Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Debate on Tenure

   I came across this video debate on tenure between Daniel Hamermesh, Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Texas, and a WSJ journalist, Naomi Schaefer Riley who has just recently published a book about tenure in universities entitled, The Faculty Lounges. The reviews in Amazon seem to be fairly positive about the book. Perhaps C. could do one of her famous reviews in rebuttal. Here is a Wall Street Journal opinion piece which Ms. Riley wrote not long ago. Tenure is under attack from many direction including government and business in America and a fellow blogger, has just posted on forming a TT union in her mid-western university. Another blogger from Louisiana, has posted about TT professors being fired in her state, “This year, the AAUP has learned that the University of Louisiana at Monroe is planning to do the same, or slightly worse, to its four tenured professors of Chemistry: dismiss them with six months’ notice, then offer to re-hire them at the rank of instructor without tenure.” It must be noted that this state is planning to reduce personal and corporate taxes to zero in order to compete with Florida and Texas which have already done so. I’d like to quote from the WSJ opinion piece by Ms. Riley:
It doesn't take a lot of digging to see that much academic research is trivial. But academics will defend it to the hilt. When I wondered, in a blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, why J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern was hosting demonstrations of sex toys in his class, and questioned the value of his subject generally, I was told by a commenter on the website that, "psychiatrists, police officers, and others who deal with rapists and other sex offenders probably could use a course on human sexuality."
When I wrote about a University of Texas professor's book, "Indian-Made: Navajo Culture in the Marketplace," an academic emailed to say that "[the project on] the commercialization of Indian crafts, actually has some profound things to say about the role of indigenous peoples in modern capitalism."
  Ms. Riley, the daughter of two academics and who recalled from her childhood memory “unstable personalities who seemed to populate various departments my parents had contact with over the years” has a suggestion for the replacement of tenure as mentioned in an Inside Higher Ed. article.

I argue for replacing tenure with multi-year renewable contracts. I think quite a number of things would change. … I think they could get rid of some senior faculty who are bringing higher education into the gutter -- the Holocaust deniers, the sex-demonstrators. Then I think they could put on notice some of the remaining professors -- say, the lazy, the incompetent, and the distracted -- explaining that they will have to start doing a little more to demonstrate that they are actually teaching the students in their classes. It would probably result in a few senior professors simply leaving and deciding they don't want to do the work that would be required to keep their jobs.
   Since this video debate was done by the Texas tribune, a progressive rag by Lone Star standards, I’ll mention a few educational facts about the great state.  Texas has America’s second-largest elementary and secondary school enrolment, accounting for 9 percent of the U.S. total.  The state’s 1,031 public school districts, including 7,729 campuses, and 191 charter operator, including 332 campuses, provide early education through twelfth grade for about 4.6 million students, 20 percent more than ten years ago. In an IHE article a dean at the University of Texas:
…described as short-sighted and ineffective a set of policy proposals advanced by a conservative think tank that have been embraced by many in government and some on the university system's Board of Regents. The ideas put forth by the Texas Public Policy Foundation exemplify "the dangers of applying a business-style, market-based approach inside the classroom,” …
" Some of the proposals in the foundation's seven "Breakthrough Solutions" were untested or found to be ineffective in states where they have been attempted, wrote Diehl, and enacting them threatened the university’s status as a top-tier university "in which research and teaching are inextricably linked in ways that are crucial to both missions."
  In a future post I will go into detail about an issue on which I will touch on briefly. With the reduction in public funding, universities will receive more money from private foundations and donors. Although most of these monies are donated within the academic freedom strictures, some of the latest funding comes with strings attached. The Florida State University economics department received $ 1.5 million from a Koch brother’s controlled educational foundation where the foundation had direct input into the screening and hiring of instructors as well as into the choice of textbooks and content of the course (ECO 3131). This was an introductory or gateway course in economics and, in my opinion, the texts chosen were right wing, libertarian wacko books far outside the economic mainstream. It’s like having an introductory biology course where the texts were the Holy Bible and Intelligent Design. The Instructor would be a graduate of Liberty University who did his post doc at the Tim Lahaye School of Prophesy. Extra credits for attending bible study in the evening.

   I couldn’t end this post without a swipe at a possible replacement for tenure. We could do a study using the same methodology as " Male Organ and Economic Growth: Does Size Matter?" by Tatu Westling of the University of Helsinki which was in my pseudoscience 2 post but using organ size versus academic performance. To quote from a post in the Freakonomics blog:
The fact is that reliable penis-size data is notoriously hard difficult to come by get.
  But with a substantial financial reward, I’m sure that male academics would step up to the plate. If a linear regression analysis shows a strong negative correlation as was demonstrated in the previous study then a special account could be set up as a monetary reward.  This could give a whole new meaning to the term “university endowment fund.” (This a joke. Don't call me a sexist pig.)

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