It is the weekend, and I am in New Orleans singing with WWOZ. I have been hanging out at an excellent conference wherein smart professors and graduate students spoke. It has been very refreshing. I feel as though I am beginning to right my sails.
While driving back and forth I considered everyone’s posts on tenure and decided what we should do: eliminate the tenure track by tenuring everyone when hired. Then as their careers developed and changed, it could be flexibly determined what their jobs would actually be in a given year – more research, more teaching, more administration, and so on.
I had not thought seriously of this because: what if you make a disastrous hire? But looking back, I have been on more hiring committees than I can count, and we’ve done well. It is quite arguable that all of the less good hires would have been better had it not been for the insidious way they were corroded by the tenure track. This plan has a great advantage: everyone would be free to start the struggle for unionization right away. What do you think? :-)
I also notice, by the way, that those who say the tenure system is fair tend to be men, and I notice that the many problems I have had in academia are traceable not to the tenure system, but to misogyny.
I notice as well that, in the comments threads of the IHE and Chronicle pieces that picked up this discussion, some of those who advocate for long temporary contracts rather than the tenure system do not consider who would do service or anything creative with curriculum and programs.
After I didn’t get tenure, I had a visiting job at an R-2, and once as a vacation from where I am, I had another visiting job at an R-1. In both situations I did not think a whit about issues such as long term program goals. These were not my concern. I would just be there a little while, so all I needed to do was make sure my own classes went well and concentrate on research. This was lovely for me, but my colleagues in these places were putting serious time and effort into program building, for good reason.
This kind of service could, I suppose, be outsourced to para-academics with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, but it really takes faculty to do that work effectively. Another alternative would be to have nobody do it. This would have been a poor idea in both the institutions I observed, for reasons having to do inter alia with recruitment and retention of both students and faculty.