Wednesday, October 13, 2010
As some of you may know, there's a movement afoot by the ABA to eliminate tenure as a credentialing requirement for obtaining a license to operate a law school. As you would expect, most law profs are up in arms about it. For the record, my job is not a tenure track one and it's unlikely to become one unless the administration has a radical change of heart. So, in a way, I don't really have a dog in this fight except for this - non-tenure track law professors (which includes many, if not most, skills profs) have become beholden to the almight anonymous student evaluation. Getting good ones may not help your career (and at elite schools it may even hurt it to the extent you're perceived as caring too much about teaching rather than scholarship) but get bad ones, and you may find yourself out of a job. You can imagine what kind of incentives that creates for even the most principled instructors. (The consensus among researchers seems to be that while student evals have some value, no one believes they tell the whole story about whether a teacher is effective or not).
If you're still not convinced that eliminating tenure is a bad idea (many of us need to first get it before we can start complaining about losing it) perhaps this commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Ed does a better job persuading.
[T]enure guarantees the quality and integrity of higher education—by securing faculty members' intellectual independence. [Students] need tenured college professors.
. . . .If [students] are going to be taught to think rigorously and creatively—which is their best route to success—they need to be taught by teachers who can be rigorous, creative, and courageous as well. Tenure doesn't guarantee that college teachers will be courageous. But it protects those who are.
Professors without tenure are nothing more than at-will employees. They can be fired tomorrow or whenever their contracts expire. One complaint from a student, parent, or politician is all it may take. What if a professor offends a parent or preacher by teaching evolution? What if a professor expresses sympathy for unpopular religious beliefs? What if a professor admits that he or she supports gay rights? What if a professor asks students whether the war in Iraq was in the national interest? Worst of all, what if a professor asks students whether the college really needs that fancy new administration building? Administrators who prefer to avoid controversy just won't send that professor a new contract.
If this blog suddenly goes dark, you'll know why ;-)