March
19th 2008
Tenure: what is it good for? (Absolutely nothing?)

Posted under: Gender, Intersectionality, jobs, race, unhappy endings, women's history

Well, it’s Spring Break, and the letters will soon rain down from Provost Offices everywhere on assistant professors in their sixth year of employment.  The lucky duckies who get the news that they’re tenured and promoted. . . are permitted to do the same job next year, in perpetuity, and to change their rank to “Associate Professor” on their CVs as of July 1.  The unlucky duckies get heaping doses of shame and humiliation to shovel out of their mental Augean Stables for the rest of their lives.

Inspired by this post at Slaves of Academe, about the apparently outrageous decision to deny Andrea Smith tenure at the University of Michigan, Tenured Radical brilliantly sums up a lot of the rage and frustration that many of us feel about the system we’ve created for ourselves.  The Andrea Smith case is especially vexing for us Women’s Studies types, because she is a Native American scholar and activist with a dual appointment in two departments whose tenure case was approved by American Culture but denied by Women’s Studies.  (With friends like that. . . who needs History departments?)  The Radical One makes the point that unions might serve us better in protecting our right to free speech and the pursuit of scholarship, and several commenters agree.  (By the way, don’t miss the Radical One’s This American Life-worthy story about a short but disturbing conversation with a random dog-walker in New York City.  You’ll never look at dog butt-sniffing the same way again!)  Marc Bousquet has made the point at How the University Works that tenure really isn’t that great of a prize–people in unions get better job protection and benefits than tenured people, without being put through the humiliations that the tenure process dishes out with impunity.  As he puts it, “today’s tenured faculty-and their unions-still have a lot to learn from the people who carry their trash, organize their files, teach their children, and put out their fires.”

One of the things about tenure is that most of us are in denial about its costs, even (or especially?) those of us who are casualties of destructive work environments and/or bruising tenure battles.  It seems like every woman faculty member I know has been brutalized by the system at some point–if not as a junior faculty member, at the point of tenure and promotion to Associate; if not at that point, then they get it when they go up for their next promotion to Professor.  Both institutions that I’ve been affiliated with as a regular faculty member have suddenly and arbitrarily invented higher tenure standards when a generation of women Assistant Professors came up for tenure and promotion.  Example:  In my former department, there were men promoted to Associate Professor before they were tenured (and then tenured easily as a matter of course), but just a few years later when a handful of women came up for tenure, they were offered the pink-collar designation of tenured Assistant Professor.  Nice, huh?

And yet, we don’t talk about this.  Although feminist intellectuals who have sophisticated understandings about how power works, we still feel shame about our own experiences.  We still see them–to one degree or another–as personal failures, rather than the fault of the system and of the people who interpret and enforce the system’s rules.  We don’t want to discourage our graduate students or new junior colleages.  After all, who among them wants to hear that “the evil claw of patriarchy will get you too, my pretty!”  It’s easier for all of us to assume that the roughed-up or ultimately untenured must have done something to deserve it, because we don’t want to believe that it could happen to us.  We’re good girls, we did everything right, we went to conferences and had publications on our CVs when we were graduate students.  We’ve won national fellowships.  We’re protected.  We’re bulletproof. 

Maybe we should all get T-shirts, like the “I had an abortion” T-shirts, that read, “I was denied tenure,” or “I had to go up for tenure twice,” or “I was told that I ‘intimidate’ senior faculty members,” or “I sued my department,” or, “I was told to shut up and take it.”  That’s frequently the advice that junior faculty get, especially from senior faculty who took it, and “won” the glorious prize of tenure. 

Tenure is also on Historiann’s mind because there is apparently a new Hollywood movie in the works called Tenure, starring Luke Wilson, with David Koechner as his goofball Anthropologist sidekick.  It will be filmed at Bryn Mawr College (so cleverly renamed in the movie “Grey College.”)  Here comes the icky part:  the plot is that the character played by Wilson comes up for tenure “and fac[es] off against a female rival who recently arrived” to teach at the same institution.  Other media reports suggest that Wilson’s character “competes for tenure with an impressive new female colleague.”  Ugh.  Just perfect:  the tenure drama reduced to a boys-versus-the-girl paranoid masculine fantasy, made all the more disgusting by the fact that Bryn Mawr is a women’s college that hasn’t been terribly progressive in hiring women faculty members in the past twenty years.  Maybe Tenure will be a clever comedy, and maybe it will surprise me–but so far, the plot sounds backlashy, or at best a weak “cute meet” setup.  For those of us who have been sounding the alarms about the re-masculinization of academia, this movie will be one to watch (like a trainwreck?)  Then again, maybe it will just be the faculty version of Old School, which also featured Wilson:  stupid, but kinda funny.

I’ve been wondering if the generation of us women faculty who were hired between 1992-2002 will witness the further re-masculinization of our departments over the course of our careers.  Like the generations of women faculty who dominated women’s colleges from the 1920s through the 1950s, we could find ourselves patronized and edged out by younger men who will then run our institutions for the next forty years (at least.)  There was a story I heard while still a Bryn Mawr undergraduate about one of the last of the grandes dames from that generation of scholars.  The faculty vote to tenure one of the first young men hired in the 1950s wasn’t going his way; the grande dame acknowledged that he wasn’t much of a scholar, but urged her colleagues to tenure him nevertheless so that they wouldn’t look like they were prejudiced against men.  That was a pretty funny punchline back in the 1980s when I was an undergrad–twenty years later as a faculty member, the best I can offer a rueful grimace.

29 Comments »

29 Responses to “Tenure: what is it good for? (Absolutely nothing?)”

  1. Susan on 19 Mar 2008 at 8:58 am #

    I’ll happily wear the tee shirt of “I was denied tenure, sued the department and lost”.
    My own practice has been to be quite open about my experience — which from the perspective of 20 years, was just lunatic. But we can still get caught in the “what ifs” of it all. If only I’d done X, or Y….

    My favorite story about gender and tenure came from a sociologist friend who taught at a small women’s college. She did some research on the college history. In the 1960s, apparently, the college decided that they had to show that they were raising the quality of the faculty. So they hired men. Then tenured them — some even when they never finished the Ph.D. But they were men.

    And oh, does Hollywood have to present tenure as a zero-sum game?

  2. Historiann on 19 Mar 2008 at 9:02 am #

    Ugh. And I was hoping the comments thread was going to cheer me up. What was I thinking!

    As for zero-sum: well, that makes it much more dramatic, and it personalizes the conflict. Real tenure cases, which are about books, articles, review letters, etc., aren’t really dramatic in the same way as giving the Wilson character a direct rival, and telling him “only one of you can be tenured.” Tenure really isn’t that exciting to watch someone else go through, unless you think watching someone else get into a car accident is entertaining.

  3. GayProf on 19 Mar 2008 at 1:46 pm #

    Huh — I thought a movie entitled “Tenure” would simply involve two hours of watching somebody type.

    Of course, what is disturbing about the Mich case is that the Women’s Studies department already had a reputation of being hostile to women of color. Some of the faculty have now blamed women of color for “causing a fuss” about the Smith case. What the hell?

  4. Historiann on 19 Mar 2008 at 1:59 pm #

    GayProf, I think a movie about tenure would more realistically unfold in a therapist’s office, and then move to flashbacks…

    Smith’s case is unusual in that anyone’s making a fuss over her–most tenure victims get shoved down the memory hole so that no one has to reflect too long or take responsibility (beyond a narrative that the people responsible get to craft to suit their own tastes). I’m sure this “fuss” is a testament to her extraordinary reach as a teacher, mentor, and scholar–already unusual in senior faculty, and almost unheard-of among Assistant Profs.

  5. Indyanna on 19 Mar 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    Um, while I sympathize with most if not all of the perspectives in this thread so far, coming from an institution with both a union and tenure, I’d be very leery about assuming the former will accomplish the tasks associated with the *academic* aspects of academic employment (free speech and the pursuit of scholarship) better than the latter will. Unions composed of white collared profs can get remarkably (and romantically) mapped onto the “solidarity forever” rhetorics of the function, and attentive to lunch bucket considerations (c.f.payment for “windshield time,” the time spent driving to branch campuses, or to union meetings) while being quite literally clueless about access to archives or the free play of controversial ideas. They can also contrive to find great opportunities in the potential co-managability of classroom technology startups and other things that don’t tend to predict or to correlate with time to think and write. There’s a whole history, right, of managers and union managers developing shared mentalites, lubricated by various perks and patronages? Trying to keep “rate-busters” from running up the pubs or presentations stats is one of the manifestations of this phenomenon that we’ve seen around here.

    Unions can suck much of the traditional *oppositional* role or function of faculties–operating as separate estates with an ethical stake in the academy–into a world of using practice concessions to win material rewards. Theoretically the two roles (unions as “bargaining units” and faculties as estates, operating through mechanisms like senates) can and should be able to work mutually and harmoniously. But I wonder what the scorecard looks over time and space?

    Where I am, tenure and promotion decisions are made by the corporate body, of course, based on the president’s recommendations. The latter are in turn a series of presidential choices from ranked lists produced by faculty committees elected under union supervision. Technically, they are not union committees, but operationally they effectively are. People who choose not to affiliate with the union–for reasons both bad and good–but who pay “fair share” representation fees, will never appear on these committees, but they are subject to their jurisdiction. The union claims that the president can recommend as many or as few people on the lists as s/he likes, but can’t skip over any in the ranked order. Management demurs on the latter point, but has never in fact challenged it in practice. There is a well-regarded folklore (supported by substantial if anecdotal hard evidence in my department) that “stars” are deliberately seeded way down on the list as a way of daring the managers to try to weed out higher ranked but less qualified applicants who the committee wants to shepherd through to presidential recommendation. No outside letters are solicited, no nothing.

    In my early years here, the three-year chair of the U-wide tenure committee even announced that the committee would not consider for tenure purposes any work that represented the revision for publication of research originally presented in a Ph.D dissertation! It seems that in his discipline, (some science) such doctoral training research was considered proprietary to the advisor’s “database” (the term of art used by the scientists) and that tenure was only appropriate based on work done subsequent to the completion of that apprenticeship. There was a revolt and fortunately this guy hasn’t been seen or heard from since, but the example I think suggests some of the hidden traps that can emerge from trying to mix a collective bargaining model with one based on rational analysis of scholarly merits.

    None of this is to gainsay Historiann’s insightful observations on the larger question(s), especially the gender and generational dimensions of this issue. Or to deny that unions can be an unqualified benefit in upholding standards of living dimensions of what is, in the end, unquestionably a matter of employment. But based on what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t trade tenure for the union’s protection, on the academic side of the system. I wouldn’t even wanted to get started on the gender-related attrocities we’ve seen, and not a peep from the Rep. Council. Ugh.

  6. ortho stice on 19 Mar 2008 at 5:00 pm #

    Ugh, Historian. This is a depressing post. Both you and TR can be major kill joys sometimes.

    My department seems to help its younger members prepare for tenure. We were all devastated when the administration kiboshed one of our tenure candidates last year. The candidate appeared to have landed on her feet and is now on a tenure-track line at another institution.

    I have read about so many questionable tenure decisions this season. I hope you and other tenured folks start to do something about it — or at least work to purge the reactionaries from your departments.

    Have a happy spring break! What are your plans? Are you heading to Cancun?

  7. James on 19 Mar 2008 at 5:30 pm #

    I’m not tenured, nor even tenure track. No, I’m one of the many adjuncts that are replacing those tenure track faculty that are paid a living wage, offered benefits (insurance and retirement), and get research support. I get none of these, but nor am I forced to endure endless committee assignments and extensive annual reviews.

    Nevertheless, I had plenty of opportunity to observe the processes that afflict gender studies when I taught in an ethnic studies department through graduate school and five years beyond. Indeed, for two years, I (a white guy) was the only full time faculty member in my department. But, though I was alleged to be the highest paid adjunct in the college, I was paid $10,000 less than the most junior assistant professor in the department.

    All the tenure track faculty held joint appointments in ethnic studies and at least one other department. One professor during my time there held appointments in ethnic studies, education, and foreign languages–he never had a chance at tenure. As they were nearly all “faculty of color,” you can also imagine how many committee meetings they sat through compared to their peers in the history, English, political science, and communications departments.

    Make no mistake about it. Faculty in non-traditional subjects like Gender and Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, and the like are held to higher standards, not lower.

  8. Rad readr on 19 Mar 2008 at 8:05 pm #

    Tenure is a labor control and social control process. In the immediate sense, it controls labor by asking faculty to account for what they have done with their time the past several years. (It’s better than a time clock, don’t you think?) In the larger career sense, it functions as labor control by locking people into jobs at institutions in different parts of the country. I know plenty of brilliant people tenured in places they don’t want to live. They haven’t kept up their publications and they cannot move. And in some cases, people who do keep publishing are still stuck in places they might not want to live. In other words, it stifles mobility.

    As social control it allows the community (department) to monitor and patrol new members. Even in depts where the faculty would never vote against somene on a tenure case as retribution there is a kind of disciplining process. The hierarchy allows senior faculty to patrol the environment.

    Having said all that, and here we get back to the time clock — would you rather have to account for you hours? e.g. the boss in the office next to you making sure you arrive by 8:30 a.m. and don’t take a long lunch hour. Is Marc Bousquet romanticizing hourly workers?

    Tenure has its problems, but I always figured that there was a trade off — the so-called humilitations for control of my own time. I know that people are “brutalized” sometimes and that Michigan case sounds bad, so I don’t want to downplay abuses. But I’m still skeptical about faculty talking about tenure oppression. Now, salaries… that might have some traction.

    Re: Michigan, I suppose that’s one way that a university in the Midwest can make itself seem more attractive than it really is. Perhaps someone should come up with a list of faculty of color who have recently turned down jobs or left Michigan.

  9. The Constructivist on 19 Mar 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    You raise good issues here; hope you join in on the conversation Craig Smith and I have been having on the wisdom of rethinking and expanding tenure (on behalf of contingent faculty). Here’s my second attempt to get Tenured Radical to join in.

  10. Knitting Clio on 20 Mar 2008 at 5:10 am #

    I asked this question at Tenured Radical’s site and I’ll ask it again here — how is abolishing tenure going to solve anything? Look what happened at Bennington College in the mid-1990s, where the Board of Trustees decided to replace tenure with “an experimental contract system.” This resulted in 27 faculty members or one-third of the full-time faculty, losing their jobs. Please tell me how this is an improvement. Ditto for those like my sister, who has been slaving away on a year to year contract at a state university with no guarantee of future employment. She just landed a tenure-track job. She’s elated and so am I, since now she has a chance that eventually she will have some job security.

    Academic freedom is under attack in this country — I’m sure many administrators would love to roll back the clock so they can fire faculty at will, especially those who express unpopular ideas. You and Tenured Radical seem to be giving them ammunition — unless of course these are just “modest proposals” a la Jonathon Swift?

  11. Historiann on 20 Mar 2008 at 7:42 am #

    Thanks for all of your comments–and James, it’s good to hear from you again. You’ve got the plight of those with joint appointments pegged–and they’re burdens that fall disproportionately on faculty of color. (Departments should take it upon themselves to diversify their faculties, and not piggyback on Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies departments/programs!)

    Indyanna raises good questions about unions and suggests that alone they’re not enough to serve instead of tenure. I like your “thick description” of how they become their own power centers with their own agendas–much like departmental and college T and P committees…

    I work at a large public university that’s not unionized, and in a state that’s not right-to-work but darned hostile to unions, so I’m probably guilty of romanticizing what unions might accomplish. KC, I’m not quite Swiftian in my “proposal” to end tenure–and I certainly wouldn’t give it up without some other mechanism for ensuring faculty freedom of speech and the liberty to pursue our own intellectual work, wherever that takes us. (In the comments I left over at TR’s place, I talk about how the war ca. 2003 and political events in my state have made it clear that we still need to have our liberties and jobs guaranteed.) I just wanted to continue the dialogue that TR and Oso at Slaves of Academe started, which is an acknowledgement of the price of tenure, especially as I see it used to haze women faculty in particular, and how I see it being used to re-masculinize the profession after modest gains for women in the 1990s and early 2000s.

    My hope when I became a faculty member 11 years ago was that in 2008, we’d be reaping the benefits of having more women and more non-white faculty tenured, and that the presence of more women and faculty of color on T and P committees and in higher ed administration would make the tenure process easier and more humane for the tenure candidates coming up behind us. But, that’s not where we are, and I’m wondering if we’re ever going to get there with our current system.

    Rad points out that the harms of tenure are just the price we have to pay for the benefits of owning our own time. Maybe accounting for our time–like billable hours that attorneys file–would be a good idea and would help make our work more visible. I think if many of us punched a clock whenever we were working on teaching, service, and research, we’d probably end up with a solid 50 or 55-hour work week, at least, perhaps more in those frantic two years before tenure review. Owning our own time and having a flexible schedule also conceals a great deal of the work we do–especially since most or all of us do a great deal of our work away from an office. (At least those of us who aren’t administrators–but I have a feeling that you’re in the office 40 hours a week AND doing the work from home too.)

    I like Rad’s analysis of tenure as “patrol”–it seems appropriately police-stateish and creepy!

    In the end, I will agree with Rad and KC that I’m making a privileged argument from a privileged position, and I don’t want to sound like “poor tenured me, I’m so put upon.” Because sadly, the majority of faculty in this country will never have the opportunity to be abused by tenure (or rewarded with it, or both) because the majority of faculty are now contingent faculty, not tenure-track. Giving up tenure in the present climate would just be a means for turning us all into contingent laborers, as KC suggests. But, perhaps acknowledging the ways in which tenure is used to abuse, control, and limit faculty is a start at thinking creatively about what faculty unions could accomplish while preserving the protections that tenure offers.

    As usual, I’m just impatient with the pace of historical change. As a historian I know that change is never unidirectional or linear, like a calculus curve of DY/DX = change over time. But as a person trapped in history I’m disturbed that universities aren’t changing fast enough in the ways I want them to change. In fact, they’re changing very fast in ways that seem to undermine the progress I’d like to see.

  12. Knitting Clio on 20 Mar 2008 at 8:10 am #

    You raise some interesting points, but having to punch a clock (which I’ve done in numerous low-wage jobs prior to graduate school), is even more soul-destroying than going through the tenure process. I’ve even refused to learn how to use Outlook’s calendar and scheduling functions because I don’t want management monitoring my time.

    Perhaps some of the mystery of the tenure process will be removed for you if you serve on the P&T committee. I did this year and it was one of the most rewarding, albeit time-consuming, experiences of my professional career. At my university the process is much more humane than I imagine it is at an R1 or SLAC.

  13. Historiann on 20 Mar 2008 at 8:18 am #

    My problem is not that I find the tenure process mysterious, it’s that I find it odious! I’ve been on my department’s T and P committee since 2004 (when I was tenured), and I’ve also served a term on the College’s T and P review committee, so I’m fully aware of how it all works. My experience is the basis of my critique.

  14. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Ruminations on Tenure on 20 Mar 2008 at 8:35 am #

    [...] By the brilliant Historiann, here. She writes in part: … Although feminist intellectuals who have sophisticated understandings about how power works, we still feel shame about our own experiences.  We still see them–to one degree or another–as personal failures, rather than the fault of the system and of the people who interpret and enforce the system’s rules.  We don’t want to discourage our graduate students or new junior colleagues.  After all, who among them wants to hear that “the evil claw of patriarchy will get you too, my pretty!”  It’s easier for all of us to assume that the roughed-up or ultimately untenured must have done something to deserve it, because we don’t want to believe that it could happen to us.  We’re good girls, we did everything right, we went to conferences and had publications on our CVs when we were graduate students.  We’ve won national fellowships.  We’re protected.  We’re bulletproof. [...]

  15. Professor Zero on 21 Mar 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    Maybe we should all get T-shirts, like the “I had an abortion” T-shirts, that read, “I was denied tenure,” or “I had to go up for tenure twice,” or “I was told that I ‘intimidate’ senior faculty members,” or “I sued my department,” or, “I was told to shut up and take it.” That’s frequently the advice that junior faculty get, especially from senior faculty who took it, and “won” the glorious prize of tenure.

    I was denied tenure. I had to go up for tenure twice. I am still constantly told I intimidate men. I am still constantly told to shut up and take it. I say it’s not the tenure system, it’s the misogyny.

  16. Professor Zero on 21 Mar 2008 at 10:54 pm #

    Although rad readr is right: the tenure system is a form of social control. But at my institution they *do* also make you account for your hours, although not by punching a clock. Apparently this is the wave of the future.

  17. Historiann on 22 Mar 2008 at 9:54 am #

    Prof. Zero–thanks for visiting and commenting. I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences, and that you could sign on for most of the slogans of those imaginary T-shirts. Yes, it’s the misogyny, but if the misogynists (and their enablers) didn’t have the power either to deny or grant tenure, then they’d lose a major lever of power. If we had unions that would protect collective faculty interests (liberty of speech, intellectual freedom) as well as stand up for individuals against unlawful or arbitrary termination, then we might have the benefits of tenure without the hazing rituals.

    In my experience, so many people are so damaged by the tenure review process that they’re not necessarily effective in reforming the system from within. Either they suffer from low self-esteem, and so won’t intervene on behalf of other tenure candidates, or they’ve bought into the system of abuse and so perpetuate it. Maybe the system will be reformed, if enough women and men of goodwill and generosity of spirit can survive tenure and go on to change it for others, but so far, I don’t see that happening.

  18. Indyanna on 22 Mar 2008 at 4:07 pm #

    On Prof. Zero’s point about accounting for hours: In our state, we have to fill out once-semesterly “Sn—r Reports” (named after some state legislator), breaking a typical week’s work down into about a half-dozen standard issue categories of academic functioning by the hours invested. The data are then (supposedly) separated from individual names and aggregated into matrixes reported to the state system. We just make them up. Not out of any desire to cheat or exaggerate, but because how many ways can you divide “every waking hour” by? I’m sure that we all actually underestimate, so maybe we *should* have big firm litigation associates’ six-minute interval clickers, as Historiann suggests.

    On the “patrolling” function described by Rad Readr. All too true, even after you have tenure. I just went through my first “five year post-tenure review.” No problems, except for some reported back-channel sniping from a few colleagues, some junior to me and far less active on the scholarly front, about too little “departmental service.” I was like, dude/(ette)s, giving papers on four continents and sitting on multiple advisory councils and editorial boards, publishing regularly, etc., IS “departmental service.” It offers camouflage, and allows our T/P Review committees to describe *you* to the institution as having “growing international reputation(s)” when you haven’t published so much as a book review in fifteen years. So patrolling does happen. Re unions, again, though, sometimes its thrust is to suppress too much academic output, rather than to increase it. Alas.

  19. Professor Zero on 22 Mar 2008 at 7:01 pm #

    I’m still for tenure plus unions, not unions instead of tenure. People damaged by the tenure review process, I don’t know: perhaps I am not generous enough but I say they have a responsibility, to life and people in general, to resist the damage and resist replicating it. Part of the reason I, despite a very difficult path in academia, look and feel younger and happier than my younger colleagues is that I never decided to stifle myself as they do and always remembered that if things didn’t work out, there was always
    work of some kind. People “on my side” getting on my case about not being paranoid enough about life in general have historically been more stressful than events such as not getting tenure. This is my apparently rather unusual point of view on the matter.

  20. Historiann on 22 Mar 2008 at 7:31 pm #

    Prof. Zero–an unusual point of view, yes, but an admirable one! I think your resiliency is remarkable, and I really admire your determination.

    I also agree with you that people damaged by the tenure process “have a responsibility, to life and people in general, to resist the damage and resist replicating it,” but I don’t think that’s what most people do with their experience. In an ideal world, they would work for change, but from what I’ve seen, they don’t. I don’t like admitting defeat, but so far I haven’t seen the kinds of changes to the system I had hoped I would see 10+ years into the profession. In fact, the changes I’ve seen–with corporate values replacing academic values in many universities–have only made tenure more fraught, and tenure candidates more scrutinized. And, as usual these pressures are not distributed randomly across genders and ethnicities on the faculty–they’re being increasingly borne by women faculty who are disproportionately stuck in temporary or adjunct positions, and by women and faculty of color who are in departments under political attack or targeted for elimination, as in the case of Africana Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of South Florida.

  21. Professor Zero on 24 Mar 2008 at 11:27 am #

    “…I don’t think that’s what most people do with their experience.”

    Correct, which is why I, who am quite severe, find them irresponsible, morally reprehensible, and unfit to be in any position of power.

    But a lot of these professors I met before they started their assistant professorships, and they were jerks and egoists *then*.

    Given that, and given the continued deterioration of the general situation and the move toward corporatization, I can see how people younger than I would be for abolishing tenure.

    But I’ve always had a hard time organizing – professors and even graduate students by and large don’t want unions in the states I’ve worked in, feel unreasonably that even the AAUP is too radical. So I have a hard time seeing how abolishing tenure would do anything except turn us all into the University of Phoenix. ;-)

  22. Historiann on 24 Mar 2008 at 11:29 am #

    AAUP is too radical??? Good grief.

    Yes, tenure is definintely preferable to the University of Phoenixification of us all!

  23. The Constructivist on 25 Mar 2008 at 2:44 am #

    But can/should rethinking and extending tenure be a weapon to roll back the U of Ph-ization tide? Which, really, when you think about it, shouldn’t be laid at the door of the U of Ph, but at places like graduate-union-busting Yale….

  24. Professor Zero on 26 Mar 2008 at 8:55 pm #

    No, I don’t mean to say it’s the U of Ph’s fault, they’re a different kind of institution and business and they didn’t initiate the corporatization model. Graduate union busting Yale is indeed much more worthy of attention – note that those top Ivies are the ones famous for not tenuring tenure track assistant professors, having all those not really tenure track jobs, etc.

    But I do agree with the Lumpenprofessoriat post according to which abolition of tenure is not revolution, but surrender.

  25. Indyanna on 01 Apr 2008 at 7:36 pm #

    I thought I would post-in to what is hopefully a not-yet-dead thread, on intersections between tenure and unions in the academy. I think the latter are/can be a valuable element but they probably need to be reconstituted once a generation before they become too ingrown and entangled with the institutional culture and more wedded to “process” than to substance issues. Somebody has to actually run them, for one thing, and anyone hoping to do that, even with reduced load, and actually engage in the “free speech and the pursuit of scholarship” mentioned in the initial post, above, is probably going to be disappointed.

    But the key point is that much of what academics do simply doesn’t map onto the collective bargaining framework. We have a 14-campus system, one union, one contract. From the beginning of time until last fall, thirteen campuses used the industry-standard fifty minute teaching hour. We used the sixty minute hour. The accumulated time deficit over semesters and years fried student and faculty brains. New “managers” in the state system, in pursuit of uniformity in all things, proposed to cut our classes to the fifty minute model. Part of the local here dug in its heels: “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Shorter Hours Has Got to Go…” (I’m facetiously paraphrasing, but that actually was the burden of one position). Newer hires were aghast. The fallback position became: “Well, if we’re going to let them cut our hours in the classroom” (for the same contractually mandated pay scales) “we should at least see what we can get them to give us in return…” (Again, facetious, but only in form). Finally there was a rebellion and a plebiscite in which most (but nowhere NEAR all) of the siblinghood voted for shorter hours for the same pay. My own department’s “reps” split their votes to reflect an internal straw poll in which they said the sentiment was divided. Management forced through the change–shorter time on the line for the same money in the pay envelope–and some of the old tuskers huffed and puffed and, we don’t know quite what happened to them then.

    We have no Faculty Senate, only a “University Senate,” with representation for all sorts of “stakeholders,” and this is the nominal institutional governance mechanism. The Union claims to be the constitutive body for curriculum and to have merely “delegated” this function conditionally to said Senate. Every contract year it threatens to “take back” the curricular role, uses this as a bargaining chip, then relents when the contract is signed. The Senate denies that its power is based on any such free gift, but nobody knows. Curricular discourse here, meanwhile, is basically out of the Twilight Zone.

    The ultimate point is that unions can do worthy work, mostly on hard core economic issues, but in deep ways the things that faculties are charged with in the realms of academic governance are not properly matters of collective bargaining. If I were in any other workplace I can conceive, long after the building has gone silent, doing what we like to call “my own work” and posting to Historiann as the occasion offers, who would hasten to clear me out of the shop, the managerial class, or the union? These points only partly intersect with those about tenure made above and elsewhere on this blog, but I think they are not entirely irrelevant either.

  26. Dorie LaRue on 05 Sep 2008 at 7:09 am #

    I wish I had had this blog a few years ago when I was coming up for tenure. I was too busy dodging bullets though to have had time to read it. I need some feedback. I am writing a novel of a woman coming up from tenure and a Bosnian student who has survived the Siege. I am trying to show the parallels. My new colleague, brilliant, funny, and yet to come up for tenure thinks the idea of comparing the tenure journey and its betrayals and covert aggression to pre Bosnia and the Bosnian seige is disengenous considering the magnitude of the war crimes. Please give me feedback. Is it too far fetched? My novel is dark and funny, I hope.

  27. Historiann on 05 Sep 2008 at 9:06 am #

    Dorie–you poor thing. I’m so sorry that you (also!) had a rough time. I think the concept could be really funny, if handled correctly. I think making it as broad a farce as you can would be the way to go, perhaps.

    Keep us posted! Now that the academic year is under way, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about academic workplace bullying and the dark underbelly of the tenure system in the near future.

  28. Dorie LaRue on 21 Dec 2008 at 3:34 pm #

    Thank you for the advice. And it is good. I am keeping in mind a novel Japanese By Spring as a good example of academic farce and have combed thru my manuscript again. I am making the Bosnian student funnier, like Alexjandre Hemon’s character a bit. As far as living under fire before being (or not being tenured) I’m happy to see such excellent resources now, articles, books, and your website which evidences more of a cognizance of academic bullying. This is a great website. I’m sure just reading about the viccissitudes helps others.

  29. Counterfeit campuses? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 03 Nov 2009 at 10:19 am #

    [...] about writing software anyway?  This sounds about as exciting as the yet-to-be released movie “Tenure,” which was shot at Bryn Mawr in 2008.  (Sounds like a straight-to0-DVD and video dump, to me!)  What’s next?  A suspense movie [...]

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