Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Tenure and security 

Hugo Schwyzer at Cliopatria waxes eloquent on tenure.
I hear constantly how "tenure protects bad teachers." I hear constantly how "the union protects incompetence." Well, in my experience, for every bad teacher tenure protects, it enables several bright and brave teachers to teach fearlessly. If it weren't for tenure, I would never dare teach Lesbian and Gay American history on what is still a relatively conservative college campus. I would never dare teach a course on Men and Masculinity. From what I've seen, fear leads to timidity -- job security leads to daring and innovation. (Emphasis in original)
It's a common theme among tenured faculty that tenure emboldened them. I would interpret that differently: Tenure changes incentives and creates a loosening of the principal-agent relationship between administrator and faculty member, a worsening of the agency problem. Tenure also means not having to do research any more, as long as you're satisfied with your current rank. Tenure means you never need change your notes again. Tenure means little redress available to get faculty to serve on committees.

It certainly helps create space for faculty to teach difficult courses or engage in controversial research, but the "for every one ... there are several" argumentation is specious. Its impact is inframarginal to most decisions to engage in those acticities.