Friday, August 13, 2010

Slate Takes On Tenure

The latest rant against tenure is in Slate.com. I have nothing against such discussions. Tenure, what it means, who gets it, and how it is gotten are important topics to debate and (re)consider from time to time. Any discussion of tenure, however, would benefit from accurate information.

The Slate.com article (by Christopher Beam) starts with a cute analogy. Imagine if cooks and waiters in a restaurant could not be fired! And not only that, but "they can say anything they want.. publicly and without fear of retribution." If it sounds absurd in a restaurant context, how can it possibly make sense in academia? I'm not sure, but maybe it's because a university is not a restaurant?

I learned from this article that lots of people want to get rid of tenure, even professors who are "constrained by its conventions". We would much rather have constant job insecurity.

Tenure is not cost effective for universities: "Keeping a professor around indefinitely.. simply costs a lot." In fact, we each cost our university $10-12.2 million over 35 years after getting tenure. You do the math and figure out if the numbers quoted in this article apply to you, factoring in institutional contributions to benefits.

I think it's a cheap shot to mention how much it costs to pay someone over a 35 year career. And it's strange not to mention the alternatives: e.g., hiring adjuncts at low salaries with lousy benefits and no job security.

Paying professors is really inconvenient for university budgets: ".. because most universities pay tenured professors out of their endowments, each professor freezes up tens of millions in otherwise-liquid endowment money for a generation." Are you paid from your university endowment, sucking the economic life out of your institution, providing only highly skilled labor in return?

It really is too bad that universities have to pay professors at all. It is true that it is customary for people, highly skilled or not, to be paid for their work, but it would be so much better if professors would work only for the privilege of having a small office with erratic climate control and a few friendly rodents. "The life of the mind is its own reward" (according to the article).

"If the average university tenured about 15 fewer professors, they'd be in the black."

Professors are standing in the way of balanced budgets!

Then there are some other paragraphs that can be summarized as follows: academic freedom is a joke, even tenured faculty are too afraid to speak up about controversial topics so tenure isn't even needed, tenure discourages intellectual flexibility and interdisciplinary research, tenure makes professors lazy.

Most of this fascinating insight and authoritative information comes from Professor Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and author of a book that will come out soon and break the news that tenure is bad.

If you can't be fired, what's to stop you from refusing to teach "an extra course"? "I honestly don't know what a lot of academics do a lot of the time," says Taylor.

The only thing stopping me from teaching "an extra course" is that I am too busy teaching my regular classes + graduate seminars, doing research, advising graduate and undergraduate students, mentoring postdocs, writing papers and proposals, giving talks at conferences and other universities, organizing speaker series, serving on committees, editing a journal, reviewing papers and proposals... and so on. I am not unusual (in this respect). Don't they do at least some of these things in the religion department at Columbia University? How can someone write a book on academia and have no idea what "a lot of academics" do with their time?

How can someone not factor research grants or the contributions to society of research of all sorts into the equation when discussing what professors bring to a university? It seems that we just take, take, take.

Would a system of renewable contracts really allow professors to break out of the "publish or perish" mania? Methinks it might have even the opposite effect. If there were no tenure, the rat race would never end. And, since academia is apparently equivalent to a customer service industry, consider what renewable contracts for advisers would do to their graduate students and postdocs, not to mention the research infrastructure that we build in part from grants and in part from our institutions, and use to train our advisees.

Another person cited in the article seems a bit more informed about academia and what ails it than Professor Taylor. Cathy Trower of Harvard University provides some ideas for "reworking" the tenure system without abolishing it:

"Create a tenure track that explicitly rewards teaching. Give interdisciplinary centers the authority to produce tenured professors. Allow for breaks in the tenure track if a professor needs to take time off. Offer the option of part-time tenure, a lower-cost alternative for professors who want to hold other jobs. In other words, make tenure flexible rather than a monolithic, in-or-out club."

Those ideas are worth discussing. Some of them solve problems, foster positive change in academia, and benefit faculty and students. I suppose they are a bit boring for general readers of online magazines, but it was a relief to see that paragraph at the end of the otherwise appalling article.

51 comments:

Alex said...

First, in all of these discussions, people talking about renewable contracts miss the fact that the real debate in academia is not tenure vs. renewable contracts, it's about tenure track with research and service vs. part-timers with no research and no say in how the institution is run and low pay and no benefits.

I don't really believe in tenure, I don't really believe that I deserve to reach a point where I am not accountable for my performance. If I were offered a renewable contract, one that included research and service,and higher pay to compensate for the reduced job security I'd accept it in a heartbeat, because I am confident in my professional abilities and performance on the job. However, that isn't what's on offer. What's on offer is either tenure or else adjunct. And I'll take tenure over adjunct any day.

Second, the reason that there are so many adjuncts out there is because of a combination of PhD over-production and the tenure lottery. A lot of people do adjunct work at some point because they need teaching experience for a tenure-track job. It's a bit less common in the sciences than it is in the humanities, of course (since they tend to have fewer postdocs or equivalent positions) but it does happen in the sciences. And a lot of people go to graduate school because they want a shot at the tenure-track job.

Now, take away the prize. How many people will slave away in grad school for a chance at a full-time professorship if full-time professorships have less security? How many people will accept low-paid adjunct positions to build their CV for a full-time position if the full-time positions have less security?

Take away the prize, and suddenly there are fewer aspirants willing to work for cheap on their way to the top.

Tenure won't be replaced by renewable full-time contracts because they'd either have to pay those contract faculty more, or else they'd scare away all of the people willing to work for cheap as teaching assistants and graduate research assistants and postdocs and adjuncts. Instead, they'll replace more and more tenure-track faculty with adjuncts, but keep just enough tenure-track positions so that there's still a prize to dangle in front of people earlier in the training path.

OK, maybe the most elite institutions will still have a lot of tenure-track faculty and limit their use of adjuncts, but the most elite places are, almost by definition, only a small fraction of academia.

inBetween said...

yep, those expensive intercollegiate athletics programs aren't a drain at all on the university checkbook. If we are going to get rid of those pesky and expensive professors, I say we stop having students too. Really, what a waste of time. If we didn't have to teach them, imagine how much money we'd save! and we wouldn't need professors! we could also close the libraries and use that space for something more cost efficient, like remote seating during rainy football games! and the dorms -- we could rent those out to people who come to town to watch the football games, rather than wasting that space on students. The possibilities are overwhelming!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the appropriate conclusion from prof taylor's work is that professors of religion are a waste of space and money. Professor of science, on the other hand, are superheros.

Matt said...

FSP++

Epiphron said...

The system isn't perfect but throwing it out would create more problems than it would help. Perhaps a reworking of tenure, where there are reviews once and again to see if the professor is doing what he/she is supposed to be doing...something of that nature, in addition to the other comments. This coming from a first year grad student with only a slight clue as to how tenure works.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Most of this fascinating insight and authoritative information comes from Professor Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and author of a book that will come out soon and break the news that tenure is bad.

The academic fucke-uppes who write these "tenure is teh suxx0rs" article/books are exactly the same as the women who write "feminism is teh suxxors" articles/books, or blacke dudes who become right-wingge republican fuckebagges. They do itte to drawwe attention to themselves be creating "controversy" so thatte they can selle more of their shitte article/books.

It's nothing butte a fuckeing scamm.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, if professors were really dedicated scholars, they would work for free, or pay for the privilege to work at universities.

Mark Taylor needs to go fuck himself. I'm sorry to get all physioproffian in your comments, but that's the same guy who wrote the incredibly irresponsible op-ed on graduate studies last year. I can't believe that Columbia made him chair.

FSP too said...

This makes me want to say the same thing I say to the people who rant about K-12 teachers: follow me around for a week. I dare you to keep up with me. I'm tenured full FSP and if you think I'm lazy, take advantage of the system and don't do anything, see for yourself.
Having said that, I am in the process of fleeing a sorry excuse for a university where tenure IS abused and at least 1/3 of the faculty show up three days a week, teach their class and go home.
I am 100% in agreement with Alex - he makes compelling arguments about the situation.
I am, in fact, in the process of deciding whether perhaps I want to propose a contract instead of tenure for my next job. One thing that came up in the discussions is the huge investment in equipment universities make for science, medical and engineering faculty. Do you really want to spent 1-2 million dollars in highly specialized equipment for someone who is only willing to sign a 5-year contract? We make that choice (on a slightly lower monetary scale) for untenured hires, but on the assumption that we've chosen wisely and they will stay for 15 years. It's a very different situation than the humanities where infrastructure issues are very different.

Anonymous said...

The $10 million post-tenure is obviously ridiculous, but the 35 years after tenure is pretty dubious as well. Maybe most people really do get their PhD at age 29 and receive tenure at age 35 and then work for another 35 years. But my limited experience is that the typical PhD students is older and that at least job change occurred (whether post-docs or other other tenure-track faculty jobs) before settling into that last tenure-track job.

Dave Backus said...

Someone could write a good piece on tenure, but the Slate article isn't it. Despite such an unpromising starting point, the comments are pretty good. Perhaps you should collect them and send to Beam.

superdinosaurboy said...

Obviously the criticisms of this rather superficial article are completely valid. And this post rightly points out that the tenure system is apt for discussion and improvement.

But it's also worth remembering that many other countries which do not have a tenure system do manage tolerably well without the devastating impacts on teaching, academic freedom and the academic rat race suggested here.

Anonymous said...

Alex said:

I don't really believe in tenure, I don't really believe that I deserve to reach a point where I am not accountable for my performance. If I were offered a renewable contract, one that included research and service,and higher pay to compensate for the reduced job security I'd accept it in a heartbeat, because I am confident in my professional abilities and performance on the job. However, that isn't what's on offer. What's on offer is either tenure or else adjunct. And I'll take tenure over adjunct any day.

Well I definitely agree that what Alex suggests isn't on offer, even if it was, I'm not sure I'd take it if the evaluation process was similar to what we have now for tenure. Sure, I'd take a job that said in 5 years you have to publish n papers and bring in x dollars in grants etc to get your contract renewed, I can decide at the outset if I can/want to produce at that level. But I wouldn't take a job that said every 5 years we're going to ask a bunch of people to write letters and then decide if we like you and your work enough to keep you. Once is enough on that option, thanks very much.

male humanist said...

I'm with Alex; very well said. Abolishing tenure wouldn't save a university money -- to hire us ("highly skilled laborers") would cost *more*, not less, because you'd have to give us something to compensate for the loss of security.

I also agree that it may be time to revise the concept of tenure (I think this would turn out well for me, personally, because when my discipline cleared out the deadwood some departments might come to my door in search of replacements, or at least drive up the price of my labor). But let's do it for good reasons, like Trower's, and consider her thoughtful suggestions.

bewilderedgradstudent said...

As a graduate student, I have to say I wish there was more motivation for tenured professors to be good mentors, outside of course, professional integrity and the goodness of their hearts. Obviously there are some fantastic faculty members who are able to balance all of the responsibilities of being top researchers and find time to be great mentors, but there are also those professors who either can't or won't bother about students unless that student promises to be the next Feynman.

On a related noted, do professors really expect that every single one of their graduate students will also want to become research professors at top institutions? I'm trying to find an advisor at the moment, and just about every professor I've spoken with has gone out of their way to tell me how difficult it will be to find a job in their particular subfield. I assume they mean it would be difficult to find a tenure track faculty position... When I suggested I wouldn't mind going another direction after grad school, either by switching fields for a post-doc or even doing something besides research, they seemed completely floored. Is being merely interested in a topic and wanting to learn more about it, while remaining realistic about what I might end up doing later on so terrible? Of course if I fall in love with the research and turn out a fantastic thesis, I will certainly pursue it; I just didn't realize that was a decision I would have to make before I even started a research project. Perhaps I should just stop being so honest about my future plans when I go and talk to a prospective advisor?

Anonymous said...

I agree with many of the points you make in your post. However, there are several problems with the tenure system that really do need to be addressed. While many faculty continue to work very hard after getting tenure, there are also many professors who abuse the system. And when a professor is basically dead weight, it's bad for everyone in his/her department. I would be in favor of doing away with tenure and the entire ridiculous adjunct/terminal postdoc setup, and replacing it with long-term contracts of 5-10 years duration, with an increase in pay/benefits to make up for the loss of job security. The review process for contract renewal would be simpler/easier than for tenure, because the university isn't taking on as much risk, and it would also give high performing faculty a formal way to negotiate for better pay, equipment, responsibilities, etc. every few years. Universities could then get rid of under-performing faculty to make way for new hires. I understand that everyone wants job security, but why, out of all professions, should being a university professor come with a lifetime guarantee?

Anonymous said...

I agree that most of the points made by Slate are ridiculous. But can you please comment on why it is you think university faculty need and/or deserve a lifetime job guarantee? Why makes them so different from other highly skilled workers?

Anonymous said...

I really want to know where that $10 million dollar estimate came from.. in engineering I don't know anyone making that level (I'm at a top-ranked public R1- all of our salaries are freely visible on the internet), and only a few that may come close to that in biology/chemistry (our big name departments). And they come close to the 35 year average only near the end of their career. Our salaries are from state budget/tuition, so his entire endowment argument is stupid (if I leave, that line opens up, yes - and maybe you can hire a more junior person but at a savings of ~20%, not 100% - plus their start-up which negates that savings). Endowed positions that do exist are often the result of individual donors who wanted to endow a position, not a slush fund. The whole article seems slanted towards humanities, so maybe they have some system I'm not aware of - however, I think most humanities salaries are lower than science/engineering.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So much in that piece is angering. If there is no job security, there is no loyalty to the university--and searches/start-up packages are expensive! Academics tend to be a little nomadic already (wandering across the country from undergrad, to grad school, to postdoc, to finally TT institution) so let's just continue to pack up every 3-5 years. Not everyone would have to do this for research, labs, and collaborations would decline rather rapidly.

What's to motivate more talented PhDs from going into industry if universities can't even offer job security?

If Beam wants to babble on about something then he should really focus on is waste at universities. Yes, that includes SOME tenured faculty, but there are many other things that waste far more money/research than tenure.

unlikelygrad said...

My oldest sister is one of those "drains on the system"--a tenured professor who is paid out of endowment funds. Except that, oops--the funds for her endowed professorship are specifically earmarked for hiring a tenured professor. Replacing her with a non-tenured professor wouldn't do much to help the university's budget crisis.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I've been in academia as a college student and professor for almost 40 years, and I can't really say I've met many instances of the "deadwood" professor. Almost all the professors I've met work pretty hard, some at research, some at teaching, and some at administration. I've met a few people who I think were failures as professors, but it wasn't for lack of effort or age (most of them were fairly young and ended up drifting off to industry, where lack of ability to explain things and inability to manage their own time was less of a handicap---they had bosses to tell them what to do).

Alex said...

I understand that everyone wants job security, but why, out of all professions, should being a university professor come with a lifetime guarantee?

Some will say academic freedom, but I have a hunch that there must be some way to protect it without absolute iron-clad 100% lifetime security. So I don't really believe that professors, as individuals, "should" have tenure.

However, the system as it has evolved is a tournament with desperate trainees scrambling for too few tenure-track positions. So while professors as individuals don't really deserve tenure, the system as a whole needs some lucky winners to keep the tournament going. It's no different from professional sports, with lots of college athletes willing to skimp on their studies to play sports and take their shot at the big time. The odds are that they'd be better off studying, but they have that shot and they want to take it. If there were no big salaries in the NBA or NFL, there would still be student athletes playing for love of the sport, but most of them wouldn't play to the point where their studies suffer.

It isn't quite as bad in STEM fields, because we have industrial alternatives, but what is a Ph.D. in history or literary criticism going to do outside academia? Yeah, there are a certain number of think tank and consulting and government jobs and whatnot, but there's also a vast army of humanities adjuncts out there for a reason, an army that dwarfs the adjunct cohort in the sciences.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Well, I *have* had a few students attempt to send their "meals" back to the "kitchen".....


...and then I come out and yell at them, Gordon Ramsey style.


(kidding. But not about the sending back of the meals.)

prodigal academic said...

Tenure is no more job security than many jobs currently have: unionized employees and government employees have the same sort of built-in security, and employees of large bureaucracies are pretty hard to fire as well. No one is immune from layoffs (even tenured profs--departments can be eliminated too).

@superdinosaurboy
In countries without tenure, the salaries reflect the going rate of academic work without tenure. I don't think that eliminating tenure in the US would "cause devastating impacts on teaching, academic freedom and the academic rat race". I just think hiring would get more expensive for universities.

I took at 15% pay cut to move from National Lab (where I had pretty good non-tenure job security) to academia. Without the possibility tenure (a benefit), I would have required more salary to make the move.

Prof Jr. said...

Ok, we all agree that the $10 mil figure is ridiculousness. One more reason why: Most professors at my university pay ~70% of their salary from their own grants by the time they make tenure. It's not like the university pays for research supplies, either; on the contrary, some % of our grant money is even given to the university for operating costs. This guy clearly has no idea how academia works.

MathProf said...

For those who are complaining about "dead wood": call me cynical, but I feel that if tenure is abolished, the "stars" will be the first to get the ax.

"Stars" are more likely to have their own opinions, argue with administration, and generally "rock the boat". The "dead wood" faculty are usually more conforming, they will have time and inclination to schmoose with the decision makers.

Of course, "superstars" like, Nobel Prize winners will be pretty secure, but for regular "stars" (the most active/productive members of the department) chance to get the ax will be high.

Finally, I've been a tenured professor more than 10 years, but I never thought that "tenured = unaccountable" Every year we submit the updated vita and the list of achievements for the year to get the raises. If I stopped active research after getting the tenure, my salary would be less than half of what I make today (not even counting summer pay from grants)

Anonymous said...

Without tenure, wouldn't politicians be able to pack the faculty of state universities with campaign donors and supporters? What would stop them?

If Joe Biden went to the University of Delaware and said "you're going to replace the faculty of your entire Dept of Education with the following people or else you lose your state funding", what would they do?

Anonymous said...

I don't agree the $10 million is ridiculous. If I take my starting salary plus a rough estimate of the value of my benefits and project a 4% cost-of-living raise each year for 30 years, the total comes close to $10 million. When you consider that the university could've taken that and put it in an interest-bearing annuity instead, it easily passes $10 million. (I realize it's already making some interest for them, but it could be making more.)

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that this article was written by a columbia professor but did not mention one of his own colleagues, astrophysicist David J. Helfand, who famously turned down tenure over two decades ago. I have not read all the comments in the thread or the slate article (just skimmed it) because I am on vacation and would rather look at the ocean. But I think it is interesting that this guy didn't reference one of the most famous instances of tenure rejection at his very own institution.

GMP said...

I second MathProf's comment

I never thought that "tenured = unaccountable" Every year we submit the updated vita and the list of achievements for the year to get the raises.

The people whom you want to tenure are those who will not slow down after getting tenure. We too have annual review and evaluation, based on which salary increases are calculated. You do poorly, you don't get a raise. Also, every tenured faculty has a very big review every 5 years. So there is quality control in place. We have people retiring who still have federal funding, which means they pulled in the dough and advised students actively for good 30+ years. I don't know who are these deadwood faculty of which some speak?

Maggie said...

Yeah, the minute tenure's abolished is the same minute I quit academia. Also,
"I honestly don't know what a lot of academics do a lot of the time," says Taylor.

WHAT??? You are the CHAIR of your department! What do YOU do all day that you don't know this? My mind is so boggled right now.

Bewilderedgradstudent, why on earth did you apply to grad school if you're not passionate about research? I am so, so confused.

Anonymous said...

I agree that tenure should be abolished. A system based on tenure (where after 6 or 7 years you either win total job security for life or get fired) means that there are too few sustainable academic job positions available (not counting postdocs - note I said "sustainable" positions), which means there's too much at stake for anything a junior academic does or doesn't do, and therefore the contortions and politics and B.S. that junior academics need to partake in to even stay in academia increases. Achieving tenure - doing the 'right' things, being associated with the 'right' crowd and obtaining recognition from the 'right' sources - becomes the goal in and of itself, not the actual contribution to knowledge that should be the focus of an academic's work. Once tenure is achieved, the tenured professor is now all-powerful and can do whatever he/she wants to build their little empire including exploiting postdocs and students because they can't be fired.

Anonymous said...

It is really simple: when education is the "product" serving the students who are "customers", why would the administration care about professors who are merely "employees"?

ali0482 said...

Take away the prize, and suddenly there are fewer aspirants willing to work for cheap on their way to the top.

Anonymous said...

Tenured professors do not have complete job security. There are still some things they can't do. It is just an increase in job security. One should also keep in mind that there are other professions with something like tenure. Roman Catholic Church clergy have this. On another blog I read that law firms with partner systems, K-12 teachers, architecture firms with partner systems, some private medical practices, and American civil servants have a tenure system.

Fernando Pereira said...

I have worked in industry and as a tenured professor in academia. It's easy to criticize tenure as obsolete, inefficient, and rigidifying, in contrast with the labor mobility and dynamism of industry, but the facts are much more nuanced than that. Unless a company self-destructs, its R&D division can accumulate politically effective but relatively unproductive members as well as a badly-run academic department accumulates deadwood. Conversely, a well-managed academic department can avoid the alleged negatives of tenure by maintaining a strong culture of productivity and quality. The questions I would ask those who want to abolish tenure are: 1) what urgent problem are you really trying to solve; 2) are there deeper causes for the problem than tenure; 3) how would you feel about tenure if you had done everything right in teaching and research, but your particular specialty had become unfashionable to cost-conscious, trend-chasing administrators?

bewilderedgradstudent said...

@Maggie, I thought I was passionate about research and interested in science when I applied to graduate school. Since then I have discovered being passionate about research means being expected to work in lab 80 hours a week, to collaborate with a mentally unstable, verbally abusive lab partner, and to basically be told I am stupid and lazy to my face by my (now ex) advisor... so I guess it turns out I'm not as passionate about research as I first thought.

Since I am not willing to put up with these things and I actually want to be able to have some semblance of a life while studying for a Ph.D., I am evidently not research professor-material. Still, I would like to finish my program so I can have the credentials to apply for other jobs. I am just finding that potential advisors are not at all friendly to the idea of taking a student who is willing to work hard but doesn't want to spend every waking moment slaving away on their thesis for the unlikely possibility of one day getting tenure at a research institution. Well, in any case, excuse my bitterness.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when a female gets tenure, then decides to start a family and their production in teaching, research and advising goes down.

GMP said...

@Anon at 7:19 PM

I hate it when a female gets tenure, then decides to start a family and their production in teaching, research and advising goes down.

I most certainly do not know of a single tenured female who turned into permanent deadwood due to childbearing. If research productivity suffers at all, it's for no more than a few months. Most of the time, since tenured academic women have established research programs that run uninterrupted during their absence, you would not even see a glitch in the womens' research records due to childbearing.

As for being absent from teaching and advising, many women take no time off. Those who do, work extra beforehand or after they come back, or arrange for colleague coverage which they return later.

I hate comments such as Anon's, because they basically state that academia -- a 30+ year committment for academics -- should never make any accommodation for anyone’s life challenges. God forbid any academic, male or female, should be allowed to temporarily slow down for a birth, death, or illness in the family.

Anonymous said...

@GMP: I know a lot of deadwood profs that decided to start a family after tenure and slowly their research faded. It starts by not writing as many grants, not taking in as many students and spending less time in the office. It is a drug, the less work you do, the less you want to do. As I said before a lot of females (and males too) use the 'family' card to justify this lack of production.

I actually don't care about profs that lose motivation or production, but I don't like the excuses usually given. Tenure is the American dream.

Anonymous said...

I think the deadwood problem mostly applies to tenured faculty who stop contributing to teaching and administrative activities.

A reasonable reform might be to explicitly tie getting a "hard money" salary to teaching and administrative activities, even after tenure, such that professors who don't continue their institutional responsibilities at least aren't a drain on finances. That way, tenure prevents firing for your controversial research or run-ins with the administrators, but you can't get paid from the pool of money explicitly meant for teaching and service to augment your research dollars or otherwise act as deadweight (book writing, etc.).

Anonymous said...

I don't agree the $10 million is ridiculous.

I did the math and it is totally ridiculous. On current dollars, assuming reinvested endowment funds (which is a dubious assumption already) it comes to $6.5 million.

Anonymous said...

Basically this article and many of the comments boil down to lack of respect and understanding of the job that professors do. I can only speak regarding STEM fields (as a full FSP); but, what I can say is that the 'deadwood' is rare in my experience at several private and public universities AND if a department has more than one professor designated as deadwood, then there is a problem with the institutional and/or departmental leadership. At my current institution, ALL faculty at all levels are evaluated yearly. There are teeth to this evaluation: faculty with lower grant money, for example, are given assistance initially in order to facilitate additional grant writing but after 2 yrs begin expanded teaching and service loads (in addition to loss of salary due to having no outside funding). Similarly, faculty who get bad teaching evaluations are counseled, evaluated and assisted in improvement by a central teaching resource facility and, if performance does not improve, then they are out (I have seen this happen to one full, well-known professor in my time at my current institution). Overall my colleagues care deeply about the research and education mission of our department and this evaluation process helps us all continue to strive for improvement.

Girlpostdoc said...

@Anon 9:40 "What's to motivate more talented PhDs from going into industry if universities can't even offer job security?"

Too late it's already happening. I know so many smart and talented PhDs who think the system is broken. Many have decided that industry is the only option.

Even small teaching schools, which once were seen as a viable alternative, are no longer attractive. This is because they state upfront to t-t applicants that you will have to teach 3-3 and get external funding. Are they kidding - compete with R01 institutions but have a higher teaching load and no support?

T-T positions are less and less available and less and less attractive.

Alex is right. Once the carrot (tenure) goes, there will be no more horses.

Anonymous said...

You do poorly, you don't get a raise.

Big deal. In most other jobs, you do poorly you lose your job. And just because you've done well for 7 years doesn't mean you're safe thereafter.

GMP said...

I am curious: what is the occupation of Anon 8/16/2010 04:07AM (who may be the same as Anon 8/14/2010 07:19 PM and 8/14/2010 10:26 PM)?

Anonymous said...

Public grade schools would definitely benefit in the bottom line and be more cost-effective if they got rid of those extremely expensive experienced teachers. They have to pay them so much more than a college grad just out of school, sucking the system dry.

Of course, it would be even cheaper if we'd just eat the children filling up our schools and costing us so much money--and Daniel Defoe would be vindicated.

Mark P

Doctor Pion said...

I saw this a bit late (via Academic Jungle), so my apologies if someone else made this point.

I don't think you hit the initial paragraphs of the article hard enough. The analogy is not that "The only catch is that all cooks or waiters would have to start out as dishwashers or busboys, for at least 10 years, when none of these protections would apply." That is preposterous, and slanderous. Might as well say that all journalists at Slate start out carrying buckets of bits to pour into the Internet tubes.

It also pretends that tenure is automatic. One thing I would add to your list is whether any of us work at a university where a Dean is not involved in the decision to hire us or grant tenure.

The proper analogy would be where the chefs work for a decade, perhaps long hours that others don't want, at which point their boss decides whether to keep them around as long as possible or change the restaurant's emphasis to a new cuisine.

Some of the data are also suspect. Many of the full-time faculty without tenure are on soft money. Similarly, it is bogus to treat a career's worth of income as pure expense without (a) breaking out the part that was untenured and (b) accounting for the external funds brought in by that person.

Finally, it is an outright lie to pretend that professors set their own salaries or are responsible for publish or perish. I'll grant ignorance as an excuse (that statement about endowments paying professor's salaries at State U shows ignorance on the scale of Krakatoa), but I didn't see a disclaimer at the top that the author has no idea what he is talking about. Salaries and requirements for tenure are set by the college, as are teaching loads. There was no publish or perish in the tenure decision at my college.

Gingerale said...

@bewilderedgradstudent, well, yes, you do sound bitter. Possibly a forum of other graduate students would be more ready to commiserate.

My 2 cents: Think of your advisor like a boss. What's your job? Of course, it is to make your boss look good to your boss' boss.

So it comes down to whether your advisor sees time training you as a good investment for his/her own career or not. Just like any boss.

Anonymous said...

About cost of hiring faculty -- as a tenured prof I try to remember the last time we hired a freshly minted assistant prof for less money than I make. The answer to that is NEVER. Salary compression is rampant. From where I sit it looks like academic institutions, not the faculty, who exploit tenure.

I won't say there are NO faculty who exploit tenure. Maybe 5%. But I've worked a lot of places and I've seen similar %s of problem employees elsewhere.

ali0482 said...

Now, take away the prize. How many people will slave away in grad school for a chance at a full-time professorship if full-time professorships have less security? How many people will accept low-paid adjunct positions to build their CV for a full-time position if the full-time positions have less security?

ali0482 said...

I don't really believe in tenure, I don't really believe that I deserve to reach a point where I am not accountable for my performance. If I were offered a renewable contract, one that included research and service,and higher pay to compensate for the reduced job security I'd accept it in a heartbeat, because I am confident in my professional abilities and performance on the job.