How many of you college or university faculty members would have gone into your line of work without the hope of tenure?
I was thinking about this with respect to a survey of provosts published by Inside Higher Ed today. Among other interesting findings, the provosts surveyed said this about tenure:
The survey found that 70 percent of provosts at public and private four-year institutions (and 54 percent of those at community colleges, where tenure is less common than it is at four-year institutions) agree that tenure “remains important and viable at my institution.” (Not surprisingly, the figure was only 3 percent of provosts in for-profit higher education, where tenure is rare.)
But while 70 percent see that as the status quo, support for tenure among provosts appears soft at best. Asked if they favored or opposed a system of long-term contracts for faculty members over the existing system of tenure in higher education, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of provosts said that they favored such a system. Support was strongest among for-profit provosts (80 percent), but at majority-plus levels in every sector of higher education, two-year and four-year, public and private. At private doctoral universities, 67 percent of provosts favor such a system.
Another question sought provosts’ thoughts on the long-term future of tenure. They were asked to agree or disagree (on a five-point scale) with the statement: “Future generations of faculty in this country should not expect tenure to be a factor in their employment at higher education institutions.” The percentage agreeing or strongly agreeing:
- Public institutions: 58 percent (with community colleges at 68 percent)
- Private nonprofit institutions: 53 percent
- For-profit institutions: 87 percent
I don’t know about the rest of you, but there is no way in hell I would have gone into this line of work without the hope of tenure. I enjoy teaching and I love my research, but the costs of pursing a Ph.D. and using it fully were just too high for me to undertake without the hope of tenure. I don’t make enough money, and I didn’t have the liberty to choose where I wanted to live, so without tenure? Forget it.
I faced the prospect of leaving academia over a decade ago when my first tenure-track job started to really stink. I was newly married and so had the luxury of spousal support while I reinvented myself, but my partner and I both agreed that if I didn’t get another tenure-track job, the benefit of 1) choosing where we lived, and 2) me having a job that didn’t ruin my life were pretty great compensations for whatever spell of under- or unemployment I might have endured. But you know what I never, ever contemplated? Teaching as an adjunct or non-tenure track lecturer!
Is higher education really higher education without faculty tenure? I say no. Just check out the loan default rates and unemployment rates of for-profit university alums, where tenure is non-existent, to public or private university graduates. But our current generation of “leaders” suggest that they’re happy to follow Kaplan and Phoenix down the rabbit hole. Like the failed leaders in our political life and financial sectors, it looks like today’s provosts are happy to chase fads and engage in an academic version of pump-and-dump: “pump” up the adjunct rates and “dump” the tenured faculty while they run the clock out on their careers.
After all, they won’t be around when the price of a hollowed-out tenured faculty becomes clear. They’re doing more with less now and reaping the rewards, so what do they care?