Should colleges and universities dump tenure and adopt some other policy regarding faculty employment? Recently the Pope Center published a piece by Jonathan Anomaly of Duke, where he argued that tenure has some serious drawbacks.
Today, we offer a different view. Professor David Clemens of Monterey Peninsula College argues that despite its evident drawbacks, tenure is beneficial because it helps to shield faculty members who don’t go along with all of the leftist notions about social justice, diversity, the role of the state, and so forth from the wrath of their campus opponents.
Back a century ago, the concern was that conservative boards and administrators would fire “progressives” who spoke out in favor of unions or socialism, something that had in fact occurred. Tenure was the solution. Today, it’s the relatively few conservatives, libertarians, or other dissenters from the leftist worldview who have to worry that something they say or write will lead to their firing. Clemens recounts his own experience when he rebelled against a directive from the administration that every course must include material to “develop a knowledge and understanding of race, class, and gender issues.” The school’s president accused him of racism just for omitting the obligatory genuflections to those leftist obsessions. Clemens maintains that but for tenure, he’d have been fired.
He quotes law professor Elizabeth Price Foley, who says that “conservative professors need tenure the most, as they are swimming in a sea of progressive colleagues/deans/administrators/sharks who would be tempted to punish conservative scholarly viewpoints and activities.”
Given the rapid increase in intolerance on campuses for anyone who gets under the thin skin of “social justice warrior” types, there is much to be said for Clemens’ position. Unfortunately, even tenure won’t necessarily protect against the mobs when a professor has transgressed against sacred leftist beliefs, as witnessed by the treatment of Marquette professor John McAdams — see this Pope Center piece about that travesty.