Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A few thoughts on Tenure

A Few Thoughts on Tenure



Most of you readers know that I am a strong supporter of tenure and the tenure system. Most of you also know that I believe strongly in post-tenure review. Recent events have made me think of tenure in slightly different ways, so I thought I'd puzzle a few of them out here, rather than working on Syllabi.

Tenure is a Good Thing. It protects, or should protect, one's academic freedom. I think the guidelines of the AAUP are sound, although I am not as clear on their position on post-tenure review. In general, I think tenure is not supposed to protect people who are not doing their job well.

But this means a possible conflict. There's tenure, and there are our annual contracts. Institutions change. We all know people who were tenured when publication requirements were lower, or when accreditation agencies had less power, or even under other administrations whose rules were different. Tenure doesn't mean we faculty are not also employees. When institutions change, it seems to me that, whatever the rules were, whatever the contractual obligations were, when a person was granted tenure, the terms of employment change. This is true in any job. Companies are re-organized, industries and government agencies require new standards or new sorts of reporting, etc. I am not sure how tenure protects one from having to follow new versions of the Faculty Handbook, new requirements for reporting attendance for financial aid, adhering to FERPA, or any other such thing. And yet I know people, some at my own SLAC, who insist that the contract that was in effect when they were granted tenure supersedes any later contracts -- even when those new contracts have different wording that clearly includes new or slightly different obligations (as well as new amounts of money!). This seems to me to be a very problematic situation. I certainly wouldn't want our senior and tenured colleagues to have to go back and produce monographs to keep tenure, or anything like that. But I do expect that tenure not be a protection against increased work loads, service, or any other time-suck imposed on us by external agencies (or even against learning to use new equipment, software like Blackboard, or sim).

Discuss.

6 comments:

Steve Muhlberger said...

They can avoid post-tenure new obligations when they give back their post-tenure salary raises.

Jonathan Dresner said...

But I do expect that tenure not be a protection against increased work loads, service, or any other time-suck imposed on us by external agencies (or even against learning to use new equipment, software like Blackboard, or sim).

This is one aspect of our institutional lives where combining tenure with a union might actually make things easier (I'm increasingly convinced that the combination is as much a barrier to development as a protection, but as tenure shrinks in real value, unions become more important): the collective nature of contract changes makes it much clearer that everyone is bound by the same expectations.

Tenure still makes changing expectations very difficult to enforce in a meaningful way, which is why I'm increasingly certain that post-tenure review needs to be substantial.

Steve Muhlberger said...

Duh. It didn't occur to me that there wouldn't be a collective agreement.

Janice said...

Steve and I come from a place where unions and tenure co-exist nicely. Yes, there are some people who shirk their duties and abuse their privileges, but the collective agreement does spell out a lot of very specific responsibilities you can't argue against.

I'm staggered that someone would say that they're only bound by their original contract of tenure. That kind of claim is cherry-picking, as Steve noted, and any such claim should be laughed into oblivion with his rebuttal (give back the salary increases if you're sticking by your original contract's terms).

newkidonthehallway said...

I don't think it's fair for someone post-tenure to argue that they're only bound by their original contract, but conversely, it's no good for institutions to change tenure expectations pre-tenure, either, so in that situation, it seems that a person is bound by the contract when they're hired. Not saying that you can't distinguish between pre- and post-tenure in this respect, but that might provide some basis for the argument.

(I have no idea whether legally someone can claim they're only bound by their original contract. I suspect it's techcnially possible, but it would depend a lot on the facts of the specific situation and is unlikely. Never having been tenured, I have to ask: don't tenured faculty have to sign new contracts periodically? Or do they not? I had to sign yearly contracts on the tenure-track, even though they weren't at all related to the tenure review process. Presumably any time you sign a new contract, you're giving up the terms of the old one, barring any expressly reserved rights. Of course, I'm not sure anyone *reads* said contracts...)

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