Value of tenure

by Carol Iannone

Jay Nordlinger writes an informative article on “scholars with spine,” that is, those few academic experts on China who are willing to tell the truth about the People’s Republic regarding such subjects as Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, and Tibet. Doing this is risky, because China denies visas without explanation to Western scholars deemed unfriendly to the official story, and denial of access could damage an academic career.

Some scholars are unwilling to broach difficult subjects despite being securely tenured. On the other hand, those who do speak frankly cite tenure and job security in their American universities as among the factors enabling them to do so. This is something we should consider when we debate the value of tenure. It may protect a lot of “lily-livered liars and knaves,” as one of the article’s sources puts it, but it also protects the few brave souls willing to speak openly. We get the distinct impression that without tenure there would be virtually no Western scholars conveying the truth about China and matters relating to its sphere of influence, such as stating the obvious historical fact that North Korea started the Korean War.