You can always count on Larry Summers to bring sense to the higher education discussion. And his recent remarks at Tufts were no exception. At a time when there is troubling evidence that promotion and tenure have more to do with collegiality and politics than professional strengths, Summers called for systemic reform of the way departments go about their hiring practices. “There’s someone who might be the next Immanuel Kant but is a little bit difficult. And the philosophy department decides that they would rather make their lives easier than have the next Immanuel Kant. Who reviews that decision? No one,” he told a crowd at Tufts University according to a report
in the Harvard Crimson
Summers didn’t call for an end to tenure but he did support the need for greater administrative review. That’s the same recommendation made by the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct at the University of Colorado. As part of the recent debacle surrounding Ward Churchill, that committee called on CU to ensure that existing internal procedures adequately identify violations of accepted scholarly standards at both the hiring and performance review levels.
That’s one of several recommendations ACTA makes in its report Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action. There, we call on trustees — working with administrators — to take a more aggressive stance in ensuring the academic quality and integrity of hiring practices in their institutions. We insist that colleges and universities should engage in the kind of self-assessment that they so readily demand of others: a self-study to determine the atmosphere in the classroom; review of hiring and promotion practices to ensure that scholarship and teaching — not ideological litmus tests — are the foundation for lifelong job security; insistence that faculty members be hired only after their scholarship is reviewed for accuracy, impartiality and probity; hiring — and then rewarding — of administrators who make these actions a priority.
Faced with substantial evidence of academic bias and pedagogical malfeasance, institutions that fail to take these kinds of action deserve the criticism of public officials, taxpayers, students and parents. Summers’ message needs to be shouted from the top of every ivory tower — and everyone should listen.