The rejection of post-tenure review at the University of Maryland is proving to be an interesting case. If you missed the story, IHE does a good job of outlining the key issues and players. Two responses are of particular interest.

1.

Erin O’Connor suggests that the response by Maryland faculty implies that performance review within faculties is ripe for abuse. Erin writes:

The resistance to post-tenure review is not just a resistance, then, to accountability–but also a tacit confession on the part of the entire professoriate that existing mechanisms for faculty assessment and review are already ripe for abuse. In exchange for tenure, they put up with a few moments of vulnerability to it–but they don’t want any more than they already have. This is one reason why, at many schools that do have post-tenure review, it is a meaningless rubber-stamp exercise”

This is a great point. Let’s consider the two major components of performance reviews of faculty: teaching and research (yes, I know – not equally).

Regarding research . . . In the sciences, research productivity is hard to evaluate; the fruits of university research often materialize years later. In the Humanities and Social Sciences, the evaluation of the quality of scholarship can be highly subjective – often informed by prevailing politics.

In terms of teaching . . . it is difficult, but not impossible to measure quality.  However, it is faculty themselves that have traditionally resisted attempts to measure teaching quality. Therefore, they have little in the way of substantive tools and processes for evaluating their own. Yes, it’s terribly ironic.

2.

Daniel Bennett provides another interesting angle on the story. He states that faculty are “hostile towards imposing any sort of accountability. . . ” But he also notes that . . .

“This issue has been rousing public sentiment and will continue to gain steam as outrage over inequities in our country come center stage. Continual resistance to change will inevitably lead to a day of reckoning in which faculty tenure is revered in history books as one of the most prolonged scams in contemporary society.”

By “inequities” I take that Daniel is referring to bonuses at AIG and the like.  That’s an interesting comparison. Is it possible that the current temperament in industrialized nations toward the inequities that exist in our societies  will lead to the public seeing tenure in the same way that they do the stunning compensation provided CEO’s and VP’s in the Financial sector. That’s hard to imagine. But if the recession continues to deepen, and more people lose their jobs or are forced to take minimum wage jobs in the service sector, I suppose anything is possible.