Archive for February 19th, 2010

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Kiss of Death

February 19, 2010

Adam Winkler offers some insight into the process behind the University of Alabama-Huntsville tragedy. Not that I object to tenure, mind you. I actually think it’s important on grounds other than those that Winkler sketches. Among other things, it gives junior faculty a serious incentive to be top scholars and publish a lot during their early years, and it gives senior faculty — by then hopefully vetted and productive scholars — a reprieve from the early publishing demands so that they can work with their junior colleagues and students. They can also contribute more productively to the University infrastructure.  (Universities don’t function like businesses, you might be interested to know. They’re run on a disaggregated, decentralized, quasi-volunteer basis. And they actually work pretty well.)

I just think that the downside stakes are so high that it makes incidents like the Alabama-Huntsville case terrifying:

A tenure denial can be a career killer. Many professors find that no other university will offer them a job. The old adage “publish or perish” isn’t hyperbole. An adverse tenure decision often marks the end of an academic career.

Today’s economic climate makes finding a new job that much more difficult. University endowments have been hit hard and public universities especially are struggling with severe budget cuts. Hiring at most schools is frozen. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, says, “The most likely result of being denied tenure in this nonexistent job market is that you will not be able to continue teaching…. You probably can’t get another job.”

Meanwhile, Brian Leiter points out that some departments are simply firing tenured faculty. What gives?