Ron Stolle demonstrated considerable nerve last week by publishing an opinion piece calling for the end of tenure. (He’s an Assistant Professor at Kent State in Ohio.) The need for eliminating tenure stems, he argues, from the unsustainable increases in tuition increases and the ever-tightening university budgets. Readers of the article may get the impression, though, that Stolle sees little reason for tenure whatever the financial conditions.
“Tenured professors, with very few exceptions, are the only class of employees to enjoy the luxury of a lifelong guaranteed job, with pay and benefits. Many tenured faculty teach just one or two classes a year, yet are paid six-figure salaries. They avoid teaching under the guise of conducting research. At Kent State, I have tenured colleagues who enjoy reduced teaching loads but haven’t produced any research in more than decade. For the tenured faculty who’d rather conduct research than teach, a key question is how best to value their research. Stretching the bounds of credulity, and another example of the fox in the henhouse, tenured faculty get to define what constitutes meaningful research. Faculty also are eligible for paid periodic sabbaticals. Sabbaticals are intended to promote “professional development” and research, however this unique, costly privilege of tenure is frequently abused, being treated as nothing more than a paid year-long vacation.”
Similarly, the CCAP – or Centre for College Affordability and Productivity – released a set of recommendations on how to bring down the cost of operating colleges – “25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College”. One recommendation calls for the replacement of tenure with alternative reward systems that still preserves “the holy grail of higher education, academic freedom”.
“CCAP argues that tenure protects unproductive faculty, albeit a minority of the total, from dismissal. CCAP believes that all employers – including colleges – should have the right to remove unproductive employees.
CCAP believes that the current reward system that results in tenure often rewards the wrong efforts. While teaching is the most prominent activity on today’s campuses, many of our colleges and universities overwhelming reward research over teaching. And this practice is no longer limited to research-intensive institutions.
The current tenure system provides an incentive for professors to neglect their teaching and service duties in pursuit of publishing research, a questionable reward structure that appears to be misaligned with one of the primary missions of higher education – to educate citizens and the future workforce.
And while deadwood faculty are by no means the norm in higher education (the majority of faculty surely pulls its own weight), the mere inability to remove unproductive faculty is economically inefficient for colleges and unjust to the students paying tuition and forced to sit through classes with professors who view them as a nuisance.”
Also see Turning on the Faculty