mandtory retirement.

36. softshellcrab - July 06, 2010 at 12:13 pm

The problem with tenure is that acamadics, and the AAUP, overreached. It should protect only faculty rights to express and teach their ideas and ideologies without excessive censoring or fear. It has however generally been used much more to protect inept and lazy faculty. Guess what? This has made it unpopular with a public who see lazy, highlty paid college faculty with jobs from which they more or less cannot be fired, short of sabotage or affairs with students (if even that will do it). The pig theory. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. Faculty overreached protecting their jobs.

37. debdessaso - July 06, 2010 at 12:15 pm

After all of the hand-wringing and teeth-nashing is over, what no one wants to admit is this: America achieved much of its greatness not by relying largely on the output of tenured college professors/ researchers but because of this country's unmatched ability to attract and grow risk-takers who, with few guarantees such as the job-for-life bait afforded tenured professors, stepped out on faith (however one chooses to define it), put everything (including their and/or their investors' fortunes) on the line, and created what they saw a need for.

From what I've been reading, most of the innovations in teaching and learning are being spawned by small and mid-sized colleges and universities and their largely nontenured faculty. I say make those jobs more secure by giving these professors long-term, renewable (but not automatically guaranteed) contracts and pour the dollars saved back into the schools where they belong.

38. hoppingmadjunct - July 06, 2010 at 12:22 pm

One of the prime goals of the first-year writing program for which I teach is ostensibly to develop students' critical-thinking skills. But the program's in a division whose own professed goal is retention; it includes more support-service staff such as counsellors and academic-intervention specialists than teachers, and its dean has no background in writing or critical thinking but in criminal justice. The program's director, answerable to this dean, is its only tenure-stream faculty. Four full-time contingents and from 26 to thirty part-time adjuncts teach its same two courses at a salary discrepancy that the director has banned as a topic in department meetings. If students DO learn to think critically in this program, what might they conclude about the program itself?

39. goxewu - July 06, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Re (way back) #1:

"Intelligent post-tenure review can 'weed out the deadwood.'"

No, not merely "intelligent" post-tenure review, but post-tenure review with teeth: termination, demotion, salary reduction, etc.

General: Although economic/corporization factors are probably the major driver of the decline in tenure, "deadwood" and uncollegiality are contributors. Too many departments and schools have been stung by granting in-effect lifetime job security to faculty members who then put their teaching on cruise control, their research (insofar as it involves something other than summer trips to Europe) into mothballs, and their service into oblivion. My personal experience--in the humanities and a stint as a chair--bears this out.

On balance, I'm in favor of increasing-term contracts, e.g. 3, 5, 7, 10, and another 10 years. If you come in as a 30-year-old ABD, can go through that cycle, you'll be 65. Then perhaps, the contracts might be ever-diminishing, the next one taking you to age 72, then 77 and, if you've anything left in the tank, to 80. But at the seven-year contract for the professor aged, say, 65, the requirements for getting one ought to become more stringent, i.e., if you want to teach into your late 70s, you'll have to have something really special to offer. Otherwise, it's a reasonable having to move over for younger faculty to move up.

A side benefit of term contracts might be getting rid of this whole silly, pseudo-military rank business. Everybody, from those on a three-contract to those on their second ten-year contracts, would be "Professor." (Your students don't say, "Excuse me assistant professor, I'd like to ask you a question," do they?)

40. wiedmant - July 06, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Hmmm... Ms. Wilson states that "the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell even further in 2009, dropping below one-third." Not to be too picky, but perhaps Ms. Wilson should hire a fact-checker -- or review her lessons on fractions from elementary school.

41. soc_sci_anon - July 06, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I wonder about the extent to which the often-bemoaned decline in academic rigor and grade inflation are an unintended consequence of the use of part-time and non-tenured faculty. Most of the comments have focussed on how tenure allows faculty to pursue the research questions they want, without having to suck up to industry or to politicians (too much). It also allows them to create challenging courses, without having to suck up to students or their parents (too much).

42. tim_lacy - July 06, 2010 at 12:44 pm

If the death of tenure correlates strongly with the desire for cost savings by administration, then the logical answer is the unionization of adjuncts. Those unions, backed by sympathetic f-t/t-t faculty, would demand higher salaries and holding the possibility of strikes over the heads of administrators. With arguments about salary subverted, then free-speech issues could move back to the frontburner. In sum, we need to follow Marc Bousquet's advice. - TL

43. ots1927 - July 06, 2010 at 12:48 pm

There's nothing particularly surprising in this article to anyone who has followed or been involved in U.S. higher education over the past two or three decades. I don't see tenure disappearing altogether from the landscape of American academe, but I can imagine that it will be phased out at certain kinds of institutions, as indeed it already has been.

The flaw in this report is that it conflates two distinct, though interrelated issues. One is the diminishment of tenure itself, while the other is the increasing reliance on adjunct or other part-time instructors. Though related, these are not exactly two sides of the same coin. There is a third category that I see growing at my own institution: full-time non-tenurable faculty. Even at colleges and universities that retain the tenure system, I can foresee that full-time positions without the possibility of tenure will become increasingly common, maybe even the norm one day.

44. christophknoess - July 06, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Tenure vs. student success?

I continue to be surprised by how indifferent institutions are towards their appalling student success rates. In many of my conversations with senior administrators of not-for-profit institutions I get the sense that some of the indifference is resignation that (tenured) faculty will resist the introduction of support mechanisms that have proven to boost student success.

The fear that I see on campus is not faculty's fear of losing their job, but that of presidents, provosts and deans to run into a no-confidence vote.

Christoph Knoess

45. mafjazz - July 06, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Why can we not retain tenure until, perhaps, 65 or 66? At that point universities can retain needed expertise on a year-to-year basis. One of our problems is that we have far too many faculty over 66 who refuse to retire. They no longer publish or do research. They prevent genuine growth in their departments because the nature of their disciplines has changed since 1968. Imagine that. Most of these professors make $80,000-$110,000 per year; a few make more. We could hire virtually two full-time faculty for each person who has been teaching well over thirty-five years. Instead, we cannot afford to open new faculty lines. We need about 16 additional full-time faculty to handle our enrollment increases. Instead, we have added over 40 adjuncts. I would support a limit on tenure. I think tenure is needed. But not by someone in his forty-eighth year, who, at 77, has students bored to death. I agree with gowexu on post-tenure review, but that would not work at my institution. Tenure should end at 66. We do have professors who should be teaching at 75. Others should be welcomed into their retirement years. No respectable business operates like higher education. Any business that did would be out of business. And spare me the diatribe about education not being a business. mafjazz

46. janyregina - July 06, 2010 at 01:09 pm

At the community college where I work, tenured = class givers. If one is working as an adjunct, to survive economically and emotionally(if one cannot pay the utility bill, survival is a big deal), the number of classes one is given determines survival.

Student's evaluations are more important than critical thinking. Of course, there is grade inflation. I remember when As were given on a 94 to 100 percentile. A 70 C now was a D with 69 failing.

Students pay $500 for a course and the adjunct is paid $1,500 to teach the course. Someone is making a lot of money on the sweat and yes, tears of the fellow educators.

47. kedves - July 06, 2010 at 01:16 pm

A few people have asked for numbers in addition to percentages. Here they are (see note below for why full-time percent is higher here than in the article above):

Year - Total faculty (in thousands) - Full-time faculty* - Part-time faculty - Percent of faculty full-time

1970 474 369 104 77.9%
1980 686 450 236 65.6
1991 826 536 291 64.8
2001 1,113 618 495 55.5
2007 1,371 703 668 51.3

(NCES Digest of Education Statistics 2009, Table 249)

* NOTE: "Full-time faculty" in these data includes both TT/T and contingent faculty.

Other data show that "full-time non-TT" is the fastest-growing faculty type (not the largest category, but the most quickly increasing). The number of tenure-track faculty is shrinking faster than the number of tenured faculty. Those trends, not the current percent alone, are bases of forecasts of the eventual disappearance of tenure.

Some commenters here say that part-time faculty grade more leniently. I have found only one study testing this hypothesis. Landrum (2009) compared full-time and part-time faculty in eight departments and 361 courses at a 4-year university. The study found that full-time faculty did not have higher student evaluations of teaching or less lenient grade distributions than part-time faculty.  Quality and rigor, by those measures, were similar.  Many people doubt the value of student evaluations, but in the absence of a uniform measure of learning such as a national exam, it's not clear what would replace them. Faculty peer evaluations have been shown to be even less reliable. 

What would replace tenure? Why not the same form of employment that most full-time workers have, and that university staff have? Interview carefully; hire with a probationary period and after that, the expectation of continuing employment; offer raises and promotions based on performance; and warn, then fire, when employees fall significantly below performance expectations.

Funding, not tenure's promise of academic freedom, is what drives most research in my field. But there is a significant gap between how faculty and the public see the college's or university's mission. It's not clear that tenure improves that situation. I'm not convinced that tenure provides academic freedom in the classroom beyond core job security. A full professor in my department was made to apologize to a student this year for doing a normal part of the faculty job. That please-the-customer mentality acts as a more effective stick for contingent than non-contingent faculty, but if tenured faculty are also pressured to follow the model in order to maintain preferred teaching schedules or to get raises, then it has infiltrated the entire system.

48. fergbutt - July 06, 2010 at 01:29 pm

To #45, mafjazz: Age discrimination is illegal (and immoral). Nice try, though. As I get older I notice age discrimination more, often roginating with my most "liberal" colleagues. Many faculty who wouldn't dream of discriminating on race or gender have no trouble insinuating that older faculty need to be marginalized.

49. physicsprof - July 06, 2010 at 01:37 pm

#48, so you claim that European countries (most if not all of them have a fixed retirement age in academia) are immoral?

50. bigtwin - July 06, 2010 at 01:46 pm

What's "immoral" to me is a system that pays senior citizen profs well beyond their 'best before' dates exorbitant salaries with no accountability measures.

Is it any wonder people think the tenure system doesnt work and needs to go?

51. vseidita - July 06, 2010 at 01:56 pm

I bet even some of the non tenure tenure track scum teaching mathematics know that 31% is less than one third

52. luigi - July 06, 2010 at 02:18 pm

1. Teachers witout tenure probably have lifetime jobs unless they screw up or anger higher-ups in any number of ways. My guess is that few profs do these things and thus most untenured profs have a de facto tenure. However, they lack bargaining power.

2. In many fields, if you teach for several years and then lose your job, you are going to have a tough time finding a nonacademic job. Your time has passed, and there are more attractive candidates out there. In many fields, your years in academia count for very little when you enter the nonacademic job market.

53. hawkeyecc - July 06, 2010 at 02:35 pm

Since I am employed at a Community College, the discussion of tenure is somewhat foreign. But at this college, once your probationary period is complete (3 yrs), you are pretty much guaranteed a continuing contract. That is due to union support. Even some instructors who have seemed incompetent are retained due to union pressure. So, tenure is not the only system that can promote laziness and incompetence.
Research must continue, and therefore tenure must continue. Many research projects can bring large funds to universities, and so the person obtaining those funds should be retained. It seems only fair that if you attract funds for your research, and many researchers do, that you should have a system in place that allows you to complete that research. Our universities are essential for research to continue.
That being said, there should also be some system of merit for teaching faculty. Without those of us who spend our days in the classrooms and with students, there wouldn't be a school. So retention or tenure needs to apply to all. Really good teachers are hard to come by and should be equally rewarded.

54. aindrias_hiort - July 06, 2010 at 02:39 pm

It would be nice if you wrote this article using proper, accepted punctuation and grammar. For example, you stated, "But, says Stanley N. Katz, director of Princeton University's Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, 'we may be approaching a situation in which there will not be good, tenure-track jobs for the great majority of good people.'"

1. When you speak in a high register, you never begin a sentence with a conjunction (But); therefore, you should never write in a contrary manner.

2. Quotations should begin with a capital letter since the person you are quoting is beginning a sentence ("[...] Cultural Policy Studies, 'We may be [...]'"), not "[...] Cultural Policy Studies, 'we may be [...]'").

This is pretty basic stuff. I understand that you are trying to write in a conversational manner, but you still need to follow form. The people with whom you are trying to communicate are educated, and your writing style has glaring mistakes in this regard. If one of my students submitted a paper with mistakes of this kind, I would drastically reduce that student's grade.

55. rear_view_mirror - July 06, 2010 at 02:49 pm

Suppose part-time faculty were to give up maintaining that their teaching is equal in quality to that of full time faculty. Whose problem is it?

56. jwharbeson - July 06, 2010 at 04:03 pm

Make no mistake about. Tenure is essential to academic freedom--freedom to debate college/university policies, freedom to be creative, engage in out of the main stream research, challenge academic orthodoxies, do research that may not be the most productive in terms of grant eligibility. In a word, loss of tenure means academic priorities are not set by the faculty themselves but by university administrators.

57. drj50 - July 06, 2010 at 04:19 pm

The article conflates several things:
1) It expresses (appropriate) concern about part-time faculty. But "full-time" and "tenured/tenure track" are not identical.
2) Percent of "faculty" is not the same as percent of courses taught.
3) While many adjuncts/part-time faculty are attempting to stitch together a living by teaching at several schools that have hired them to teach freshman comp on the cheap, many others are practictioners who teach part-time because they have knowledge and skills that enrich the education of students in professional programs.
We need better thinking and data.

58. jack_cade - July 06, 2010 at 04:38 pm

Cathy Trower, "More and more men and women are saying, I don't want to be on that fast track," says Ms. Trower, who has studied 11,000 tenure-track professors at the nation's research universities. "Many are saying, This system is broken, I don't want it."
SO WHAT? Essentially, commitment is merit.

Only 70 percent of the tenure-track professors Ms. Trower studied at research institutions said they would choose to work at their universities if they had it to do over again. Another study, this one of Ph.D. students at the University of California that was published last year, showed that the proportion of men who said they were interested in faculty jobs at research institutions dropped from 45 percent when they first enrolled in graduate school to 39 percent later in their graduate-school careers. The proportion of women dropped from 36 percent to 27 percent.

Ms. Trower says it is possible to run a university with hard-working, committed scholars who are off the tenure track. "I'm outside the tenure system," she adds, "and I work really, really, hard."

59. mart2264 - July 06, 2010 at 04:40 pm

The author of comment #54 seems to be intent on proving that the tenure-track system produces pompous, supercilious, hidebound professors who are obsessed with trivial matters and who are stuck in the 19th century (it is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with "But..."). We have someone like this in my department; rather than teaching students how to research, think, and write, he gives them an outdated list of "does" and "don'ts."

60. rear_view_mirror - July 06, 2010 at 04:52 pm

Re: #57: " While many adjuncts/part-time faculty are attempting to stitch together a living by teaching at several schools that have hired them to teach freshman comp on the cheap, many others are practictioners who teach part-time because they have knowledge and skills that enrich the education of students in professional programs."
What the heck does this mean? That freshman comp is not serving a valid purpose? That people who "stitch together a living" don't have "knowledge and skills that enrich the education of students in professional programs?"
This is analysis? How about some data, or maybe even logic?

61. softshellcrab - July 06, 2010 at 05:01 pm


I am not an English professor, however I was also always told not to start a sentance in a formal writing with the word "but". If that is the rule, and it is after all an article in the Chronicle, maybe the grammar should be formal and correct.

62. mart2264 - July 06, 2010 at 05:08 pm

Sorry to have raised this, as it's not relevant to the article. But see Joseph M. Williams, "Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace," one of the better guides available these days. He explains that the proscription against starting a sentence with "and" or "but" falls into the category of "invented rules/folklore." My point was that certain types of professors turn the art and skill of writing into something like the Book of Leviticus (i.e., a set of rigid, outdated rules).

63. jffoster - July 06, 2010 at 05:20 pm

In 45,Mfjazz writes, " No respectable business operates like higher education. Any business that did would be out of business. And spare me the diatribe about education not being a business. mafjazz."

You can't have it both ways, Mr. Jazz. You cannot open the door to the issue of evaluating a university like a business and then slam the door to any contrary views or arguments. So commentators, "diatribe" away. He's asked for it. Although good arguments would probably be more effective. (Oh dear, I started a sentence with a conjunction and Mr. Hiort (54) will no doubt tell me I've used a subordinate clause as a sentence. Oh horror!

One note re Goxewu's proposal in 39 :
"A side benefit of term contracts might be getting rid of this whole silly, pseudo-military rank business. Everybody, from those on a three-contract to those on their second ten-year contracts, would be "Professor." (Your students don't say, "Excuse me assistant professor, I'd like to ask you a question," do they?)"

No they don't. But they don't in the armed services nor the civillian commissioned corps (NOAA, USPS) either. We greet an Admiral as "Admiral", a General Officer as "General", and Commanders and Lt Commanders are both addressed as "Commander", &c. (And by the way, nobody in the services EVER says "four star general, three star admiral, &c" That's civillian news reporters who don't bother to learn the proper ranks so they can fully inform the public.

This is not necessarily an argument against Goxewu's proposal to do away with ranks, and I suppose contract renewals could be construed as promotions if they carried with them a significant salary increase.

64. mchag12 - July 06, 2010 at 05:39 pm

WIth all of this talk, some of it on the mark, much of it silly, what I have not seen is any larger-issue discussion of what has happened to education in the United States. Just look at the secondary school systems in the major cities and we can predict where public higher education is going. The simple fact is that the power holders and managers of a profit-driven economy no longer need and no longer want an educated population. What would happen if the majority of the population was actually schooled in critical thinking? Would our legislators, congressmen and senators get away with what they are getting away with now? Would companies such as BP been allowed to develop and practice extremely dangerous environmental practices that also happen to be highly profitable? What if our students did not believe what they read in shiny brochures put out by utility companies? What if the population actually questioned the practices of managers and bankers? We need a few elite universities and colleges to provide those managers and to produce the research that will enhance the accumulation of profit-just look at the differences between the haves and the have-nots during the same period these changes have taken place. The difference between $1/$150 that was common as the difference between owners and managers of capital in the early 1960s is now running somewhere in the order of $1/$18500. Colleges and universities are simply following the currents of the day, and this is not surprising. This isn't simply about tenure--tenure is dangerous and people like me would have been fired long ago without it, it is about class. Without this basic understanding, this discussion goes nowhere, since the wealthy managers are not going to voluntarily realize that the present system is unfair. That is not what this is about. And for those of you who think the answer is correcting the grammar or math of the article or the contributors, well, that's sad.

65. kedves - July 06, 2010 at 06:05 pm

Here is some additional information for people who have raised these questions:

What is the proportion of courses taught by contingent faculty (as opposed to the percentage of faculty with that status)?
A USA Today article from 2008, "Studies examine impact of part-time college faculty," reports on an AFT study: "The use of adjuncts* is particularly robust at community colleges, where, the AFT study found, 57.5% of undergraduate courses in 2003 were taught by contingent faculty. That figure was 38.4% at public four-year schools that offer bachelor's and master's degrees, and 41.8% at public doctorate-granting universities." I have not been able to locate the AFT study on that organization's site, but maybe someone else can provide better or more recent information, or trends over time.
* The USA Today article uses the terms "adjuncts" to refer to all contingent faculty, full-time as well as part-time. Full-time non-TT faculty are about one-third of all full-time faculty (NSPF 2005 Fall Staff Survey).

Suppose part-time faculty were to give up maintaining that their teaching is equal in quality to that of full time faculty. Whose problem is it?
Several studies have found that retention of students in community-college and first-year education is negatively affected by a college's greater use of, or students' greater exposure to, part-time faculty. The authors of those studies have emphasized that the cause is colleges' level of support for instructors (e.g., lack of office space, pay too low to require office hours)--but not teaching quality in the classroom. Those studies did not control for differences in types of courses and students taught by part-time vs. full-time faculty, such as the greater use of part-time faculty to teach remedial courses. A recent study of a community college that did control for remedial courses found no correlation between student success and ratio of courses taught by part-time faculty. (Here is an article about that study: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/05/03/adjunct )

* What percentage of part-time faculty would prefer a full-time position?
The number ranges from about 30% to 40% by type of institution (NSPF 2004 Faculty Survey).

66. bbuchner - July 06, 2010 at 06:46 pm

I suppose most of my comments have probably already been made by those above - I didn't read all of them in detail. This is, however, a subject I've wanted to comment on for awhile. First - tenure is as important to teaching faculty as it is to research faculty - so any assumption that faculty at major research institutions see tenure as more important than those of us at "teaching" institutions is off base. At teaching universities the issue is classroom control. Administration want more and more control over what transpires in the classroom. Teaching faculty are bombarded with all the latest happy hoo-ha about assessment, and distance education. We are heavily pressured to create online classes - which are seen as cash cows for the institution. In my state system there are constant talks of collaboration between institutions and programs - through online courses - that will surely cut the number of faculty across the system. After all, if I can teach Intro to Sociology online - why do the other 13 campuses need to have a faculty member to teach the course? All that stands against administration getting their way in this - is the tenured faculty. I can only speak for myself - but I will not willingly participate in activities that are likely to cost others their livelihood.
In earlier times faculty carried out many, perhaps most administrative functions in the university - but gradually the demands of teaching and research made it desirable to hire specialists to take care of registration, fund-raising, and other functions. Since then administrations have grown at a rate several magnitudes greater than faculty. Now - administrations have long forgotten this simple truism: they exist to serve the faculty and students, not the other way around! Senior administrators are now, for the most part, business oriented - and so want the "flexibility" that business executives have. They particularly want to reduce costs by using more adjunct faculty - but they also want control of the teaching-learning environment. In essence they would like to reduce faculty to "classroom technicians." They also want the capability to get rid of faculty they see as problematic, for whatever reason.
Those who have tenure should ask their administrators as often as possible the following question: Universities consist of administrators, staff, faculty and students - which two of these are absolutely necessary to have a university?

67. physicsprof - July 06, 2010 at 06:46 pm

"The simple fact is that the power holders and managers of a profit-driven economy no longer need and no longer want an educated population. What would happen if the majority of the population was actually schooled in critical thinking?"

#64, very elitist argument, if looked at carefully. Besides, if "power holders" have so much control over population's destiny the latter is doomed anyway. Why would "power holders" (or any human beings for that matter) cultivate anything to their own detriment? That's simply contrary to the psychology of humans.

68. bbuchner - July 06, 2010 at 06:59 pm

Responding to #64 - great comments - in fact, rather than fixing the secondary and middle schools, society has pushed it on universities to spend significant time teaching students skills they should have had before they came to college. But-that fits right in with your general observation that corporate America no longer has any interest in an educated population. Educated people ask too many embarassing questions. They may harbor dangerous ideas about equality of opportunity, accountability, fairness - ideas that are anathema to corporate capitalism. If young people come to college ill-prepared to actually enter into college-level work - they are less likely to graduate with truly critical, inquisitive minds.
These poorly educated souls fit nicely into a society that has long since stopped rewarding excellence - even to the point of electing leaders who brag about being of average intelligence, and castigating candidates who show an ability to grasp important issues and generate ideas for improving things!

69. kleins - July 06, 2010 at 07:08 pm

Anyone who follows the labor issues in higher education knows these facts-that tenure lines are dwindling, tenured positions are being outsourced by adjuncts-particularly in online teaching, that students now rule the roost with their 'customer' attitude, and that administrators serve the customers while bashing the faculty-who give "A-" instead of "A" to graduate students. The corporate mentality has taken over higher education completely. Adjuncts are grateful for work and say 'yes, maam' and tenured full professors are bullied if they don't genuflect. And, yes, that can mean a M, W F schedule, or no summer classes. Tenured faculty are now replaced by adjuncts as administrators hire adjuncts often without any input from personnel committees. In the budget crises we all are in (where did the money go?), administrators tell us "you should be thankful you even have a job" while they go to their retreats, and keep hiring more administrators. I am sick of faculty bashing and how tenure is ruining higher education. Let's not forget these so called administrators are tenured faculty who get into their positions and suck the universe dry and work till way past 65!!!! All the while they truly forget they were once faculty and their only aim is to tow the line, cut costs and screw their faculty. Let's not forget the erosion of tenure begins and ends with management-your chair, dean, and provost who sign off on these positions. For those who do have collective bargaining, there is much better check and balance between management and faculty, while the rest of us are at the whilly-nilly whims of these power hungry, psychopaths who could not get a management position at Target if their life depended on it. Want to strengthen the tenure problem--get rid of these administrators.

70. mchag12 - July 06, 2010 at 07:27 pm

69-- absolutely, The problem is that many of our collective bargaining units are not much more than company unions more concerned with their own relationships with the board than with their role as faculty. They still see themselves as above the staff and/or have burned out long ago, possessive of their positions (and their reduced load) and afraid of younger faculty coming in and questioning their actions. At my institution, the cabal that runs the union spends much more on wine than recruiting. I come from a union family, and even I have thought about taking back my 1%. They have to start acting like real unions, and most of all, they have to stop ignoring contingent faculty--they are great at minimal mouthtalk and sympathy, but not much else. More shrimp anyone?

As for #63, huh?

71. raymond_j_ritchie - July 06, 2010 at 07:32 pm

Tenure or its equivalents are dying everywhere in the world. In Australia there was once a category called "Employed until 65" or "Permanent Staff" in universities. Such positions are rapidly disappearing and being replaced by 5-year contracts.
Even people on 5-year contracts are a special class. Today, nearly all contact teaching of undergraduates is done by casuals. You are paid a pittance, have no resources, no technical assistance, governed by 'goals, outcomes and team-players' and beholden to student evaluation documents. You cannot advise students because you do not know anyone who teaches other courses. I am very unusual because I still have access to a lab and still publish things and so I am still a working scientists: most casuals have not done any bench-work for years (if ever). The atmosphere of fear of instant loss of your job is very real. Universities do not even pretend to treat you well. Even day-to-day supervision of Masters and PhD students in labs is now done by post-docs and casuals. The effects on morale of post-graduates are predictable enough.
The current generation of tenured faculty have much to answer for. They basically pulled up the ladder behind them or allowed admin to do so. That is why the career structure in academia is tottering.

72. eryx1959 - July 06, 2010 at 07:35 pm

I have never understood the resistance to granting tenure for educators. Other career professionals have the same system. In accountancy and law firms, associates prove their value and earn a partnership stake. Federal and many state judiciary appointments are for life and are likewise based on a previous body of work. Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected. It frustrates me that educators (who arguably have the least power to affect their institutions once tenured) are vilified for their institutions' lack of performance and held up as an impediment to progress.

I have always thought that tenure is only valuable when it is needed as a shield. At my institution, my tenured position does only one thing for me. It protects me from petty, vindictive people whose stupid decisions I've challenged (for the good of the institution, not myself) and who would fire me for doing so.

Faculty participation in the governance at nearly all higher educational institutions has become a joke, and the ever-lower quality of of graduates shows the result. I have the greatest respect for the commitment and efforts of everyone (tenured/tenure-track or not) who is trying to create a rigorous and stimulating educational experience in their classes. Unfortunately, the administrators who do the hiring do not.

73. kedves - July 06, 2010 at 08:13 pm

Are we finally going to have a set of comments on a CHE article or fora thread about this topic that does not include the belief that contingent faculty are scabs and whores, or, as a recent fora post puts it, "If an employer can offer a job with poor working conditions, no support, no office, and no positive feedback and find an educated person to accept those terrible terms, more power to the employer"?

Wait and see. It's so suspenseful!

74. alvitap - July 06, 2010 at 09:18 pm

Unfortunately, the university has turned into a warehouse for surplus workers. As such, it is perceived as a kind of welfare system, such as jails, the military, etc., whose managers are told to reduce costs (hire contingent workers, enlarge classes, cuts the frills--tenure). Many college/universities are simply maintained to support the idea that the U.S. is still viable. It's not. Suppressing the wages and freedom of most of the professoriate dooms our educational system to ruin. To those faculty who have tenure or can still obtain tenure, I say, "Good for you." Be happy your job continues. Those who teach under unfair labor conditions, who can not speak freely now, will bring down this system of inequality just like all the others that have presented themselves as normality. That day will come, sooner than you think.

75. meppichharris - July 06, 2010 at 09:48 pm

I honestly don't care about tenure. I work just as hard as I would if I were on the tenure-track. What I care about is getting paid a fair wage for the hard work that I do. If I were on a renewable contract for the rest of my life and making the same money as a tenure-track faculty member, I would be completely content. As it is, I had to quite my renewable contract job because the pay wouldn't cover the cost of my daycare needs after I had a second child. I'd worked there for three years, and it broke my heart to leave. They probably would have kept me on indefinitely, but I couldn't go into debt to work there. Even before my second child was born, I couldn't pay my student loans or anything besides daycare costs with the pay I was getting. But at least I was breaking even. I had hoped I'd be offered more money or more classes, but that was not to be. Sigh.

76. agpbloom - July 06, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Here's an idea...teaching for free. Why not? I mean human beings are basically good...right? Those folks making the decisions based on fancy matrices and rubrics wouldn't let colleagues starve. Would they?

77. rear_view_mirror - July 06, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Re: #76
This happened to me. The dean, responding to reduced allotments, cut every adjunct's pay. One of them offered to teach for free. Next week in a private meeting the dean told me about it and said he considered taking the offer, but then decided "I really don't think this is how we want to get our teaching done."

78. olderandwiser - July 07, 2010 at 01:56 am

"One of the jobs of tenured faculty is to raise a lot of questions and make people uncomfortable," says Martin J. Finkelstein, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.

If only this were true. In my 20 years at one of the Enormous State Universities in Texas, I've watched the tenured faculty work very hard to raise their own salaries during the flush years. It was needed -- professors were woefully underpaid at the time. However, once they got theirs, they rolled over like satiated dogs as the governor and his handpicked Board of Regents, chancellor, and president have run roughshod over the rest of the university.

I'm someone who believes in tenure -- but in my experience, I've found that the people who get it have no intention on using it to raise questions or make people uncomfortable. They use to feather their own personal nests to the detriment of the rest of the university. I had hope for the latest Provost, but once in power, this person turned into the same kind of toady as previous holders of the position As a staff member, I wouldn't give you a nickel for more than five of the tenured faculty members on this campus. They abdicated their responsibilities, so they have lost the goodwill of many of the people (and taxpayers) who work with them. It's terrible for the institution, but they have brought it on themselves.

79. trendisnotdestiny - July 07, 2010 at 09:20 am

Tenured or not.... inside or outside academia...... the trend involves a "de-leveraging" of financial promises! Education or Auto Manufactures or the New Deal (it makes no difference)....

This means reducing the following:

* most defined benefit plans (employer sponsored pensions)
* LT commitments to employer healthcare, benefits, & Incomes
* Social Support programs (Medicare, Social Security etc.)
* Funding sources - convert from public to private coffers
* Any system dependent upon LT expensive for-life funding is in danger

In the world of globalized free market economics, the trends that are rewarded are:

1) access to proprietary information (copyrights, patents, demographic and population studies)- data mining
2) Short term focus on making money now & cutting expenses
3) stealth, flexibility of management (moving quickly and with little notice)
3) replace skilled labors with administrators (pay them more than they are worth and prepetuate divisions among labor underneath)
4) sell the product as a win-win (sell Innovation & Branding)
5) eventually cut supports of win-win to transform into win-tie
6) blame dificiencies on ordinary individuals or incompetent teachers or administrators....

Think of the US as a debt addict (with assets strewn all over the place); US Business is constantly looking to generate short term capital now; their approach is to remove all of their long term responsibilites or promises that have been made in all sectors of employment... next they are looking for new revenue streams from which to profit based on global demographics/information asymmetries and technology---- (now you can see how online education, for-profit education, de-leveraging of tenured commitments by reducing their numbers and fomenting internal battles within academe between the haves and have nots--- you can see how these process replicate the host cell)...

However, this addict wants everyone to go to college using the debt for diploma model using the academe as a legitmacy back-stop... this addict wants the majority of the academic labor to live in the world of subsistence just for the joy of teaching. How many of us know adjuncts who point to the their immense pleasure of teaching as a sacrifice that needs to be made. This is the same as living in a house with an addict. There needs to be an intervention folks....

80. physicsprof - July 07, 2010 at 09:38 am

Despite the heated discussion and also years of AAUP rhetorics the actual numbers of allegedly dwindling TT ranks are next to impossible to find. #47 above made the effort to educate but no actual numbers were presented (only of the total number full-time instructors).

Yet, by combining data from the original article and from comment #47 we can have a peek into the actual picture. #47: total number of faculty in 2007 was 1,371K; article: 31.1% of them were T/TT, which yields 425K. %47: total number of faculty in 1970 was 470K,
article: 56.8% of faculty in 1975 were T/TT. The 1970/1975 data unfortunately are for different years, but neglecting this difference we can estimate the number of T/TT faculty in the early 70 at 270K.

Now please explain to me how on Earth can one apply "RIP" rhetorics to a group of people that grew from 270K to 425K (that is faster than the US population grows) within the last 30 years???

81. craigc - July 07, 2010 at 10:07 am

Not clear how much if any more teaching is done by adjuncts. Many adjuncts at our school only teach one or two classes a year. So a full-time faculty member is teaching many times as many classes as the adjunct.
We sometimes bring in adjuncts to get practitioners into the classroom and to enrich the curriculum by providing more applied concepts and theories. They many times have more specific expertise that a tenured faculty member does not. There are also more people with advanced degrees in our work force, so that the pool of appropriate instructors as expanded. I don't know if that was the case in 1975.
Maybe, we should promote the concept of higher pay for adjuncts to reduce the financial incentives to reduce quality instruction.

82. omgadmin - July 07, 2010 at 10:18 am

It never fails to amaze me that professors think they make so many sacrifices to pursue their careers that they deserve tenure -- a job security that almost no one else in this country enjoys!

Admit it: tenured professors are a privileged class like few others. If professors "deserve" this incredible job security, for a job with flexible hours, summers off, nice long Christmas breaks and 6-12 months off every 7 years -- then why don't the rest of America's workers deserve the same? We're not important enough? We're not working hard enough?

Most Americans have to move wherever the work is, can be laid off at their employer's whim and often have to uproot their families and move again. They're not making tons of money. They FEAR for their jobs, especially in today's economy. They play the employer's game if they want to earn a living.

If it's so important for professors to be able to speak up to management, why isn't it important for the rest of us? Why do you think you're such a special group?

Instead of whining about losing your perks, why aren't you out there fighting for everyone to get those perks!

My observation from the inside is that tenured professors are no different than the rest of us -- just a whole lot luckier to have landed in a system that gives them privileges almost no one else enjoys. They aren't idealistic or more committed to anything than anyone else. They're simply enjoying a very good life with little concern for those who don't enjoy those privileges.

83. steleky - July 07, 2010 at 10:23 am

Who teaches the next generation? Are grad students, who comprise the next generation of facutly and non-academic researchers, to be taught by adjuncts as well? Tenure may have to be rethought, but applying a corporate model to higher education is not the way.

84. prje8199 - July 07, 2010 at 10:49 am

When tenure dies (as it surely will), I will wear red to the funeral and dance on the grave of this sad, meaningless drag on higher education. One of the great problems is not that tenure protects academic freedom (a complete fallacy), it is that it undermines the value of the one true responsibility of academia - teaching. There was a long-standing joke at one school where I worked that went: "Do you know who is going to be denied tenure this year?" "Yes," goes the reply, "the winner of the departments Teacher of the Year Award!"

I have a friend who published four history books and made a good amount of money in doing so not get tenure because the committee felt his work was "too pedestrian," "popular history," and "published for a general audience, not fellow academics." So, here we have it, he was teaching/informing the masses, not the numb, internal gazing fellows in his immediate group - and God forbid, he made a buck along the way!

I now work at an institution that is contract only, no tenure required. Our contracts are renewed based on the same process as most tenure systems but teaching is top on the list, research and publication are near the bottom and publications for the general audience are more than acceptable. I love it. Department politics are a thing of the past. I work to teach and inform the people of my university and community. I get plenty of time to attend conferences, present papers, and be a complete scholar. I just don't have to kiss the smelly parts of the "latest flavor" trend in order to keep my job. That, my friends, is academic freedom.

85. bigtwin - July 07, 2010 at 11:32 am

to #75

If you want to paid what your hard work deserves, I suggest a new career. So long as there is a surplus of people lining up for adjunct work (many of whom will work for free and don't want benefits or more than p/t) you'll be better off outside academe.

86. trane77 - July 07, 2010 at 11:38 am

I am an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, which is mentioned in the article as a pioneer in the dismantling of tenure. When I first arrived here, I had mixed feelings; the arguments against tenure include its "harsh up-or-out" nature, as stated above, and there's no doubt that -- although this is exaggerated by right-wing enemies of higher education (and all education) -- many professors check out once they receive tenure (see #39). On the other hand, I find arguments like those of comment #6 highly persuasive.

On the surface, FGCU's system seems to have advantages, relatively speaking (you're not fired if you fail to be promoted; you're given an annual review, and, theoretically, you'd have to do poorly for three consecutive years before your job is endangered). But these are outbalanced by the negative features of FGCU's non-tenure system: it does indeed foster a certain timidity, as the article argues -- professors are afraid to cross certain administrators, and we have no protection (except for a rather impotent union); in reality, we really could be fired, despite the annual review process; because we are not tenured, the administration, in particular the provost, views us as expendable, regard us with little respect, and feel no obligation to listen to our concerns; the handful of tenured professors (who brought tenure with them from elsewhere in the Univ-Florida system, and several of whom are not really qualified to be full professors) are disproportionately powerful (and exorbitantly well paid), while the army of low-paid junior professors (in the Humanities, we're pretty far below nat'l averages) keep the university going, do most of the committee work, are often saddled with major responsibilities that full professors should take, and so on.

These are complex issues, but I'm afraid that if the CHE reporter were to interview our president, she would be treated to the sort of elusive, banal comments uttered by the Principia president.

87. prof_truthteller - July 07, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Lot of interesting comments. Many are anecdotal reflections of the local institutional culture. Reading this article I was most struck by this statement, my responses in parens.
"But others argue that the disappearance of tenure is actually not the worst thing that could happen in academe." (What would be the worst thing that could happen? Privatize the whole thing? A two-tiered system of education, one of the elite and wealth, one for the poor and disenfranchised? All educational employees as contingent labor? Digitize and mechanize all education?) "The competition to secure a tenure-track job and then earn tenure has become so fierce in some disciplines that academe may actually be turning away highly qualified people who don't want the hassle." (Competition is fierce because administrations are choosing not to open full time positions, preferring to hire cheap contingent labor while ensuring their salaries stay in the six figures. Part time teaching was at one time the career path to full time. That ensured a quality pool of experienced teachers and researchers. Who cares about quality now? Administrators only care for the bottom line. It's the Wal-Mart-ization of education. Rollback time, everybody!) "A system without tenure, but one that still gave professors reasonable pay and job security, might draw that talent back." (Might- but I'm not holding my breath on that one. Who defines 'reasonable' in this scenario? If it's the president of MY college, it would be year to year, max pay around 40K, and all faculty would be mandated to teach summers, evening, weekend, and online.)

88. goxewu - July 07, 2010 at 02:18 pm

Re #54:

Aindriass Hiort is giving the term "anal retentive" a bad name here.
The alleged problem has a simple solution: Include the "but" at the beginning of the sentence in the direct quote, and put the break between the parts of the direct quotes after "situation." In other words, this is a small style glitch and not fodder for a Grammar Hall Monitor.

Re #63:

I said PSEUDO-military. I don't give a tinker's damn what they actually do in the military, I just think that academe should pull its tootsies out of that water before we end up saluting deans on campus and asking the chairman, "Permission to speak frankly, sir?" at faculty meetings. And as for rank = pay raises: pay raises shouldn't determine a change in title. Or if the money isn't enough, maybe professors could wear little lapel pins with their salaries on them.

Re #64:

With academics, there's always a "larger issue" that can sidetrack discussion of a particular issue. Propose a change in campus parking regulations, and some academic wants to talk about the "larger issue" of why Americans like automobiles so much.

Re #72:

"Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected." Really, the majority of people elected to political office die in office? Amazing!

Law and accountancy partnerships are different from tenure: a) the partner gets a cut of the proceeds; tenure professors' compensation doesn't rise as the department gets more paying students; b) partners can be expelled if in "good faith," i.e., chronic alcoholism reducing the partner's productivity below minimum tolerable. (How many tenured professors' have lost their tenure because of alcoholism affecting performance?)

General: I'm all in favor of labor rights in academe, especially at the bottom end of salary-and-benny scale--grad student unions, TA unions, CBAs, continuity and bennies for adjuncts, more FT and less contingent faculty (compulsory if necessary), etc. But tenure, in effect into dotage, for FT faculty should be jettisoned.

89. jwr12 - July 07, 2010 at 04:38 pm

In response to #82, who has a lot of sarcasm for professors, I guess I'll try to offer the following, calmer response.

You ask why professors should expect better working conditions than anyone else, and also ask why they aren't mobilizing to get better working conditions for everyone else?

To take this second question first, I should say that on the whole, tenured faculty have a good record of social and political activism, by and large on 'the left.' Certainly in my department, the faculty have resisted every attempt to undermine union workers, create poor working conditions for adjuncts, or increase their number. Obviously, the faculty aren't so powerful as to undermine the whole tendency of neoliberalism toward deskilling and defunding the middle class. Crappy jobs rain down on the worker, regardless of what faculty do. But I think it's unfair to single faculty out for rage best directed at other quarters. Certainly, it's not for a lack of trying.

Second, equity issues aside, the employment argument for tenure, which I have articulated in post 6, is about attracting talented people to fields that make a lot of upfront demands. Obviously, if a person has no choice they'll take any job. But from the perspective of the field, the question isn't "can we get a living body in the position" but rather "can we get the right person in the position". And if you care about the health of highly specialized fields for which entry risks are high, you have to offer some sort of rewards. Money is not in the offing, so job security has, in my view, been used. Take away job security, and what is being offered to induce people to achieve real excellence in learning and research? Given the risks?

I guess I fail to see how making tenure jobs less attractive will help out anyone in the long run. It won't protect the fields; and it won't (magically) create social equity. Rather than seeing faculty as "whining," I simply see them as sticking up for themselves (as any workers should), as well as protecting fields of knowledge they genuinely care about by planning for another generation.

90. observer001 - July 07, 2010 at 05:16 pm

Tenure isn't disappearing, rather, it's disappearing in parallel to the decline (or bloating) of non-elite or public institutions where most U.S. students are educated.

These are either middling institutions like NYU (71.9% off the tenure track compared to, for example, Stanford at 8.5%), whose location enables them to maintain a constant supply of slave labor to teach their tens of thousands of undergraduate TPU's but don't care about the quality to maintain scale, or impoverished state state schools like C.U. Boulder or Maryland who are being privatized by their states (73.3% and 61.9% contingent compared to, for example, Minnesota at only 17.5%). Add to this the growing for-profit sector and it is possible to see how this number has expanded through growth and attrition.

Having a real tenure track faculty is now and will increasingly will be the mark of a serious institution and degree. Would you rather pay for your child to go to (or hire someone from) NYU versus Stanford, or CU versus UMN, knowing this?

Statistics at:

91. lynnhertrickleavitt - July 07, 2010 at 05:30 pm

After reviewing the previous comments and having served 20+ years of my career at colleges/universities (part-time positions, term teaching positions-at the undergraduate & graduate level, full-time administrative roles (eg:Director of a Leadership/Community Service Center) AND teaching on-line, graduate students at an esteemed and established private university, -- I have been exposed to various experiences and viewpoints.
My concern is -- how will higher education continue to exist without some type of change? The for-profit "colleges" are not the answer -- those students do not get jobs any 'faster' than students who attend "traditional colleges". What I've learned from colleagues who teach in 'for profit' institutions -- the students are left with a considerable debt...and no job.
The current operation of colleges/universities is not sustainable.
More importantly -- our young people need an education beyond high school to succeed in this world.
As college/university professors and researchers - it is critical AND our responsibility to create new and different venues for ourselves and our students.
The future depends on us.
How do WE break-down OUR barriers (tenured, non-tenured, adjuncts, student services, part-time employees) to build a sustainable system of higher education?

92. rear_view_mirror - July 07, 2010 at 05:32 pm

Name one thing that you tenured professors have done that improved things for adjuncts in your department. I don't mean one or two of them, I mean the adjuncts in your department.
I don't want to hear "we vote liberal."

93. dnewton137 - July 07, 2010 at 05:56 pm

Commentators 20, 47, and 80 have identified an aspect of this issue worthy of note. The absolute numbers of tenured and tenure-track faculty have increased markedly during the past few decades! However, the burgeoning growth of higher education has been accompanied by an even larger growth in the absolute numbers of non-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, resulting in decreases in the percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty that are apparently causing this frenzied outburst of panicked wailing. One must recognize that shared governance has given the tenured faculty in most institutions at least some degree of influence over the circumstances of their professional practice. It thus seems likely that the desire of many tenured faculty to focus primarily on their research and advanced-level seminars, leading to a need for lesser beings to teach the dog-work courses, has helped generate those statistics. Is it not then likely that the current "peril" of tenure has been caused at least in part by the tenured faculty themselves?

94. eryx1959 - July 07, 2010 at 06:18 pm

@ goxewu #88

Re #72:

"Really, the majority of people elected to political office die in office? Amazing!"

To be sure, many don't die (they go through the revolving door and become lobbyists). You should look up the retention rates for members of Congress: something like 95% of incumbents are reelected. To lose one's primary makes national news.

"Law and accountancy partnerships are different from tenure: a) the partner gets a cut of the proceeds; tenure professors' compensation doesn't rise as the department gets more paying students; b) partners can be expelled if in "good faith," i.e., chronic alcoholism reducing the partner's productivity below minimum tolerable. (How many tenured professors' have lost their tenure because of alcoholism affecting performance?)"

Not sure where you're going here. Actually, professors can be expelled for the same thing. If you don't show up for classes, for example, you can be fired for cause. Partners can be forced to sell their partnership under a variety of circumstances, including illegal or other detrimental activity that violates their partnership agreement. At the accountancy firm where my wife works, all partners have to cash out at age 60 to make room for new partners. Anywhere else, that's called age discrimination, but it's not because it's in the contract.

95. intered - July 07, 2010 at 06:56 pm

I see 94 posts at the time I am posting this.

Statistics . . . passion . . . argument . . . counter argument . . . invective.

In the last 180 days, three articles focused exclusively on improving the quality of instruction received from zero to three posts, and the sprinkle of posts were from adjuncts. Too busy, I guess.

Well folks . . . you continue to be your own best case for moving on.

96. billso - July 07, 2010 at 07:06 pm

#90 has a good point. Faculty tenure helps universities differentiate.

#82, 89 and similar comments: My university does not offer tenure. I knew that when I accepted my position, and I'm happy with the arrangement.

Our maximum faculty contract is 5 years, and we have a reappointment process for renewals. It's a good system.

97. goxewu - July 07, 2010 at 07:34 pm

Re #94:

* The commenter in #72 said, "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected." This is a lot more than simply being re-elected; this means that elected politicians "in the majority" continue to hold office "for life." Obviously, that's not true.

* It's a lot easier for a law firm or an accountancy firm to expel a partner than it is for a college to fire a tenured professor. (The age discrimination issue in eryx1959's wife's accountancy firm is irrelevant to this discussion.)

98. joyce8 - July 07, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Why has nobody mentioned the fact that the reason tenure is being eliminated is that since mandatory retirement became illegal on Jan 1, 1994, resulting in an immediate 2/3 drop in retirement rates of 70-71 year old faculty, granting of tenure became a much more expensive, and potentially quality-degrading proposition? Surely people are aware of this? See Ashenfelter and Card, American Economic Review 2002, for basic facts. But what does it say about the quality of thinking and analysis in "the academy" that this structural revolution gets zero notice in a lengthy report with almost 100 comments? Sheesh!

99. joyce8 - July 07, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Elimination of mandatory retirement took effect across the US as a result of 1986 legislation. It was deferred for higher ed until Jan 1, 1994. When it hit higher ed, it hit MUCH harder than in businesses that did not have tenure systems. In other businesses, while employers must try to avoid age discrimination lawsuits, they are free to structure job requirements in such a way that maintaining performance becomes progressively more difficult for older workers. Workers race to retire. In academia, the essence of tenure protects the bumbling, the forgetful, the too-tired-to-care, along with the brilliant wise elders. So academia totally relied on mandatory retirement to clear out faculty before they got too hopelessly non-functional. As a result, eliminating mandatory retirement was like an earthquake for university administrators. They faced a horrifying vision of their campus crawling with 90-year-old professors. A round of aggressive buy-outs and a collapse in the rate of tenure-track hires and tenure-grants ensued. We are still seeing the shakeout. Of course many potential grad students will figure this out on some level and turn away from academia, but the more intense publication pressure is just a manifestation of a bar that has, in fact, gotten so much higher. Meanwhile, an entire generation of us who got our PhDs in, e.g., 1990, found ourselves about as valuable as an autoworker in Detroit.
Again, I must ask, how is it that none of you (includng the author of the article) seem to have any grasp of this fundamental reality. I mean really, all these silly conspiracy theories and so on!

100. fruupp - July 08, 2010 at 01:20 am

"Having a real tenure track faculty is now and will increasingly will be the mark of a serious institution and degree."

True 'dat. In terms of prestige, non-tenure-is-to-tenure what adjunct-is-to-full time. Schools will tout their tenured faculty as a sign of quality, the implication being that tenured faculty is the "real" faculty, non-tenured not so much.

101. nmoo7931 - July 08, 2010 at 01:39 am

Interestingly, the article does not define tenure. I think we all know what it means, but trying to pin down the concept (what it includes and what it excludes) is a bit tricky. I think what most people mean by tenure is too closely connected to a particular institutional incarnation. To the public, tenure is a sinecure. In general, tenure means holding a position for some substantial period of time. In academia, a tenure track job is one that allows for and requires promotion; promotion occurs after six years, promotion includes an open-ended, life time contract; the contract is for cause, so that one can only be fired for substantive reasons with due process. Tenured positions also include rolls in governance, and in hiring and firing staff, including part time and full time, non-tenure track professors. Tenure track positions are often filled by persons recently out of graduate school after a national search. They often gain experience in their position and are promoted fairly early in their career (though there are exceptions, of course). Persons teaching in non-tenure eligible positions are, at a certain point in their careers, generally overlooked (short shelf life).
Now, these are just some of the conventional factors making up tenure. They could be changed in different ways. Post-tenure review is one such change. Also, a more rigorous interpretation of grounds for dismissal and demotion would transform tenure. Going in the other direction, persons who are not on the tenure track often have positions that lack all the features described above, including for cause contracts. According non-tenure track faculty some of the elements of a tenure track position would do much to improve the academy. (The AAUP is increasingly recognizing this and has modified its Institutional Recommendations.) Many of the comments put forward interesting ideas about how to provide security without creating a sinecure. A book on the topic, Teaching without Tenure, was published earlier this decade. The important thing to remember is that job security and academic freedom can be addressed with different contractual and social arrangements. We should look at alternatives. Most of all, we should question the conservativism and inequity that plagues hiring in hire education.

102. wkawakami - July 08, 2010 at 02:29 am

Tenure has pros and cons. It protects good instructors, but also protect incompetent ones as well. It gives security and incentive to good instructors to stay at a university, but also does that same for the poor instructors. Hopefully, there are more good instructors than bad one that benefits from the system. WKawakami

103. goxewu - July 08, 2010 at 07:19 am

Re #s 98 & 99:

I suspect that the reasons that many of the commenters on this thread (including moi) didn't specifically mention mandatory retirement in academe being outlawed as of Jan. 1, 1994, is that, the law's taking effect being 16 and a half years in the past, we assumed that most academics are aware of it by now.

In my comments, for instance, I mentioned the effect of limited-term contracts on professors who wanted to teach until 80, and tenure extending into one's "dotage." An absence of mandatory retirement is assumed in each of those mentions.

By the way, another benefit of replacing tenure with fixed-term contracts is that you'd get more movement of faculty from university to university, i.e., "fresh blood," new perspectives, intellectual cross-pollenization, etc. How many departments do Chronicle commenters know that are in a rut in terms of the same ol' professors saying the same ol' things? A lot, I'll bet.

104. smithl1 - July 08, 2010 at 08:24 am

What does this say about the drive of our academicians if "A system without tenure, but one that still gave professors reasonable pay and job security, might draw that talent back." Surely there are highly talented faculty who want to teach and have an indellible impact on the lives of the next generation who are willing to work for a legitimate wage and live like most people without the safety net of tenure. I don't want my students being taught and molded by folks whose sole driving force is their own "unfireability". Welcome to world of mid-level higher ed administration. Better yet, welcome to the real world. There are plenty of us here to show you around...

105. vrufino - July 08, 2010 at 09:06 am

This discussion has accumulated more responses than any that I can remember. However, I would offer another aspect. The students are the biggest losers in a system that encourages adjunct hire versus a permanent tenured faculty. Curriculum continuity and allegiance to the college and university will only happen when "dear old prof Smith" is in an office and can meet regularly with his/her students. Do alumni donate to an annual fund, because of buildings and student centers? I think not; it is the human connection to a stable faculty that does not change with each academic year,and the human experiences of student interaction that will be remembered. Will the situation change if the world economy improves?

106. pwtemple - July 08, 2010 at 11:04 am

I have especailly strong and personalopinios on this subject. At one point in my teaching career, I worked at Oklahoma University as a TA, Oklahoma City CC as an adjunct, Midwest America Bible College as an adjunct, a small private elementary school teaching an after school program, and a teaching studio in Norman, Oklahoma - all at the same time and all for about $30000 a year. Later, I joined Oklahoma City University as head of their classical guitar department, left everything but the community college and the teaching studio and still only earned only $35000 a year (with no benefits and still considered an adjunct). I sat on graduate committees, handed out Master's degrees, shaped policies for the music department, all as an adjunct. When I went to my dean to say I needed benefits, I was told it was not possible and that he was working on getting all dept head adjunct's positions endowed and I should wait for that. He then rolled out the plans for the 15 MILLION dollar new Music/Theater building that they would soon break ground on and showed me where my nice new office would be. That was over ten years ago and since then, the new building was finished and all those positions that were held by adjuncts are still waiting to be endowed professorships.

107. pwtemple - July 08, 2010 at 11:09 am

Sorry about the horrible spelling in my first sentence in my previous post. I was a little excited and agitated when I started typing!

108. joyce8 - July 08, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Re: #103 - ignorance of impact of change in law on mandatory retirement -
I do see that many posters are aware of the fact that tenured faculty have lifetime job protection, and some seem aware that this is not entirely a good thing. However, posters don't seem to be aware of the fact that this lifetime job protection for the lucky few was an unexpected development that just occurred 16 years ago - long after a critical mass of current faculty made their decisions to go into academia, and even long after they were tenured. This lack of understanding does not bode well for sensible reform.
Posters seem unaware that lifetime job protection for tenured faculty was injected into a system that was designed around an assumption that people could and would be forced out at age 65 or 70. Tenure would never have become widespread in the absence of a system of legally enforceable retirement ages.
Given the new reality, bemoaning the loss of lifetime job security - the "lifetime" feature existing for the lucky few only due to the fluke of new legal protection meeting up with the old tenure system - or arguing that surely parents and students will wise up to the benefits of tenured faculty, or hoping evil administrators will somehow get their just desserts is all just a waste of breath.
Faulty analysis has serious consequences. New graduate students look at their campuses and come to grossly optimistic conclusions about their own liklihood of being able to enjoy the working conditions and economic security of older faculty. Untenured faculty are angered when they see an older generation "living the dream" that is beyond the grasp of more recent arrivals. Faculty and administrators, at all levels, seeking to keep enrollment up have no incentive to be truthful with students about how little their PhD will get them. Legal considerations and the culture of self-blame and secrecy around tenure denials reinforce the lack of understanding about the situation.
Faculty tenured under the old system understandably don't want to admit, to others, or even to themselves, they likely never would have been able to get tenure under the new regime. Administrators are reluctant to admit they have raised the bar as much as they have. For my cohort - people who truly faced a "bait and switch" in the mid-1990s - administrators reasonably feared that any admission that the tenure bar jumped up overnight might give significant legal ammunition to those rejected for tenure. Even today, when a sustainable system still has not emerged, openly acknowledging the new reality would make it more difficult for administrators to recruit for a tenure track that is now almost a revolving door.
Ignorance and confusion slow the emergence of a new system. As in any industry facing changed conditions, individual employees find it hard to tell whether their struggles are because they are just not very good at what they do or whether the world has changed. Anger and shame are less effective routes to beneficial reform than widespread understanding of reality.
The apparent ignorance shown in these 100 comments is striking. It is as if an auto worker agonized about not being able to attain the security his father enjoyed in Detroit, but was totally unaware of the emergence of competition from Japan and Europe.
All of this will sort itself out, eventually. Students will make career decisions on the basis of better information, including the statistical data in the forthcoming report. The availability of willing and desperate adjuncts will diminish somewhat. However, if there is not a radical improvement in awareness of the new reality, these adjustments could take a very long time - and Lord Keynes statement that "in the long run, we are all dead" will prove true in yet another industry.

109. more_cowbell - July 08, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I'm glad to see the Chroncle publishing stories on this pertinent issue.

Up here in Canada, tenure is similarly being gradually phased out across the country but it's rarely talked about. As Kezar states in the article, faculty continue to operate as though tenure is the norm even though it clearly is not. And I don't think it's a white elephant that people want to avoid talking about. I believe most faculty really don't have any genuine clue as to what's happening. They'd rather bury their head in the sand.

It seems that tenure will inevitably go the way of the dodo. Adjuncts are too poor and dividied to ever be able to organize and lobby effectively. On the other hand, most faculty are too selfish and insular in their view to do anything about it. They have their tenure and office and seem to care little about anything else. It's quite sad to see faculty stand by idly as their profession does down the tubes. Sadder yet to see them gladly take on new students to advise at the same time, even though these students have no hope of a fulfilling career at the end of their studies.

We all only seem to ever look out for the individual self rather than the collective (unlike most other professional associations who have a vested interest in their own future and preservation). If tenure created this situation, I'd expect it to only get worse under a tenure-less system.

110. goxewu - July 08, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Re #108:

Would a grade school teacher in 1970 have been expected to be aware that "just" sixteen years earlier--"long after a critical mass" of then-current grade school teachers had made their decisions to go into teaching--the Supreme Court had rendered a decision concerning school segregation in Brown vs. Board of Ed?

Perhaps I overestimated the ability of current college faculty--from tenured full professors to newbie adjuncts--to be aware of major current events directly affecting what they do for a living. If I did, I'm mortified for their sake. No effing excuse. Maybe Mao and the Cultural Revolution were right: for intellectuals, every once in a while, a mandatory year at hard labor in the countryside, breaking rocks, just to reestablish contact with the real world.

111. more_cowbell - July 08, 2010 at 12:43 pm

A further thought:

Here in Canada, mandatory retirement was also phased out in the university. This has indeed worsened the situation by depriving a generation of scholars positions. But it's not the entire problem. To me, the decline of tenure, more generally, is the result of two related factor:

1) economics - a surplus of cheap graduates are willing to work for next to nothing and it's a logical choice for university administrators to opt for the cheaper option.

2) the decline of the status of "professor" - professors clearly do not hold the same social or political status they used to have. The greater public and our lawmakers often see professors as a privileged elite whose research has no use or function outside the unviersity. The radical politicization of many depts (liberal, anti-state politics) has further alienated faculty from the public but, more importantly, from the governments who pay their cheques (public universities are the norm here in Canada)

112. kedves - July 08, 2010 at 01:00 pm

As of 2003, 1.3% of all full-time instructional faculty in the U.S. were age 71 or older (and 5.1% were age 65-70; NSOPF: 2004 Faculty Survey, Table 5, Average age and age distribution of instructional faculty and staff). There is some effect of the prohibition against mandatory retirement, but it does not appear to be of the dramatic nature argued above.

If you think that forcing or encouraging older faculty members to retire is going to give your department the go-ahead for assistant professor searches on a 1:1 retired: new basis, I think you're dreaming. What has happened in your department or school when people retire? Have you been through the destruction a retirement-incentive program can cause? When those lines go, you're not going to get them all back in tenure-track form--particularly if your central administration is using economic need to justify a power grab.

Fundamentally, we are experiencing a large-scale shift in faculty labor practices, away from long-term institutional commitment and a teaching/research balance achieved within individual workers and toward money-saving, flexibility, and a teaching/research balance achieved across individual workers. Tinkering around the edges, for example by allowing age discrimination to force older faculty members out, is not going to do much.

113. joyce8 - July 08, 2010 at 03:23 pm

Kedves - The interesting question is why do we see the "large-scale shift in faculty labor practice"? Re: your points:
1. The small percentage of older faculty today reflects some 15 years of buy-out programs.
2. Of course retiring tenured faculty are not being replaced with tenure-track faculty on a 1:1 basis.
3. I certainly don't advocate age discrimination.
It is important to realize, however, that nobody would set out to design a system of job security that involves a combination of (a) explicit protection from dismissal for reasons related to an administrator's judgement of one's mental faculties, plus (b)a legal system that does not allow a mandatory retirement age. It is an historical accident that some faculty enjoy this combination. The tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over administrators' unwillingness to continue extending this combination to new faculty is, at best, ignorant. The only reason we continue to see any new tenure decisions reflects the fact that schools must continue to compete for the most sought-after faculty - there is some degree of inertia that benefits a very few, at this point.

114. jwr12 - July 08, 2010 at 04:28 pm

to rear_view_mirror, if you're still interested.

You ask, rather sarcastically, "What you tenured faculty have done for the adjuncts in your department?" -- with "voting liberal" not counting as an option.

Well, let me tell you. First of all, as I wrote in my initial post, in my department there are virtually NO adjuncts. This is not an accident, but rather the result of a long-standing policy created and sustained (despite heavy pressure from administration!) by tenured faculty, who have insisted that faculty teach as many courses as possible; who have resisted the idea of "research professorships"; and who have in general argued, with success, that we deserve full, TT lines.

Do we have temporary instructors? Yes. But as I noted, these are all, without exception, recent PhD's who have run out of funding options and don't have jobs. We worked to create these jobs for them. Are they perfect jobs? No. But I hope you won't hold it against us that we can't pull a TT job out of a rabbit's hat for our graduates. And in any case, we want them to move along, and by the way, they generally do, thanks to the help we are able to get them.

Do we have, despite all of this, a few permanent assistant professor without tenure positions (e.g. adjuncts?) Yes. To my knowledge, we have 2. But these positions we are created (as I noted in my original post) as part of recruitment/retention initatives. In other words, these are not jobs created to scam or exploit, but rather as part of a hard won deal. They again are jobs that could be improved, but that we have them at all is something we had to fight to get.

So on the whole, RVM, I would say we have conducted an exemplary policy on this issue. And I stand by my original statement that people should not indulge themselves in the fantasy that it's the TT faculty who stand in the way of social equity. It's not going to be created, whether or not you rob the academy of the job security that attracts talented people to the field. I know as well that some people think we "whiners" should just suck it up and live in the real world, but I fail to see how two wrongs make a right, or secure good applicants for our fields. The idea should be fixing other jobs, not breaking these ones.

115. jwielmak - July 08, 2010 at 04:39 pm

Tenure is needless and destructive. The pursuit of tenure itself warps the pursuit of knowledge, and the possession of tenure corrupts. To get tenure one must play all sorts of demeaning games that demean one's integrity, whether that mean hustling grants, kissing the department chair's rump obsequiously, or peddling articles you know are intrinsically worthless.

The pressure to publish in micro-journals to pad a tenure request portfolio means gobs of pablum are pushed as "research." This is especially true in the humanities and social sciences, where the volume of published garbage reaches astronomical levels.

And the pressure to publish all this superficial and irrelevant material in turn drives tenure aspirants away from teaching, which robs tuition-paying undergraduates of their educations.

Once tenured, one is effectively unaccountable. There is no longer any incentive to be productive or to interact meaningfully with students. After the joyless and embittering process of securing tenure, one's soul is permanently damaged, except with tenure one is able to pass along the pain to others.

Altogether a terribly unhealthy institution. It's demise is a boon for society. Good riddance!

116. janyregina - July 08, 2010 at 05:14 pm

At my college, two Chairs were recently bought out. They had been there over thirty years and one of them at least, taught double loads. As Chair, he could do that and make a great deal of money. Add longevity pay to that and one sees why there was no money left for anything but adjuncts. Is the college better today for their tenured greed?

117. fruupp - July 08, 2010 at 05:44 pm

"What you tenured faculty have done for the adjuncts in your department?"

Not much lately. Because of sub-par and stagnant salaries, more and more full-timers--in order to make up the shortfall--are appropriating courses normally taught by adjuncts, resulting in less or no work for the latter. In the recent past, we supported their successful efforts to secure paid office hours and union representation. It is what it is. We do what we can.

#115 - Calling Dr. Freud! We have a patient overdosing on *projection*!

118. princeton67 - July 08, 2010 at 08:16 pm

Mark Twain popularized the saw, "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." To which I add: "None matches percent."
There are no numbers in the entire article, only proportions, and percents. From these unanchored data, the author merrily leaps to the apocalyptic: "end", "demise", "death", "shrunk drastically".
Nowhere is the explosion of post-secondary education taken into account.
The New York Times, the Pew Survey, ...all cite record enrollments in absolute numbers (just google terms resembling "college enrollment + rise"). Record enrollments require record numbers of professors (go to Labor Bureau's projections for post-secondary employment: about 300,000 more jobs in the next decade (from 1.6m to 1.9m).
Most of the rise, the sources say, will be in junior, trade, and community colleges where tenure is less to be found.
Simply put: 16 faculty today, 4 tenured; 19 faculty in 2019, 4 tenured.
OMG: the percentage of tenured has dropped from 25 to 21. But the number is the same.
As Mr. twain also remarked, "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

119. blowback - July 09, 2010 at 12:20 am

Having read through Robin Wilson's article as well as most of the comments I find that this debate highlights some of the limitations that these discussions often give rise to. I will just list some of what I find lacking here:
1. Whether one may think that tenure needs to be reformed or it needs to be gotten rid of many of you ignore the fact that there is no easy way to do this because there is no central higher education authority to impose this on to individual institutions. Who will force the tenure system to change? The way higher education works in the U.S one would need to do so by forcing each individual college to change their practices. This highlights a central problem in the larger debate of higher education reform. WITHOUT A CENTRALIZED EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY REFORM. Reform must be imposed form the outside because clearly individual institutions have made clear by their behavior time and time again that they cannot be trusted to reform themselves. Every advance nation except the U.S has a centralized and integrated educational system supported by the national government. Not here in the U.S, however.
2. Some argue that professors should not have tenure because no one should be given life long employment or job security. Well public school teachers have tenure after 3 years of teaching and all teachers are full time thought there are substitute teachers who fill in as they seek full time positions. In addition, full time postal workers cannot be laid off from their positions(as I recall a New York Times article pointed out). Indeed this is very much true of UPS workers and most public union workers who have job security that approaches what is in reality "tenure." I understand that there are other aspects to tenure that Marc Bousquet correctly brings up in the article. The point I wish to make is that providing secure full time employment should be the norm. Can none of us pause long enough in our thinking to examine how we mindlessly repeat the mantras of American market capitalism. Tell me do Wall Street Bankers have life-time employment? Do many elected officials? Judges? Law firm partners? Many of you seem to be missing the issue which is that the real debate is about who gets to work and earn a living and who gets to live improvished lives and being well educated or having a Ph.d after your name has little to do with it. Why do we seem to insist that everything in America must be organized around a winner take all society? Why do we lack any critical discourse and why do even the well educated among us seem unable to have any real insight into the real plight that many suffer from?
3. Some have argued that tenure is needed because it affords the security to speak freely without fear. And indeed this may be true. Yet in the many years I have taught as an adjunct professor I have seldom come upon any tenured professor in the many institutions I have taught in who has stood up and publicly criticized their institution not only about the treatment of adjuncts but about low academic standards and grade inflation at these institutions. Sometimes I think tenure is just another way for the powers that be use to buy the silence of the many. In addition, if any tenured professor claims they need tenure to speak truth to power then maybe what you are lacking is not the protection of tenure but some moral backbone. How long have we in this profession been debating these injustices and why has nothing changed in over 30 years!!! There are still tenure professors and they can speak. But in fact what tenure breeds too often is a sense that once it is earned the professor wishes to be left alone to teach, research, write and takes no interest in anything else. In addition, the entire hiring system in which only the most recent graduates are considered for tenure track positions means that we get very narrowed minded people in tenured positions with limited experience who end up teaching in the same university for 30 or 35 years. You have professors who have taught only as graduate students and then in the institutions they earned tenure in teaching the same kinds of students and the same kinds of classes year after year. I do wish to suggest that this is always terrible but it is not always good.
4. If the purpose of tenure is to produce the best and the brightest well cleary this has not been the case. However, if the aim of tenure is to produce scholarship and knowledge then there are clearly better ways than the present system which seems to waste the lives and efforts of too many for very little.
5. This debate reveals how we often seem unable to see the larger context clearly. The issue of tenure is part of the larger problem that plagues higher education but it cannot be viewed in isolation from the other problems it is connected to. This debate and other debates over higher education help to highlight how this society has increasingly become a dysfunctional state in which it can no address its dysfunction truthfully and seems unable and unwilling to offer up the difficult critique that will be required to begin to resolve these problems. To speak only of the desire to end tenure or to save it is to fall into the trap of being committed to defend or attack a tradition while failing to uphold what really matters and what is really at stake. Market capitalism has certainly turned America and higher education into a nasty place to live and learn and there does not seem to be many out there who have the desire or intelligence to do anything about it.

120. econprof5 - July 09, 2010 at 08:37 am

Folks: go back to comment#1 by 'generally_academic.'

Tenure can protect teaching and it can protect research. Most of the discussion here and elsewhere is about how tenure can (or cannot) protect teaching. Little discussion is about how tenure protects research and how tenure shapes research agendas.

Prior to earning tenure, I focused my research on little projects that followed the mainstream ideas and that I knew had a reasonably high probability of being published in acceptable journals. This created the quantity that was necessary for earning tenure, and would have created the vita necessary to find academic employment elsewhere otherwise. All projects got published, all are reasonably well cited, and I consider most of them meaningless because they make only fairly marginal contributions to their general areas. The world would probably not be a poorer place had none of these projects been done.

Post tenure, I focus my research on projects that I consider much more interesting and that have generally taken much longer to be completed and published. Some of these are not cited at all, others are more widely cited than anything I did prior to earning tenure. My research has become more risky, but ultimately more rewarding for me and (hopefully, given the citations) for my profession. But I can only afford to engage in these more innovative projects because I don't need to fear that some years with little or no publications will not lead to my dismissal from my institution as I work on these projects or as they make their way through the review system.

If you take tenure away or don't offer it, then I predict that many researchers will be more likely to engage in research that is less controversial, more homogeneous, and ultimately less likely to lead to breakthroughs.

If this is a cost that our society is willing to bear, then so be it. But this cost needs to be considered when people complain that tenure is costly because it only protects the deadwood.

121. goxewu - July 09, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Not a lot of sympathy for econprof5 in #120. To get tenure, he/she "focused [his/her] research that followed the mainstream ideas...this created the quantity that was necessary for earning tenure." Translation: econprof5 deliberately did trivial research because that's what the powers-that-be wanted for tenure, and post-tenure, he/she has magically recovered research integrity. Right. Another argument against tenure: Selling out in order to get it.

122. tropedog - July 09, 2010 at 12:27 pm

If you really want to see the changing face of Tenure, tenure track "illusions of security" see the following article regarding proposed changes for the state of Louisiana...


123. burdoj - July 09, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I am a non-tenure track "adjunct" assistant professor at a private NE university, on a 3 year renewable contract. This is my second position, I left a tenure track position at a mid-size teaching focused public university because my current non-tenure track position offered a substantially better performing student body, better facilities, a lower teaching load and a large pay raise. This partly shows that there are a lot of shades of gray when it comes to evaluating the tenure vs. non-tenure track arguments, at least in some cases. I don't feel intimidated to speak my mind here, and while I certainly could be let go after my contract expires, all indications are that our administration is intent on hiring more faculty into full time renewable contract positions versus part time adjuncts. I think that parents of our students are starting to understand how important it is to have courses taught by full time faculty who are more likely (not always, but mostly I would say) to form a closer working relationship with the students, as compared to the part time adjuncts who also have to work at other jobs and don't have the time to invest in our students. For my colleagues who are worried about working conditions, administrative pressures and the threat of lost jobs, I would say that parents can be our allies. They need to be made aware of how important you personally are to their child's education!

124. econprof5 - July 09, 2010 at 02:18 pm

To goxewu in #121:

Sure thing--in the best of all worlds the powers-that-be would always recognize the greatness of those who will do great research, even if those don't publish anything at all for several years or only very little.

Alas, the world is not perfect, and in most cases the powers-that-be have to rely on proxies to identify greatness. Proxies like publications. Consider what will happen in this not-perfect world where researchers "sacrifice their standards" to earn tenure, as you call it. If you abolish tenure, you provide an incentive to "sacrifice their standards" forever, rather than up to the point at which tenure is awarded, simply because researchers will live under the constant threat of dismissal if their measurable output does not reach the level set by the powers-that-be.

If you want to reach a goal, then you have to design a system that acknowledges how humans are, not how you would like humans to be.

125. soc_sci_anon - July 09, 2010 at 03:35 pm

"If professors "deserve" this incredible job security, for a job with flexible hours, summers off, nice long Christmas breaks and 6-12 months off every 7 years -- then why don't the rest of America's workers deserve the same? We're not important enough? We're not working hard enough?"

Wow. I know of NO faculty who work as little as you imply they do. Most tenure-track or tenured faculty work long hours even in summer, when many aren't getting paid (because they're on 9-month contracts and don't have grants that will pay summer salary).

Yeah, tenure-track faculty have flexibility. As the saying goes, they can choose which 80 hours a week they work...

As for your comment about faculty not thinking that other workers "deserve" the same, you'd be hard pressed to find an occupation whose member are, on average, as pro-worker and pro-union as are professors. Public opinion data back this up. Take your ire out on the corporate elite that have worked so hard in the past 30 years to strip away workers' rights and spread the ideology that unregulated markets (read, "no unions, no safety regulations, weak and unenforced labor laws") are good for society.

126. more_cowbell - July 09, 2010 at 03:37 pm

I agree that there is far, far too much research being produced for self-promotional purposes, especially in the social sciences and humanities. We are programmed to publish or perish in grad school. The tenure system not only promotes this practice - it makes it official policy. Yet so much of it is regurgitated ideas and irrelevant, carried out under the guise of "academic freedom" and justifiable (and decipherable) to no one but other academics.

If the tenure system was created in large part to allow scholars to pursue research, what does the decline of tenure say about the real value of the research that has been created?

127. shiksha - July 09, 2010 at 04:05 pm

@ 125. I know of a lot of faculty who work that little.

Not surprising that this article has resulted in the number of comments it has and that these comments have not focused on the many students who are subjected to AWFUL tenured profs and when they complain -- and they do -- are told, "sorry, nothing we can do -- he [or she] is tenured."

All you supporters of tenure: How would you feel going to a "tenured" doctor, dentist or car mechanic?

128. rear_view_mirror - July 09, 2010 at 04:13 pm

Tenured faculty generally do nothing for adjuncts. I don't know what they can do, of an impactful nature. I don't know what they should do. When one of them says they have done something for adjuncts I am skeptical. I guess when they are not openly negative, they see themselves as supportive. Supporting an adjunct's legal right to unionize is not necessary for the success of the act. Certainly one can work for years as an adjunct and never see any policy or action done by a tenured person that seems to be inclusive or beneficial.
Usually verbal praise for work done by adjuncts is parsimonious, to the effect of "we're getting a good service considering the cost and this person's qualifications."
Adjuncts both enable the college to afford tenure tracks, and take away tenure tracks, but neither is intentional.

129. econprof5 - July 09, 2010 at 05:23 pm


The value of the output of a doctor, dentist, or car mechanic can be measured fairly easily. A patient recovers or not. A patient feels less pain or not. A car runs or not. In contrast, the value of research is much more difficult to measure, at least over a short period of time.

But to stick with your question: assume that a tenured doctor would keep his job if a patient dies (except in cases of verifiable negligence, as is currently the case), while a non-tenured doctor would be fired for sure. How many doctors would be willing to perform difficult operations during which the patient might die even if the doctor does everything correctly? If you are a patient in need of such a difficult operation, how would you feel if all doctors are non-tenured and want to perform only safe operations?

If our society wants researchers to undertake "risky" research that might or might not lead to measurable results, then eliminating tenure (without establishing an alternative system of reward for risky research) would be counter productive.

130. jfbauerle - July 09, 2010 at 07:17 pm

As a student at Oberlin College 35 years ago, I witnessed the near unionization of the faculty after the then president abolished (and later reinstated) tuition remission for faculty children. I served at the time on the faculty committee that allocated TT and non-TT positions among departments. During one committee meeting, a professor said sotto voce, "We would not have [a problem he identified] if we had a union." To which another professor responded, "What you could never convince me was how you could collectively bargain an increase in the endowment."

All so-called learned professions including mine (law) have experienced greater economic stress in the last 30 years than in the post WW II period. Academic tenure, law or medical practice partnerships, and permanent clergy appointments are all harder to come by, and seem to present more numerous and severe career risks. Yet as I work with my business clients, I am regularly reminded that the chances they and their employees take and the returns they stand to make are no better, and often worse. So maybe the risks and rewards of our lot as post-baccalaureate degree holders are not such a bad bargain after all.

131. goxewu - July 09, 2010 at 08:38 pm

econprof5, not me, is the one who said he/she researched "little projects that followed the mainstream ideas" and emphasized the "quantity" (not quality) needed for tenure, as well as vita-stuffing in case of having to look for another job. Sophistries and evasions about "best of all possible worlds" and "how humans are" aside, this amounts to, in plain English, lack of scholarly integrity.

When I was in academe full-time, I saw a lot this and hardly ever did such a professor suddenly discover that integrity post-tenure. Them that goes along to get along--and again, econprof5 said it, not me--usually continue to go along after there's any need to get along.

Worse, when tenured, they become the ones then counting "quantity" of "little projects that follow mainstream ideas" for tenure consideration in those following them. (How do they think their seniors, who demanded a "quantity" of "little projects that follow mainstream ideas," got to be that way? They started out like econprof5, of course.) The hazed become the hazers, etc.

132. blowback - July 09, 2010 at 11:31 pm

The entire discussion seems to be heading into a pointless deadend of comments concerning what some individuals had to do some 25 or 30 years ago to earn tenure. What is needed is some evidence that those of you who claim to be tenured and at least in your eyes to have proven how deserving you are of it to be able to analyze the state of affairs as they exist now. Why is is so hard to clearly focus on what should be at the center of this discussion: What does the decline of tenured position reveal about the state of higher education and are tenured professors part of the problem to reforming higher education. What does tenure improve, what does it protect, does it protect anything that is worth protecting, etc. Really, for so many of you who claim to be tenured professors I would have expected at least some evidence that you can at least take a complex issue and analyze it clearly but I guess that is asking too much. However, it does seem to prove in part that tenure does impart much insight to those who have it.
1. There is a complete lack of awareness of how university systems in other nations are organized and how those professor in those systems--which are almost all centralized into a government authority--have far more protection and provide far better working conditions. It may be difficult for some of you to realize that there is nothing worth saving in American Higher Education even if you may have been tenured in it. In most other systems it is not just tenure but strong unionization and firm centralized control. See Neve Gordon's comments on Norman Finkelstein in the Chronicle 30 Nov. 2007.

2. American tenured faculty seem to suffer from a narrow vision of the university that begins and ends with only whether they have secured their place in it. Any wider understanding of how the university functions within the larger economic ideology of American Market Capitalism seems absent either because most of you have no interest in it or most of you are so poorly read outside your narrow fields that you lack the understanding required. Being well read is clearly not one of the conditions of being tenured.
3. Most of you failed to indicate the fields in which you were tenured. Tenure does differ from discipline to discipline and we cannot just impose our individual tenure stories on all.
4. What is needed is a discussion of how to reform higher education in the U.S with or without tenure. One of the many problems with the present system is that tenure is given at too early a stage which is why the desire to hire only recent graduates to tenure track positions leads to filling those positions mostly with Ivy League Ph.D's or other graudates from the elite departments because there is a vague sense that by the time they are up for tenure they will have done better than others. Therefore the entire process becomes some vague attempt to predict the future. And how many professors get turned down for tenure? Are these records at all kept? Another reason why we need to centralize higher education in a single federal department with firm control over all universities. What is needed are clearly defined entry level positions after graduate school that are not tenure track positions but that can lead to such positions but lasting a number of years and with full pay. To argue that only tenure is only means to provide professors protection is to make all those who do not have it less protected and poorer and it makes tenure hold up a burden it should not have to. Tenure needs to be separated out of the need for full time employment and freedom of research. By not doing this all of you are just playing into the game that there must be tenured positions and nothing else. And what as been the result: tenured positions have been disappearing. Because the more you hold onto to your late 19th century and early 20th century view of the University the less likely it will remain and since you will have no alternative to replace it with you will just allow Market Forces to do the work of change for you. For too many of you the world came to an end the day you got tenured because it was the day that you assumed you no longer needed to think--about higher education or anything else. Well there are others who are more than happy to think for you but by that time it will be too late. Not that there are too many of you who seem to care one way or the other. Indeed, this may be an example of what Baudrillard has called in another context the "Perfect Crime."

133. econprof5 - July 10, 2010 at 09:40 am

@#131: goxewu,

You need to choose your area of research. Some areas are currently popular, others aren't. "Currently popular" means that much research is undertaken in these areas, that many people are interested in new research in these areas, and that they are therefore willing to spend their scarce time evaluating new research in these areas.

Areas that are currently not popular are areas in which less research is undertaken, and fewer people are interested in evaluating new research in these areas. This is understandable since their time is limited and they have to choose on which type of research to focus.

As a consequence it is generally easier to publish in popular areas. I don't understand your claim that focusing on popular areas in which it is easier to publish means that one sacrifices research integrity. It is simply unreasonable to expect all young assistant professors to choose the high road and rather die in academics (= leave, and possibly never do research again) than to work in popular areas until they have earned tenure.

Mind you--working in popular areas does not mean that one sacrifices rigor; it just means that one listens to others, rather than just oneself, when deciding on which areas to focus. If that means losing research integrity in your dictionary, then so be it. Your ideal of research integrity does not square with the fact that most people, including researchers, are risk-averse. If you call it sophistry and evasion to point out that few assistant professors will act like your ideal of a researcher who always chooses the high road, then so be it, too. I call it realism.

Would you consider it good advice to a young assistant professor to engage in risky research at the beginning of his or her career and risk having to abandon research alltogether if the profession won't listen to the youngster? Wouldn't it be better advise to first establish yourself as a researcher by working in areas that established researchers find interesting, and take the bigger risks only when you can afford to do so?

I stand by my prediction that abolishing tenure will mean that more researchers will focus on popular areas, and that for major advances we will have to rely on the few Copernicusses and Galileis who are bold enough to undertake unpopular research nevertheless. You can bemoan the fact that few researchers are as bold as Galileo Galilei. But again, you have to work with the way humans are, not how you would like them to be.

134. goxewu - July 10, 2010 at 10:39 am

In plain English:

When he/she was untenured, econprof5 knew the kind of research he/she could or should be doing. But because "quantity" (not quality) was important in getting tenure, econprof5 undertook--my understanding, between the lines here--stuff that nobody really needed, just to get publishing lines on his/her c.v. And it paid off. So now that econprof5 has, by pleasing people who only count publishing lines on a résumé, tenure, he/she is now undertaking the research that he/she knows econprof5 should have been doing all along. No way to put a pretty face on this.

135. econprof5 - July 10, 2010 at 11:16 am


we are talking about different things. You decry my lack of research integrity. I make a prediction about the areas that researchers will choose if you remove tenure. Whether one can or cannot "put a pretty face" on my choice of research topics pre/post tenure is irrelevant for my prediction.

Without the possibility of earning tenure, I predict that many researchers will follow my choice of pre-tenure research topics for their entire careers, rather than just until they have earned tenure. If you consider this a cost worth bearing, given the fact that the system of tenure has costs as well, then just say so. Ad hominem attacks never advance discussions in a productive way.

136. philostitute - July 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm

If you want to move to a world with very little research at all and no regard for faculty input or ideas, keeping copying the for-profit model. For-profit schools deprofessionalize teaching and call PhDs who could not secure the ever decreasing tenure positions, facilitators. Your courses are written by "discipline experts (not necessarily another PhD)" and you teach them. You don't pick the text, the method and the pay is adjunct level.

Had someone been frank about the next generation of non-jobs in academia, I would have definitely abandoned the humanities before entering graduate school 15 years ago. My plan is to escape soon. Over the years, I have watched the situation deteriorate. I have a job, not a career, and there are many published people like me in the same position. I work with a colleague from Columbia: great in the classroom, published, etc. Academia is a dead end for the young with talent and they would do better to create the future outside of the academy.

If you are reading this pre-grad school, just don't go unless you are headed to an ivy league grad program and accept that you have a 25% chance of landing a tenure track job.

137. goxewu - July 10, 2010 at 01:35 pm

Re #135:

1. This isn't an ad hominem argument. It's an argument about principle--doing research that one knows isn't one's best, or isn't really needed, or is trivial, just to amass the "quantity" (that's a quote, remember) presumed necessary to get tenure. econprof5 simply offered him/herself as an example.

2. See an article elsewhere in the Chronicle by Mark Bauerlein and a couple of others about the need to stem the avalanche of mediocre research (exactly the kind of thing econprof5 is talking about).

3. Tenure isn't the answer. Tenure created econprof5's pre-tenure research problem, and tenure created the people who created econprof5's pre-tenure problem. If the chain of demanding a considerable "quantity" (once again, that's a quote) of trivial* research is going to be broken with econprof5, who presumably won't haze his/her juniors in the same way, will econprof5 be the exception or the rule? If the exception, congrats, but why wasn't this integrity present before in the choice of pre-tenure research topics? If econprof5 will be the rule, why wasn't the chain of demanding trivial pre-tenure research broken a generation or two ago?

4. If academe had fixed-term contracts, there'd be no lifetime sinecure for professors who demand a considerable "quantity" (that quote agin) of trivial research from those trying to get tenure. What went around would eventually come around.

* "Trivial" is my one-word condensing of "little [research] projects that follow mainstream ideas." It may not fit exactly, but I think it comes close.

138. econprof5 - July 10, 2010 at 02:34 pm

Re #137:

If you don't want researchers to adopt short-term goals, wouldn't you want to remove the need to adopt such goals? Fixed-term contracts make it necessary to continuously produce research that meets the standards for renewal. Because it is so difficult to judge quality, the standards for the renewal of contracts would presumably be influenced by quantity. What makes you believe that the contract-renewal committee would generally be able to distinguish a researcher's claim that he has been working unsuccessfully on a difficult problem for the past years from unproductiveness? The need to have a contract renewed is fairly similar to the need to impress the tenure committee. However, tenure provides the freedom to choose the research one finds meaningful, while the new (but still renewable) contract puts one simply back at the beginning of the tenure clock.

Not the existence of tenure, but rather not having tenure and the need to produce evidence of productivity creates my "pre-tenure problem" as you call it. To the extent that researchers are human and therefore risk-averse, I predict that most research would be trivial, following your definition, if there was no tenure. What makes you believe that researchers would adopt your model of research integrity if they had to constantly produce evidence of productivity to be renewed? It seems to me that abolishing tenure would exacerbate this particular problem rather than ameliorate it.

139. trendisnotdestiny - July 10, 2010 at 03:48 pm

Thank you blowback for the time it took to bottle a little sanity

140. goxewu - July 10, 2010 at 04:59 pm

I don't think there's a great deal of difference between "I'll do trivial/mediocre research so I can amass a lot of c.v. lines for tenure" and "I'll do trivial/mediocre research so I can amass a lot of c.v. lines for promotion to full professore." Again, them that goes along to get along tend to keep doing it because there's always something else to get by getting along.

econprof5 made the mistake of admitting that he/she KNEW the research being done pre-tenure was trivial and didn't add much to the field. That's different from "You know, it wasn't until I got tenure and could hobnob with the big boys without fear or favor that I realized what groundbreaking areas I could have been working." No, what econprof5 said was, essentially, "I knew what inventive, groundbreaking, crucial research was, but I deliberately avoided it because it probably wouldn't get me tenure."

And nary a word was said by econprof5 about the orginal, crucial, inventive, groundbreaking, whatever, research was being done by the very people who were demanding trivial research from him/her in order to get tenure. I've a strong hunch they weren't doing much of it. Why? Because they were probably broken on the rack in the same way that econprof5 apparently was, lost sight of what original, groundbreaking research was, and could only continue in the same trivial rut--but with the perq of being able to haze junior faculty into ending up just like them.

econprof5 may be the exception. But the system of professors with lifetime job sinecure being able to haze junior faculty into contributing to what the Bauerlein, et al., Chronicle article calls the "avalanche of low-quality research" and the "vast volume of worthless findings generated by academe" produces probably a hundred research drones to every econprof5 who suddenly finds a conscience when he/she is granted tenure.

No, fixed contracts won't solve the problem. But they'll put a dent in it.

Note: Maybe economics (which is not my field) is different from the humanities disciplines in which I've witnessed junior faculty who go along to get along fail to change when they get tenure. (Actually, they do change a little--for the worse. They suddenly discover that, now that they're members of the club, the older members of the club really aren't such bad people after all, and that they have much more in common intellectually than they'd previously realized.) On the other hand, maybe all those "little projects which followed the mainstream ideas" in economics is why, what, a dozen out of ten thousand economists in the country, called the 2008 meltdown before it happened.

141. econprof5 - July 10, 2010 at 05:48 pm


lets put arguments about conscience, integrity, and morality aside. Human behavior is what it is, and changing it will require greater minds than ours.

Can we agree that researchers who need to prove their productivity have an incentive to undertake the kind of research that is likely to lead to the kind of measurable results that tenure committees and contract-renewal committees expect?

Can we also agree that most researchers will follow this incentive, and that only a few independent minds who are not perturbed by the chance of losing their jobs will ignore it?

If we can't agree, then I see no point in continuing our discussion (at least on a discussion board like this). But if we can agree, then I don't understand your argument that tenure exacerbates this problem and the abolishment of tenure will solve it. Why do researchers who lose their conscience when they have to please a tenure committee (but who regain it afterwards) will keep their conscience if they have to repeatedly please committees that decide about the continuation of their employment?

Advising a young assistant professor to search for a one-size-fits-all cure for cancer seems terrible advice (even though this might be the peson's calling and it is certainly a worthy goal). The assistant professor is unlikely to get grants for this type of research at the beginning of his or her career, is unlikely to succeed within 6 years, and is likely to leave research alltogether. It seems better advice to hold back, do the kind of research that others expect to see to convince them that the young assistant professor is capable of great work, and embark on the long-term research necessary to find the cure only after this trust has been established. This is the kind of trade-off between research areas that I am talking about.

142. tcfitz3 - July 10, 2010 at 05:53 pm

There are some great, sensible comments already made. I'm an adjunct at a major university, and I have a full time professional career in addition to my teaching. This past year I received the Outstanding Classroom Teaching Award, which is a first for a part-time faculty member. My academic record and my publications in my field qualify me for full time position either where I am or in a professional school.

Tenure seems an outdated concept. The idea that faculty have a duty to argue with or dispute management with the administration is ludicrous. How would you like it if your students were able to dissent and disrupt your class in the name of some kind of academic freedom.

First Amendment law is firmly established now to protect public university employees from retribution for personal views expressed in public. But why should faculty, at work, be treated differently than the rest of the working public is? Don't trot out the arguments of 1960 - there really isn't any current justification for this outdated institution.

There are so many places of higher learning that an outspoken faculty member who can't resist tweaking the administration either will rise in that place or should find a more hospitable environment. That's what the rest of us do in our jobs.

The tenor of this article reeks of an unjustified entitlement. As taxpayers we don't give this kind of protection to any other government worker, and there's no justification for giving it to faculty members either.

143. goxewu - July 10, 2010 at 07:11 pm

econprof5 is right: Continuing our back 'n' forth is futile. Why? In a word, backing & filling.

econprof5 (version 1.0, comment #120):

"I focused my research on little projects that followed the mainstream ideas and that I knew had a reasonably high probability of being published in acceptable journals. This created the quantity that was necessary for earning tenure."

econprof5 (version 2.0, comment #141):

"It seems better advice to hold back, do the kind of research that others expect to see to convince them that the young assistant professor is capable of great work, and embark on the long-term research necessary to find the cure only after this trust has been established."

So, "the quantity that was necessary for earning tenure" vs. "do the kind of research that others expect to see to convince them that the young assistant professor is capable of great work, and embark on the long-term research necessary to find the cure only after this trust has been established."

#120 and #141 are two different types of people.

144. eryx1959 - July 10, 2010 at 07:35 pm

* The commenter in #72 said, "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected." This is a lot more than simply being re-elected; this means that elected politicians "in the majority" continue to hold office "for life." Obviously, that's not true.

As I noted, a lot of U.S. Congressmen move to lobbying. I invite goxewu to research the number of current U.S. Representatives and Senators who have held their office for 30 years (or incumbents who have served a length of time equivalent to a professor at their life stage so far). Also for state house members. May I start with: Senator Danel Inouye (50+ years), Representative John Dingle (50+ years), Rep. John Conyers (45+ years), Rep. David Obey (41+ years)...

* It's a lot easier for a law firm or an accountancy firm to expel a partner than it is for a college to fire a tenured professor.

That may be true, but where are your data? Given a similarly severe infraction, e.g., violating the law or complete failure to perform, I think you'd see the average University move swiftly.

(The age discrimination issue in eryx1959's wife's accountancy firm is irrelevant to this discussion.)

Apparently not, given the subsequent posts. I started my position just after the mandatory retirement age was lifted, but it was not a consideration in my chosing this profession. Actually, one of my heroes was forced to retire at 70, and went on to write several books and many articles over the next 16 years and I thought the way he was treated was a disgrace.

145. econprof5 - July 10, 2010 at 07:38 pm


I don't see a conceptual difference between #120 and #141. If you see one, then it is your interpretation of what you think I had in mind, not what I intended to express. This is a forum, not the journal of well-formulated ideas.

But we don't seem to agree on the two premisses behind my prediction. I suggest we let other readers enjoy our exchange, and leave them space to express their own ideas. I wish you all the best in your quest against tenure.

146. gadget - July 10, 2010 at 08:00 pm

At my local university, the administration is laying off full time lecturers and part timers who taught the bulk of lower division basic courses. The plan is to use graduate students from a group of newly created PhD programs to teach these classes.

There are already problems: many of the new PhD. students are woefully unprepared and (dare I say it) marginal at best because the institution has also created large cohorts in its new PhD. programs. Quality has suffered. Many of these new students in some departments, like education, are already full-time classroom teachers in the public schools or otherwise gainfully employed and do not want these TA jobs, which pay very poorly. Departments like English have actually increased the workload for TAs to 2/2, which makes the job even less desirable.

It remains to be seen what will play out over the coming academic year (and beyond) but this new model of using new PhD. students is certainly much cheaper than actually hiring full time lecturers with offices and a full time presence on campus. The lower division students will suffer, of course.

On the positive side, the institution has a record of creating new TT positions in these same departments, including new positions for TT faculty to teach all these new PhD. students. On the other side, many of these new faculty are very disappointed in the quality of the new PhD. students and the huge class sizes they have been given (38 students in a graduate class!). Several have decided to take other positions rather than apply for tenure here because of the graduate student quality issue.

147. goxewu - July 11, 2010 at 09:44 am

Re #145:

econprof5 is right. Time to go. But just one last tip o' the hat on the way out the door...

"This is a forum, not the journal of well-formulated ideas."

econprof5 and I obviously consult different dictionaries. There's no reason why ideas on a blog thread shouldn't be "well-formulated." That doesn't mean thoroughly researched, backed up with mountains of data, speckled with authoritative quotes, etc. It just means thought through and well-expressed.

And re #144:

"A lot of" does not equal "majority." If one means "a lot of," one should not say, "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected." And this is not mere semantic pickayunishness: A majority of something is what one can expect to happen most of the time, with anything else being an exception. A majority of politicians do not remain in office "for life once elected." Period.

I don't have statistical data for, "It's a lot easier for a law firm or an accountancy firm to expel a partner than it is for a college to fire a tenured professor." Theoretically, it's probably available to prove or disprove my contention (i.e., number of law-firm and accountancy-firm partners expelled as a percentage of the total number of such partners, versus whatever percentage of tenured professors let go), but practically, it's probably not. Anyway, those of us in the humanities often use an aggregate of personal experience, observation, anecdote, non-statistical reading and--horrors!--imagination, to arrive at a tentative (e.g., I'm willing to be proven wrong on this by stats) conclusion. I know several lawyers in fairly big-time firms who've told me over the years about a partner being kicked out because of underperformance, sometimes caused or exacerbated by bad personal conduct, sometimes not. But in all the universities I've taught in--as a full-timer or visitor--over the years (ten), I've never seen nor heard of a tenured professor being let go unless the whole department (Geography, in one case) was dissolved.

Side thought: I suppose one could go through Bartlett's and retrieve a whole lot of famous quotes that most of us take to be true that are unsupported by stats.

Finally, I didn't say that age discrimination wasn't relevant. I said that age discrimination in the poster's wife's accountancy firm wasn't relevant. I'm not sure that what they do in law firms or accountancy firms, where partnerships have to do with getting a cut of the profits, has much to do with academe, where tenure supposedly has to do with academic freedom. Maybe the for-profit education business will eventually institute faculty partnership, with some faculty-partners getting a cut of the profits and not just a salary, but as far as I know that's not the case now.

148. aricknuth - July 11, 2010 at 11:10 am

From the point of view of teaching humanities at a large research university, it's clear that our institutions of higher learning need good teachers more than anything else--and I suspect this is true in different ways across disciplines. Being a good researcher might help some people be better teachers, but the tenure system as it exists in most schools today rewards the work of research and specialization over the more general and broadly applicable work of teaching undergraduate students how to think and write. This is an unsettling situation for college faculty and administrators to be in: one reason tenure is becoming irrelevant is that much of what it rewards and protects doesn't really help college instructors do that most vital work of teaching young people, which is what universities are for. Why, for example, are most (or all) composition courses at large research universities so commonly made the responsibility of graduate students and adjunct faculty rather than tenured and tenure-track professors? It's a simple question that, as you answer it, begins to illuminate aspects of the tenure problem that make the current situation in academe even more dire and disturbing.

It's not unlike the situation on Wall Street that led to our current financial crisis: we find ourselves now in an unsustainable system where the numbers don't match up with the reality of our lives and the lives of our students. Universities are filled with highly trained, highly specialized researchers who *might* be good at mentoring graduate students but are often surpassed by their less "qualified" and less "trained" subordinates on the adjunct side who know more what it means to help a twenty-year-old read and understand a complicated text and express something intelligently about that text. But colleges and universities don't exist to create more graduate students (who more and more can't find their own jobs in academe); if we don't acknowledge and reassert the greater social function of higher education in this country and change the tenure system so that it rewards and encourages the fundamental work of educating undergraduates so that they can be sensitive, nuanced writers and thinkers--work that really doesn't require the degree of specialization and publication that tenure requires--the system will collapse all around us, as most unsustainable systems eventually do. Perhaps, then, we'll be able to get it right as we rebuild it.

149. richardtaborgreene - July 11, 2010 at 11:25 am

I built myself a SUCCESSFUL N.G.O. abroad career, then a second Total Quality Management consulting in Japan career, then an artificial intelligence enabled work coordination venture business launch career BEFORE becoming a non-clinical tenure-track professor at a major top 5 university. Observations follow:

a) students straight out of undergrad school to top grad schools were generally-----what is the term?-----moronic (sorry, but they still are, the reasons are a separate book or two)
b) doing the belittle and torture the assistant professor game AFTER 3 successful careers all but the NGO one paying better than the full prof at top ten college one, meant that petty publishing requirements could be met by petty methods designed to generate huge numbers of "acceptable" papers in journals no thinking being would ever want to read

For the tenure diminishing boo hoo topic, I get the following implications:

1) the worst single professor at MIT I had is STILL there today---not a SINGLE one of the ten or so excellent professors I had are still there today (they got stollen for better conditions/pay/grants by other leading schools
2) in technical highly paid fields where research done in industry pays more than professors ever get---tenure is a sick alternative no thinking being would be "enticed" by
3) in non-technical and poorly paid fields, tenure looks very much like being paid to stop doing research (and often has this effect)
4) freedom of speech has never existed in US culture--the vast ignorance of the general populace empowered by the modern politicos and ideologs of TV, plus laws turning any inter-gender inter-race remark into a lawsuit, have made American classrooms among the least interactive and honest in the industrial world ALREADY---for example business school deans have to raise money and they cannot if faculty bad mouth firms in classes, books they write, etc. so faculty learn, via indirect pressure, to teach positives not negatives (and did THIS have any, what do you call them?, consequences, say in 2008? or 2009??

I remember the culture of the U of Chicago----they did not let laws, lawyers, students, parents, or politicos make ANY faculty or course or research decisions there (and they did a good job of implementing that attitude). Either the faculty as a collective community imposes its educative norms and views on all stakeholders concerned in no uncertain or wimpy terms, or else a dozen stakeholders with perfect logic for one case after another, chip away till intellectual stink and swamp is taught and hired for tenure.

The tenure system---let us torture assistant profs for seven years making them break up topics into tiny bits independently publishable to get required numbers published--produces ugly uninteresting journals and people (I use the latter term very loosely).

To justify tenure by appealing to freedom of speech, while it has a strain of cases in history worth noting, seems to be a benefit not quite overcoming its deficits and costs. Yes an unfirable professor can be a gadfly, but few are and tenure does not protect you from lawsuits by every empowered nasty ignorant parent-student combination----so the point is moot.

Truth is being drummed out of Americans, their rather ugly society, and their colleges by a host of forces. History seems to indicate, as I read it, that peoples cannot get away with this sort of flight from truth, without huge costly declines in all indicators of happiness, wealth, and welfare.

Perhaps we all have to institutionally learn by god's justice, sending our kids to societies not in suicidal declines.

150. richardtaborgreene - July 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

I FORGOT ONE POINT=--the NICEST thing about decentral messy anything goes independent actor population US colleges is this-----
the ONE institution that gets the invention of better forms of tenure or a better replacement for it RIGHT---can profit enormously in attracting assistant profs not wanting torture, journals not wanting to go unread for generations, and grant moneys not wanting unread articles as their primary result.

151. richardtaborgreene - July 11, 2010 at 11:41 am

Most courses are publishing sessions not having any teaching going on in them. Most smart students therefore just read the book, knowing the course is a waste of time (a friend at MIT taught me early to always buy the Stanford book for all MIT courses because half the time exam questions came from the Stanford book plus all the things not explained in the MIT book were explained well in the Stanford one and vice versa).

Entwhistle in Scotland, Kintsch at Colorado, and others studied usual lecture courses and found levels of idea retention much lower than the lowest estimates of faculty---recalled content decaying from 17% recalled a day later to 7% recalled a week later in most subjects.

So all this talk about COURSES---why do people waste time paying for them, requiring them, or teaching them?????? THEY provably do not work (yes yes there are zillions of exceptions but they all revert to the mean and the mean is terrible performance). Lectures NEVER in history were teaching, they were a PUBLISHING system---1 person lectures to 200, a week later those 200 using notes lecture to 200 in each of their locales (=40,000) and a week later each of those 40,000 lectures to 200 in each of their neighborhoods (= 8,000,000 "informed" in a month, not a bad publishing system in reality, but a TERRIBLE teaching system).

152. goxewu - July 11, 2010 at 05:00 pm

Addendum/clarification on #147:

Schools: 10; years: in academe (there were time-outs), about 30.

153. trendisnotdestiny - July 11, 2010 at 08:11 pm

"In the future, we are going to have to choose between what is right and what is convenient."

Albus Dumbledore

154. profdave - July 12, 2010 at 02:32 am

I don't think someone with a 3-year contract should be referring to themself as an "adjunct." However, as another poster way up the thread noted, the various terms covering non-permanent faculty have parochial and overlapping definitions.

A post from Canada raised another interesting point about the political leanings of "academia" in general and its effect on the relationship between higher education and governmental funding sources. It is unfortunate that here in the United States anyone who identifies as an "academic" is simultaneously identified with left-wing politics and social policies. (Perhaps not so unfortunate now with a radical liberal administration in power, although Marxian academic thought has armed these people with all of the necessary arguments for the elimination of higher education.) We are all painted with the same brush regardless of our economic inequalities.

Perhaps someone should admit that tenure served to protect an academic's right to be conservative in a predominantly liberal environment (among other things).

155. astevens2007 - July 12, 2010 at 08:38 am

Sadly it all comes to the accountant-defined bottom line profitability. No tenure means no extra benefits, such as healthcare, or retirement incentives.
I believe that tenure can be beneficial to a research university, like stated in earlier posts.
I hate to see a future of second rate institutions of higher learning for the US when ours are some of the best in the world.

156. eryx1959 - July 12, 2010 at 04:21 pm


"A lot of" does not equal "majority." If one means "a lot of," one should not say, "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected." And this is not mere semantic pickayunishness: A majority of something is what one can expect to happen most of the time, with anything else being an exception. A majority of politicians do not remain in office "for life once elected." Period.

Still no data, and you admit you have nothing but anecdoate for law firms. Did you look up what I suggested about state legistlators? I guess not. It's easier to be a pedant than to do research.

"Pretentious, moi?"

You are a typical troll. You keep changing the subject once you're challenged. I've learned not to argue with trolls: it annoys the? billy goats. Ten universities in 30 years (with absences), huh? You REALLY must not work and play well with others. No wonder you weren't tenured.

157. more_cowbell - July 12, 2010 at 06:52 pm

#148 Gadget

What you describe is extactly what happened at my university. A few years ago, the dept began agressively building up its graduate program and began accepting 15-20 new PhD students each year, up from the 2-3 they had taken on per year previously. Sure enough these students eventually turned into ABDs seeking work. Many had 3-4 yr scholarships that have run out and they need to supplement their income.

Previously, course work was allotted among a handful of experienced adjuncts through a competition process. Many adjuncts had been there for years with excellent reputations and evaluations. But since enabling an explosion of resident graduate students, the dept has begun to play favourites and allocate teaching work arbitrarily, no longer on experience or teaching ability. The "hottest" or most promising candidates get solid work for a year (often taking courses from adjuncts who have been there for many years). After that, even the "chosen ones" are soon shafted and the next year of work is given to the next batch of students. It means a constant cycle of new teachers with no experience are teaching half of the courses for 1-2 yr undergrad students. It's not a great situation and undergrad students can tell the difference.

The dept says that it is being more fair in allocating scraps of work but the implicit understanding in all this is that you get some teaching experience and trot off into the sunset (with a gentle shove). Adjunct work has now become an informal practicum component for your degree. Of course, the adjuncts see it differently. The best adjuncts have moved on, and those who replaced them get a bitter early lesson about the marketability of their degrees.

158. more_cowbell - July 12, 2010 at 07:04 pm

correction - my reply is to #146 gagdet

159. goxewu - July 12, 2010 at 07:08 pm

Oh, Lordy...

Since eryx1959 is interested, I was tenured, twice. (Once through the usual conga line at a mid-level state university, and later in my career, when it came with the new job, full prof at an R1, one of the best.) Full-time TT and tenured positions: three schools. The rest were either a year or a semester as a visitor--my choice, leave, change of scenery. I've been out of full-time academe for a while, my choice, more fun and money elsewhere, but I do visiting stints if they appeal. Once in a while, they do.

If eryx1959 has statistical evidence that "politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected," I'd be happy to see it. If my not buying the "majority" "for life" stuff is pedantry, I'd rather be a pedant somebody who just fell off the turnip truck and believes, on no evidence other than an evasive list of long-term (not necessarily "lifetime") office-holders, eryx1959's preposterous claim. (It was preposterous on its face, which is why I commented on it.) And sorry, I don't do homework assignments.

'Tis not I who changes the subject, which is, "Do the MAJORITY of elected politicians continue to hold office FOR LIFE?" I say they obviously don't. eryx1959 continues to insist they do.

Finally, "troll." We're ALL trolls here. (Unless eryx1959 is an employee of CHE.)

160. aldebaran - July 12, 2010 at 07:34 pm

I thought you were heading out the door, goxewu (see #147, above). Don't let the door smack you too hard on the bottom on the way out.

When you get home, you might want to do at least one homework assignment, and look up the definition of the word "troll". You embody the word, but you don't seem to know what it means in the context of Internet discussions. Prove me wrong be refraining from replying.


161. aldebaran - July 12, 2010 at 07:35 pm

*by refraining (sorry about the typo)

162. goxewu - July 12, 2010 at 08:10 pm

"Time to go" referred to the back-and-forth between econprof5 and me. But just as I had my hand on the doorknob, there was eryx1959 coming out of nowhere. OK, maybe I've been a little testy with eryx1959. But is it that hard to back off just a step from the obvious overstatement, "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected" to the reasonable dilution of, oh, "In America, incumbents have a tremendous financial and publicity advantage and many elected officials are able to remain in office for decades"?

Troll means one who circulates, moves around. C'est moi. (And it's also at least two or three dozen regulars on these threads.) I'm happy to provide an opportunity for aldebaran to be in the right. Must be a rare thrill. (aldebaran saw that comin' as soon as "submit" on #160 was hit, right?). And no points off for typos. This is a friendly forum.

163. janyregina - July 13, 2010 at 01:22 am

First amendment rights did not protect me when I actually filed for unemployment in the summer of 2009 after working as an adjunct for four years usually teaching six classes a year. The college denied it. I went from teaching eighteen hours a year to teaching nine this year. That cut my income in half. I did not file this summer. For someone who has always had freedom of speech as a student, I seem to have "grown up" and recognized the "bottom line." Yes, I was desperate (still am). I had the responsiblity of caring for an elderly parent and yes, I took every class they offered. Last Spring semester I had a three hour class on compus and another three hour class two hours and thirty miles later. You can probably imagine how my mind and voice connected at around the fifth hour of teaching.

Someone mentioned that tenured professors care more perhaps about their students. I don't find that to be true. My Chair actually said that I am better at teaching than he though he didn't say why. I am very proud of my student's and my learning. We all work hard sometimes under hard circumstances. The students keep me going.

I am as available as I can be for my students considering I don't have an office. One thing that bothers me most as an adjunct is that I don't feel any camaderie with fellow faculty. There is no office or time spent talking and sharing ways to be a better teacher at the college. Rarely, do I have any contact with the school.

The bottom line should be are our students better off with tenured professors? How important is freedom of expression? Are the administrators so much more important than faculty? Does tenure improve teaching? I don't aspire to tenure. I just want to be able to discuss Freud and not be accused of lewdness in the part of the world where I live.

My students don't know I am any different from the other faculty except I don't have an office. Perhaps, some do. But, it isn't my credentials or my teaching. Though I have noticed their cars are nicer than mine:)

164. eryx1959 - July 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm


Actually, you incorrectly characterized what I wrote (twice), "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected." means exactly that: that they ARE ABLE, not that the majority do. You have not refuted my contention that a majority of political incumbents ARE ABLE to retain their seats for as long as they wish.

165. socsciprof - July 13, 2010 at 01:45 pm

@ 125 : FT/TT professors working 80 hr weeks. What planet are you on? Ivy League? I was on 4 different TT jobs in the last 10 years and job-hopped from one average state school to another just because I did not want to get tenure in the 3 first places I was on TT. NONE of the professors I interacted with had 80hr weeks. The tenured ones were fishing all summer long. Some still do research (but a lot of the research published in many universities is of dubious quality) but many hardly do anything. If tenure ends, we only have colleagues to blame that grant so many PhDs in their own fields: after all, it is a supply and demand issue. People with PhDs in computer engineering or accounting have plenty of TT jobs available. (There are just not enough of them that want to work in universities.). PhDs in the humanities on the other hand can drive a cab where I live. We do have ourselves to blame.

166. goxewu - July 13, 2010 at 01:45 pm

Re #164:

Oh, please. This is pure weaseling. If I said, "Factory workers are in the majority able to walk to work," that'd mean to most readers that they do walk to work, not merely that they're not crippled and could walk if they wanted to. "Kings and queens are in the majority able to continue for to rule for life once crowned," means that they do rule for life, not just that, theoretically, they could because the throne is inherited.

In the conveniently restricted interpretation eryx1959 wants, all that "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected" means is that the majority of politicians are elected to offices having no term limits or mandatory retirement age. Now there's a news flash for you.

The wikipedia link says Internet trolls are those who "post inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages." My posts, while frequent, sometimes tiresome, and often contentious, are not "inflammatory" (I don't use nasty language), "extraneous" ('twas not I who brought up "the majority of politicians...," or partners in law and accounting firms allegedly having the same level of job security as tenured professors), nor off-topic (see "extraneous," previous).

No points off for typos, but I do tend to grade down for wikipedia citations.

econprof5 and I are done. How 'bout eryx1959 and I calling it a day, too?

167. eryx1959 - July 13, 2010 at 03:33 pm


You're the one who is indulging in sophistry. "Factory workers are in the majority able to walk to work" suggests that they live close to their work. If I wrote that "Americans are in the majority able to walk to a supermarket" it would probably be true in that context, but would certainly be factually wrong in your interpretation (i.e., that most do so). I wrote exactly what I meant, and you still haven't refuted that statement

I don't worry about points off for Wikipedia: I don't do homework for you, either. Your definition of "troll" was wrong, and the definition I cited is accurate in describing your posts in this thread.

BTW, I've never seen a troll that could stand to not have the last word. I'm calling it a day.

168. goxewu - July 13, 2010 at 04:34 pm

Re #167:

It's "...I've never seen a troll WHO..." (Sometimes I teach writing seminars.)

It's almost worth a poll of commenters to find out whether "Politicians are in the majority able to continue for life once elected" is interpreted by most readers to mean that a) they indeed do occupy elected office until they die (wrong, in my estimation, but still a statement with some palpable meaning), or merely b) they can run for election as long as they want to (technically a possible interpretation, but hardly insightful in any real sense since the preponderance of elected offices in the U.S.--including the House and Senate--have no term limits nor mandatory retirement age). And (b) was also true since the beginning of the Republic, long, long before the necessity for expensive media campaigns gave incumbents the advantage that people such as eryx1959 (in effect) complain about. Finally, if all eryx1959 is talking about is the practically primordial absence of term limits and mandatory retirement age, then his/her litany of long-term office-holders adds nothing to the "are in the majority able to continue [in office] for life" argument.

Clearly, eryx1959 went a bridge too far in his/her "are in the majority able to continue [in office] for life," and is now backpedaling like a Michael Jackson moonwalk to get out from under such an egregious overstatement.

Tenure, on balance, is bad. Fixed-term contracts would, on balance, be good.

So, if, like, eryx1959 replies (I think I'll likewise call it a day), does that make him/her a troll, too? I guess we'll see.

169. eryx1959 - July 13, 2010 at 06:43 pm


According to Tolkien, trolls are not humans, so it's "that" and not who".

So what we have, is goxewu now thinks my statement is now "wrong in my estimation" (AGAIN no data, not wrong as a certainty), and actually supports my point ("hardly insightful in any real sense since the preponderance of elected offices in the U.S.--including the House and Senate--have no term limits nor mandatory retirement age"). Talk about backpedaling (and you are such a big weasel, you are a wolverine)!

I don't agree with your troll-like summary of this thread, and I'll bet the other posters wouldn't either.

I haven't amended my original statement at all except to clarify your poor comprehension of what I wrote and observe your need to keep attacking when challenged, That both shows that you are a troll (which you haven't argued against) and that you are a bully who doesn't play well with others. My (final) response does not make me a troll. I have stayed on topic and not deflected any (your) arguments. I also didn't say that being the last poster makes one a troll, only that in my experience, trolls can never accept not being the last poster. We'll see.

170. goxewu - July 13, 2010 at 09:25 pm

Re #169:

* Wikipedia or The Hobbit, not both or either, when it's convenient. Next thing, "Three Billy Goats Gruff" will be invoked.

* "(and you are such a big weasel, you are a wolverine)!" What is this, a Barbie party snit? Next thing, it'll be "you are a big doo-doo with a green nose!"

* Some alleged qualities of trolls are not mine: I'm not nasty (no direct insults in the second person, for instance) and my comments--be they intelligent or stupid, snarky or straightforward--are neither extraneous or off-topic. (I'm still talkin' 'bout tenure [it does more harm than good] and, courtesy of eryx1959, whether the majority of politicians "are able" to stay in office for life.)

* Otherwise, I'm a troll, I admit it. So are a lot of posters on these threads, pro- and anti- the issue at hand alike. Life on "Brainstorm" would be pretty dull without stinkcat, drj50, physicsprof, jffoster, trendisnotdestiny, richardtaborgreene, and a host of others.

* eryx1959 says, "I've never seen a troll that could stand to not have the last word," and "trolls can never accept not being the last poster. We'll see." Yep, we will.

171. eryx1959 - July 13, 2010 at 10:09 pm


172. warriorwoman - July 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

Having had, and lost, four tenure track positions I consider myself quite an expert on the issue of tenure. Most recently I was "fired" after four years on the tenure track from a small liberal arts institution because the students and their parents didn't like my "demeanor".

Be that as it may, the reason I am responding has nothing to do with needing to vent about ignorant, incompentent administrators, collosally insecure colleagues, and the misplaced entitlement felt by students and parents - all endured by many of us, and all affecting tenure in a variety of ways. It is, instead, to comment on how I simply could not get past about half of the responses already posted because virtually all posts miss vital points, or ask the wrong questions.

Who set up this system anyway? What is the point of waiting six years to secure tenure (or three, as was my case at a community college, fourteen years ago)? Why does this profession require protection? What do we as professors CURRENTLY need protection from, and why? Be honest! Is it really in order to teach those controversial topics, or the ability to pursue unpopular research?

In my experience, tenure does not provide, or secure, freedom to do anything. How does a person who successfully endures tenure retain any personal integrity whatsoever? Tenure is, in fact, granted only after a professor is successfully indoctrinated into a particular institution, and department. How can professors submit to such pressure to conform and then proceed to "be free" to teach students? After six years of frantic publishing and pleasing those in power is it possible to remember who we are, and what drove us to teach in the first place? Are we able, after tenure, to go back to who we really are, or is that person lost to us after six years of conformity? After tenure are we transformed, instead, into a kind of Stepford Professor that fits nicely into a particular institution, or department? Or worse, are we so damaged by the what we have endured to achieve tenure that unknowingly we transfer similar abuse to the new crop of tenure seeking assistant professors?

And how does this affect our teaching? What are students seeing, and learning, from our efforts to achieve tenure?

If there are any professors out there that think their tenure process was something else entirely, or pleasurable, let alone necessary - please edify me!

If tenure will continue - and I, like many others on this blog question whether it should continue in its present form - professors need to redefine it now, and precisely, before administrators do it for them. I use the term "us" loosely. It is doubtful that I will ever teach in higher education again, after my most current banishment. As we all know well, a professor who has left four tenure track positions, for any reason, is academic poison. After all, the goal is to get tenure, at any cost.

173. rabbitquest - July 15, 2010 at 08:29 pm

Once upon a time, the gifted few gravitated towards institutions of higher education. Today, the idea of a college education is pushed as a viable pursuit for the better part of the population.

With Excess PHD's washing dishes and waiting tables, it is simply a law of supply and demand that they would eagerly take a step up onto the podium.

Tenured faculty are honored experts in their field, and their devoted grad students are learning their art as an apprentice learns a trade, so it would be a perversion for this relationship to manifest itself between 'Admin' .vs. Faculty.

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