Friday, April 11, 2008
Walter Olson over at Overlawyered, commenting on a post written by Robert Weissberg, puts forth this provocative commentary:
As universities grow apprehensive of lawsuits filed by junior faculty hired for tenure-track positions but then passed over for tenure, they are accelerating the trend toward classifying more junior positions as non-tenure-track -- hastening, perhaps, the eventual demise of the tenure system entirely. (Robert Weissberg, Minding the Campus, Apr. 10).
In turn, Weissberg writes:
Some predictions about tenure. First, as assistant professors become more skilled at defending their jobs, universities will increasingly abandon tenure track positions. You don't hire what you can't fire. This is already happening with a vengeance. Half of all new higher education positions are now non-tenure track: adjuncts, visitors, clinical professors, lecturers and so on. Second, putting hard-to-find women and minorities on the tenure track means imposing staff reductions elsewhere, and since diversity hires "take care of their own," the white male - of any ideological stripe - may join the Polar Bear on the soon-to-be extinct list (even in budgetary crises, funds to hire members of "under-represented groups" always exist). Third, as universities push harder to diversify the tenured faculty ("retention" in administration-speak), promotion standards will inevitably decline, and white males unfairly passed over may justifiably, if reluctantly, join the litigation culture. These multiplying, expensive, sometimes embarrassing court battles, in turn, may further weaken tenure as a system given the effortless options to hire and then easily fire plentiful non-tenure track employees. That universities themselves control the size of the academic proletariat by granting degrees in the absence of available jobs can only push this process even further. In short, the university tenure system may slowly disappear though for reasons nobody would have predicted.