My complaint about being tenured is that it puts one in a position to be so exploited by the university. The new people, the instructors and the adjuncts must be protected, mentored, developed and maintained; the full professors and administrators have rights; the plain old tenured faculty has to serve them all.
I think part of the reason I am or believe myself to be so staunchly pro tenure, and can say I was not hurt by the tenure system itself despite having had, from what I can gather, a significantly rockier path in academia than have many of those who discuss the rockiness of their own paths, is that I never cared about tenure the way many people do.
There were people in my graduate program who were already discussing tenure jitters before they had even taken their comprehensive examinations. They were already watching all of their words and actions in case someone at our school, now, might end up voting on their tenure case somewhere else, later. I knew assistant professors who would not wear jeans to campus even on Saturdays, on the theory that it would cause them to be voted down for tenure. I knew other assistant professors who did not feel free to eat lunch with whom they liked. I was told in one of my own assistant professor jobs that to get tenure I must buy a certain kind of house.
I was never able to become that paranoid, compromise that far, or believe that by the magical act of never being seen in jeans I could conjure up a positive tenure vote from a person negatively disposed. I have always spoken my mind and never voted in a bloc. These actions have never caused me greater harm than being quiet would have done. So when people say tenure, or the tenure process per se “hurts people,” I also have to wonder to what extent they have through paranoia hurt themselves.
I also notice that the senior people who say these things tend to be (although they are not always) at really privileged schools and to have feelings of entitlement I do not really relate to or understand. And the junior people often do not know what the job description of a senior faculty member includes, or that they may have good reason to do and not do the things they do and not do.
It is my experience that mistreatment does not end with tenure. I have learned that if a you are an untenured person and you are being bullied by a tenured person, who is being enabled and protected by another tenured person, you can bet that that tenured person is bullying tenured people, too.
Also, before tenure universities have to be marginally professional because they know that shenanigans too obvious are actionable. If they deny tenure they also know that they must do it in a diplomatic way. But if they grant tenure, they can grant it in an abusive way, and they feel they can then start the real abuse against which you need the protection of tenure. In this scenario perhaps the Tenured Radical is right, in her way. I still think the answer is more tenure track jobs and more professional behavior.
I also still believe in early tenure – much earlier tenure – for as many people as possible. I still even favor tenure at hiring: if everyone were tenured then they would all be able to trade places more easily, nicht wahr? And job candidates now are so much more “professionalized” than they were only a few years ago. Now we interview people who, as T.A.’s, are teaching two upper division courses of their own design and publishing regularly. I am not entirely sure how much more practice time they need, or how much more they should be expected to prove.
But the other reason I believe in tenure is that I have swallowed the academic freedom argument, and the idea that the faculty, not the president or the CEO, was the university. I am not sure that I am living in the present, however, not sure I am not imagining we can conserve things which no longer exist, anyway.