Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Term limits for academic administrators? 

So suggests David Beito at Liberty & Power, as a substitute for post-tenure review.
Schemes to impose post-tenure review in public universities (now on the table in many states) will have effect of making it easier for administrators to fire or further intimidate the small remnant of libertarians, conservatives, academic reformers, and other assorted dissidents. For this reason, I suggest that defenders of academic freedom oppose post-tenure review and oppose it stridently.

A far better cause to embrace would be a campaign to impose term limits for academic administrators. Term limits, unlike post-tenure review, will actually contribute to the goal of breaking the power of professional administrators over the faculty. They will also help to advance the now embattled values of academic freedom and high standards.
I'm not convinced this is universally a good idea. Within our system, deans do not have tenure or a retreat home. They serve solely at the pleasure of the university president. This tends to make them relatively cowardly and makes it hard to hire good ones. (One good candidate in a search I was involved in didn't realize there was no tenure until he was on campus. Only good manners kept him from leaving for the airport at once.) It creates a bias in favor of hiring only internal candidates to be deans, which isn't always a good thing.

Department chairmen are already term limited here (and the union proposes to reduce the term in our upcoming contract), but not at Beito's University of Alabama.