Friday, December 14, 2012

Does Academic Freedom Not Apply to Criticism of Tenure?

Congrats Dr. Hart-Davidson!
Congrats Dr. Hart-Davidson! (Photo credit: billhd)
by Professor James C. Wetherbe, Texas Tech Rawls College of Business Administration, The Huffington Post:

Academic freedom in higher education is an honorable, noble proposition and allegedly protected by tenure. That is what I believed as young assistant professor starting out over 30 years ago.

I quickly became disillusioned that the protections provided by tenure were really about job security for professors. Common comments I heard included:

I don't enjoy teaching but why should I give up a guaranteed job that pays ...?
I don't have to cooperate. What can they do to me? I've got tenure.
We get lots of complaints about some professors but unfortunately they are tenured.
We need to keep that professor out of the classroom, we get too many complaints.

When I was awarded tenure, there was no sudden sense of intellectual liberation to share knowledge as never before. I just felt more job security but strangely guilty about it.

Once tenured, most professors live up to the Mr. Holland's Opus ideal to teaching as portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss. If you haven't seen that movie, view with caution. It might inspire you to teach. Unfortunately, a small minority of professors abuse tenure at the reputational expense of the majority. They fail to perform at their best, lowering quality and increasing costs.

Outside the Ivory Tower, tenure is commonly not viewed well by business leaders and taxpayers. They resent that underperforming faculty have unwarranted job security at a time when the rising cost of a college education is increasingly burdensome.

As a business professor, I was often challenged by business leaders who questioned why professors deserved guaranteed employment as opposed to business where there is no guarantee of customers or jobs.

In a strategic planning effort at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, the focus was on how we could move up in the business school rankings. I suggested we could move up overnight if we were the first business school in the country to voluntarily resign tenure. You could have heard a pin drop. No one was game.

Finally, after 13 years with tenure, I decided to make a personal protest by resigning it from the University of Minnesota. That was 20 years ago. I continued to decline tenure as the FedEx Chaired Professor at the University of Memphis and again as the Stevenson Chaired Professor of Information Technology at Texas Tech.

To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment