Before You Eliminate Tenure . . .

by Jason Fertig

Allow me to ruffle some feathers.

As a professor on the tenure track, I agree with all of the critiques of tenure. I operate with the understanding that at some point, tenure may go away. If it did, I’d just play that new hand; I’m not married to my profession because of the tenure possibility. I like being paid to think.

But here’s the rub. Let’s say we wake up tomorrow and tenure is wiped of the face of the earth. What evaluation system would take its place?  

I haven’t seen or heard of many colleges that are prepared to properly assess faculty. If tenure goes away, how will this new majority of professors on “multi-year contracts” be assessed? By student teaching evaluations and number of pubs (regardless of quality)? That’s the system we have now. With professors repeatedly fighting for their reappointment, there will be even greater incentives to play it safe, which will only make the classroom experience worse for students.  
The current system rewards looking good rather than being good. I’d like to see deans and P&T committees sitting in classes to assess the art of teaching. I’d like to see them reading every word of a professor’s scholarship to separate the meaningful from the fluff.  
Of course, there is the position of blowing up tenure and letting the system sort itself out. It’s fine to advocate that, but don’t think that there would be an immediate positive ROI.
I’d welcome any change that helps students, but let’s not forget that the best is the enemy of the better. 

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