As the economic crisis drags on and worsens, I would like to discuss some more issues of how the poor economy affects Academe, in addition to the ones I listed in a previous post. Some topics this week:
1. Will tenure track faculty be denied tenure for budgetary reasons? and
2. How can researchers get equipment proposals funded if the proposals require matching funds and matching funds are scarce to non-existent?
Some of my tenure track friends who were nervous about coming up for tenure in the next year or so were already nervous even before the economic crisis. The tenure process does seem to have that effect in general. Some of them are now even more nervous, convinced that their academic unit will try to save money by denying them tenure.
Let's assume that a certain assistant professor was likely to get tenure under ordinary circumstances. A department is very unlikely to vote against tenure for budgetary reasons because economic decisions of this sort are seldom made at the department level and therefore economic considerations aren't used in evaluations of tenure at the department level. It is not in a department's interest to solve a budget problem by losing a tenurable tenure-track faculty member and therefore possibly the faculty line altogether.
In fact, at least one of my tenure-track colleagues wonders whether the economic crisis makes it even more likely that she will get tenure in her department, owing to the department's wish to retain the faculty line (not to mention their acknowledgment that she is doing her job well).
At higher levels of administration, economic considerations may be more important, but even so, according to various university tenure codes that I found online and read recently, there are strict requirements about whether and how economic considerations can be used in personnel decisions involving tenure-track faculty. In fact, universities that are having a major fiscal emergency can also shed tenured faculty after following various procedures and trying other money-saving measures first.
Will universities deny tenure for economic reasons anyway but not admit to this being the reason? Maybe, though I am not quite so paranoid yet as to believe that. Most universities have pre-tenure evaluations for probationary faculty, and possibly also annual progress reports, and it would be unusual (and lawsuit fodder) if the pre-tenure indications were positive but the tenure decision was negative.
So far, my friends and relatives who have lost their jobs have been computer programmers and lawyers. Although universities in economic crisis can fire tenured faculty, those of us with tenure have a lot less to worry about than many of our friends and relatives with less secure jobs. Tenure-track faculty have the usual things to worry about, but I don't know yet of any budget axe tenure victims.
Perhaps the most precarious positions in academia right now are those of adjunct faculty, who have difficult and uncertain positions even in better economic times.
7 months ago