Via Deane Yang’s Facebook feed, this New York Times round table on the question of tenure, featuring weigh-ins from faculty members in education, English, religion, education again, and economics. Notice anything missing? Like, say, science, engineering, law, and medicine? I said this before but I’m cranky about this piece so I’ll say it again. The reason we need tenure in these fields is not because we’re worried about getting fired for teaching an anti-establishment line on epsilons and deltas.* It’s because universities have to compete with private employers for scientists, mathematicians, engineers, lawyers and doctors. Mark Taylor writes:
If you were the C.E.O. of a company and the board of directors said: “We want this to be the best company of its kind in the world. Hire the best people you can find and pay them whatever is required.” Would you offer anybody a contract with these terms: lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal, regardless of performance? If you did, your company would fail and you would be looking for a new job. Why should academia be any different from every other profession?
Maybe because academia pays a lot less than many other professions? Does Taylor have any suggestions as to what alternative benefit we should offer candidates in order to make an academic job worth their while? Does he really think that, absent tenure, our board of trustees would tell our chancellor, “Hire the best people you can find and pay them whatever is required?”
Right now, tenure is what universities have instead of money. I don’t see a lot of money coming our way soon. So I think we’d better hold on to tenure.
* Although this actually happened to Cauchy!