So, what’s up with tenure?

A few days ago, we started debating an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times on higher education reform. The author of that piece, as you may recall, among other things, suggested that the institution of tenure be dissolved. As you can imagine, several readers of this site, many of whom work at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, had strong opinions on the matter. (If you haven’t, I’d suggest that you check out our conversation.) Among the people contributing to that conversation was an assistant professor at a local university, who had the following to say. I liked it quite a bit, not because it makes the case for or against tenure, but because it explains honestly and concisely the process one goes though to attain tenure, at least in the hard sciences.

Why tenure for me? It’s a tough question, and I understand the arguments against it. First of all, post-tenure does not mean “long vacation”. If anything the pressure increases because with tenure comes the expectation of leadership. Anyway… Assistant professors are trying to build a lab (I make no claims to understand non-science), carve out a niche (but interesting and fundable) research area, train graduate students, mentor postdocs, recruit new graduate students, review other scientists’ papers and grants, write your own papers and grants, serve on multiple committees, invite outside speakers and host them, attend meetings to learn what others are doing while selling the significance of your own work, fix crap in the lab when you’re the only one who can, and…………… teach (as if most of the other stuff isn’t teaching too). So whatever, everyone has a lot to do, I usually work a minimum of 12 hours a day, and I actually really enjoy it. The theme of the above duties, however, is that they are largely personal. My job is to make “my” mark and get it recognized by my senior colleagues at peer institutions so that they will write favorable letters to my tenure committee. Now, I’m definitely not that full of myself that I actually see it like that, if I did this would be torture. Instead I look at my l job like this: interact with an exceptional group of young scientists, with diverse backgrounds and future goals, share with them my enthusiasm for unlocking nature’s mysteries, be critical of their data, skeptical of their conclusions, but supportive of them as thinkers so they will have the guts to come up with their own ideas. I try to provide a safe and fertile intellectual environment, with enough experience that they don’t end up down too many garden paths, but not to shut off all garden paths. They work in the physical lab, and I try to foster a “lab of ideas” with them as coworkers. Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it?

Now here’s the thing. There is not infinite time. I need to prove “myself” by about year 5 or 6, which means we can’t just lounge around in a beanbag chair of thoughtful bliss forever. We need to produce results so that when the “letter writers” get my package they will say I will continue to be successful. What are the inevitable consequences of this? First, we try to publish our results as soon as we can, and often it is too soon. Fortunately the peer review process (much faster in science than non-science) allows some correction, but often reviewers do not catch problems that we catch ourselves. Second, we must tackle manageable problems that will lead to publishable results in a short, < 6 month, timescale (per student, for example). That leads to about 2 publications per year per student, and with 3-4 students (typical for my area) I would have enough papers for an open-and-shut tenure case. Also, that publishing rate only really happens in years 3+, since we have to first build a ridiculously complicated lab from scratch. Tenure enables this: risk. Doesn't that surprise you? Most people think tenure is about security. It is: job security that enables intellectual risk. I think "academic freedom" is an old-fashioned term. It might mean something to those who say "controversial" things, but rarely are scientists really worried about that. What we are worried about is, can I start this potentially paradigm-defining research project even though I might not get tangeable results for 3-5 years? Now, the realities are that somehow I am going to have to find funding for my research group from folks like the NSF, NIH, Navy, DOE, etc... But some of those funding agencies are more long-term focused than the 7-year time horizon proposed by the Columbia professor. The senior tenured faculty have analogous pressures. Rather than build their own "names" they have to advance the position of the department on the national stage. They are expected to spearhead bold initiatives, and to coordinate large proposals for research centers, large equipment, often needing to bring together researchers from varied disciplines that don't necessarily share the same culture or speak the same language (figuratively, usually). They are chairs of the committees, serve on external panels, edit journals, consult, start spin-offs, organize meetings and travel to other schools often since they are so famous (they hope). Each and every one of these duties deprives them of precious deep thinking time and opportunities to directly interact with their grad students and postdocs. Oh, and they also "teach". Another reason that tenure is beneficial to scholarly and pedagogical progress is that I think scientists are a lot like artists--they are never truly satisfied with what they have done, and they always see ways to improve or make more impactful their work. As a guitarist, I have never been an artist. Though technically proficient, I always saw playing guitar as fun, and I lacked the self-criticism that I came to know separated the artists from the players. It's a cliche, but most scientists realize that as one advances in a career, one merely augments one's awareness of one's ignorance. This can be a fightening pursuit, and tenure is one security that we can count on.

I don’t know about you, but I found that extremely interesting.

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  1. SK
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Ah, so sad, the plight of the poor tenure-track and tenured faculty members, forever deprived of “precious deep thinking time”…

    Sure, scientists might be a lot like artists, if scientists pursued their passion regardless of financial reward. Here’s an idea: let’s have sculptors, poets, playwrights, filmmakers, etc., work very hard for the first several years of their career to produce somewhat interesting but marketable peer-approved work. Then, they could receive a lifetime guaranteed salary, full benefits, and paid vacation time in order to take their real ‘intellectual risks.’

    Great, sign me up!

    The truth is that most of us who are doing “deep thinking” — but working independently outside the academy — also work 12+-hour days, teaching (for real, not “teaching”), producing work, hustling for gigs, working with community-based groups and organizations, collaborating with peers, writing proposals and papers and lectures, attending conferences, etc. And when we do achieve success, the “expectation of leadership” (mentorship, helping others, judging competitions, etc) also increases. The pressures and the workload are exactly the same if not greater.

    The real difference is, most of us are not getting health benefits or prestige or stability or even free photocopying. We take our intellectual risks first, we put everything on the line, and if we’re lucky (not smarter, or better, or more deserving — just luckier — than others) we get to spend more and more of our time doing our art.

    Economic security does enable creative and intellectual risk — no doubt about it. We should be looking to create an economic and educational system that provides a reasonable measure of security (starting with basic health care) for everyone. Instead, what tenure creates and perpetuates is lifetime security for a handful of folks and zero security for everyone else.

    If only the dedicated intellectual risk-takers in the academy would use their deep-thinking time to come up with ways to share the wealth more equitably … but I guess that would be too risky.

  2. Posted May 1, 2009 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t expecting that this post would produce this kind of response, but I guess it’s understandable that folks who work hard, and yet don’t have insurance or other benefits to show for it – especially the artists among us – might have such feelings when they hear an academic talking about intellectual risk and the like. So, while I don’t appreciate the tone of the above comment, I can appreciate the sentiment, and even agree with it to some extent. The system is clearly flawed when hard working men and women don’t make enough money to feed, educate and insure their health of their families. I don’t think, however, that it’s valid to suggest that those hard-working scientists among us are to blame.

  3. kjc
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I’m feeling you, SK. As much as I love them, it’s notable to me after all these years that nobody whines like my academic friends, including my friends who have low paying jobs and no health insurance.

  4. kjc
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    not that I’m calling Kevin a whiner. i don’t know him and i wouldn’t. but needing time to think is not just a professional requirement. it’s a human one. and a lot of people don’t have it.

  5. Posted May 1, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I’m feeling SK, too. It’s hard NOT to be bitter (I’m not saying SK is necessary “bitter”..I don’t know him/her I don’t think) when you look at UM salaries over $100,000 and know that they are on 8 month work years (yes, I know that some work during the summer months), LIFETIME employment, great retirement and benefits. It might be helpful, maybe, to see what a typical professor does during the week. Many professors that I have had (albeit not at UM) teach about 12 hours per week and have about 10 office hours a week. This is not to say that they don’t work other hours…I don’t know about that.

    But I do agree with KJC re: whining. Holy Crikies–a FB friend is just soooooo stressed out teaching 12 hours per week and he just can’t handle it anymore!!1!!11!! WTF?! And this goes for K-12 teachers, too–I worked out the math one day at staff meeting and figured that at least 80% of our staff loves to whine. One day, I snapped and said (in a nice way) that we do get 10 weeks off in the summer unlike, oh I don’t know, EVERYONE ELSE. I was quickly shot down, but I had to say something. The point is though…from the outside looking in, a tenured academic job looks pretty freaking great! (And don’t get me started on sabbaticals! Oy.)

    Maybe what we need to make us (and by “us”, I mean “ME” :)) not feel so irritated…a nice write up of what professors and tenured faculty do during their working days. I’d be more than happy to do the same…but with the gentle reminder that I do NOT whine about my job (not after 7 years in legal aid law hell).

  6. Stephen
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    With all due respect to those who have left comments, it’s not that hard to find someone in this country worse off than you. I understand that teaching is difficult, but it’s not manual labor, it’s not extremely dangerous, and it provides a living wage and health insurance. I hear where you’re coming from, but I don’t know how constructive it is to take it out on a guy trying to solve cancer at the University.

  7. Zach
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget that to even get to the point of potentially getting an assistant professorship a person needs 9-10 of college and a few years of postdoctoral work. That almost 15 years of making little or no money and amassing considerable debt. If you’re in the sciences, especially biomedical research, you have a decent chance of getting a job to start paying off those debts and working towards tenure. If you’re in the humanities you’re lucky to get job for $30k with little chance for tenure while also holding all of this debt and being about 15 years behind your peers that started working full-time earlier in life. While there are undoubtedly lots of people out there with much harder lives, for most, the academic life is neither lucrative nor a particularly easy way of life.

  8. kjc
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    no it’s not lucrative or easy. it has this in common with many other jobs. and i would not advise anyone to go to grad school in the humanities by taking out loans! and while we’re reminding people what not to forget, don’t forget that being poor for 15 years on the way to somewhere else is not a lifetime or no one would do it. nor should it be so surprising that financial reward is not a part of the result for most people. low pay and lack of appreciation is something academics have in common with a lot of other working people. personally, i was just noting my own (academic) friends’ thorny entitlement issues, which muck up their responses to this truth. but i’m not extrapolating to others i don’t know, nor trying to blame anyone who’s curing cancer (!). maybe my friends just suck.

  9. Curt Waugh
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I have to say, Mark, that you opened this can of worms and shouldn’t be surprised by any negative comments you get. The entire working world is hard as hell, but I am completely baffled why one profession gets tenure and none others do. For the life of me, I can’t get over the feeling that it’s just some old boys club designed to keep the newbies (who have all the good ideas, by the way) out of the faculty lounge.

    And here’s the kicker. Here’s the sweet center of this juicy tootsie pop: It’s on our dime. Yep, you me and every other tax-paying bastard out there gets to foot the bill for it (AND those wonderful sabbaticals). You know, I don’t give a crap what they do at Harvard, but our public schools are for us, not for the edification (quite literally) of the professors. “World Class” is fine and dandy for some prof’s resume, but it doesn’t mean squat to some poor kid who just wants to learn some chemistry.

    And a curious thing about the post stands out above all others: The poster was crystal clear that tenure is all about him. But our public universities are all about those hundreds of kids sitting in lecture calls, not him. Not one benefit to the student body in general was elucidated.

    What exactly are we all paying for?

  10. Curt Waugh
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    On the lighter side, how prescient:

  11. Mark H.
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Tenure is something that, in my opinion, all working people the world over should have the right to strive to earn. That huge reform would make for a much better and more just world, and a more stable one.

    But that isn’t the case yet, sadly. For those who do work in academia and who have the right to earn tenure, or have earned it, yes, it’s true, we tend to be outspoken critics of how things are and how they could be better. Why is that? Several reasons. One is that usually faculty types are highly trained to be — you guessed it! — critical. This is a good thing, if sometimes obnoxious.

    Another reason is that people with tenure have the opportunity to speak their minds about their working environment without great fear of retaliation. That freedom of speech is a great thing, and it’s mostly lacking for the immense majority of humanity. Sad but true. In the USA, most workers can be fired by their employer for merely expressing their opinion about their work situation. Sad but true.

    Just because the problems on the tenure track aren’t as great as many seriously oppressed people around the world face — and they most certainly are not so deadly serious — doesn’t mean that the problems aren’t real.

    Most importantly, people with tenure often speak up because they think their opinions might actually shape events and produce reforms. Isn’t it good for people to have faith that their opinions and views might matter? What’s wrong with that? Doesn’t the world need more outspokenness, rather than less?

    Tenure should never be automatic, nor should it be a sinecure. But it is a right that contributes to the progress and freedom of humanity. The right should be within reach of more people; sadly, it is a right that is shrinking.

  12. EOS
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Tenure ensures that anyone let into the club won’t expose it for the fraud that it is. Tenure ensures that greater than 95% of professors are of the liberal ideology. Tenure is a result of a vote of all the faculty in the department, not a result of achieving a certain number of publications or demonstrating any teaching competence. It’s who you know and what your ideology is more than what you know. It’s also about whether you can suck up to all the pompous and arrogant individuals who proceeded you.

  13. kjc
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    “Tenure should never be automatic, nor should it be a sinecure. But it is a right that contributes to the progress and freedom of humanity.”

    I really don’t mind if people get tenure. As long as I don’t have to believe this. ;)

    EOS i never agree with so whatever.

  14. Posted May 1, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Are we arguing about the proper way to decide who gets to be head surgeon at a hospital? Who gets to be manager at McDonalds? Who gets a promotion in the military? As far as I can tell, you have to work your ass off and schmooze like hell to get to any of those and the process isn’t the same for any of them. Electricians have rules. Carpenters have rules. Everyone has a different set of standards that insure that they get to the next level.

    In defense of all the tenured profs I know, most of them work their asses off. Maybe not at teaching undergrads, but they do lots of other things that they would rather not and get paid appropriately. Most of the adjuncts I know wouldn’t be able to handle all the hats that a tenured, senior prof has to wear let alone the incredible stress that an assistant prof is under when trying to insure some level of job security for themselves.

    Teacher Patti needs to get a new career or become an administrator since she obviously hates her job. I must say, that being a high school teacher sucks, but so does working at McDonalds. Should a burger flipper make more money than the chief surgeon at UM because it sucks ass? No. S/he needs to get a new job. Not to say that teaching high school and burger flipping are the same.

    Has EoS even completed high school let alone gotten a graduate degree? What the fuck do you know? Why don’t you shut the fuck up and go back to your shitty, bitter, bigoted and ignorant world. Fuck you.

  15. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I think everyone has the right to get their ass wiped by a professional so they have more thinking time.

  16. EOS
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Another erudite post from the dude. You slay me with your reasoned retorts.

  17. Becky
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, I feel some vitriol inherent in some of these comments that I’m not sure I completely understand. Why should supporting tenure for good professors–not simply for all who seek it but for those who both seek and deserve it (read: the talented, hard-working candidates who care deeply about their students and put great effort into their teaching)–come to mean that you suddenly don’t care about the plight of others who work hard in other industries? I taught briefly at the college level and spent a lot of time there as a student. Some of the professors who most inspired me were tenured, and these wonderful researchers and teachers worked extremely hard. While tenure is not something I chose to spend years pursuing, I understand why it makes personal sense for those who want to spend their whole lives teaching/ publishing/ researching (job security, the opportunity to some day take on positions that will make a better wage, more visibility and credibility in their fields, etc.). But what I also believe–and what few here really seem to be talking about–is that for a university to function as a hotbed for ideas, innovation, invention, and creativity, tenure is crucial. Tenured faculty are protected from having to suck up ideologically to administrators who change often and could otherwise drop whole departments in a heart beat. Hopefully, they have to spend less time trying to cover their own butts politically and can spend more time using their diplomacy skills to aid the growth of their schools and departments. Tenure also puts professors in a position that allows them to pursue the “deep thinking” so many here have poo-pooed, and then transmit the fruits of that thinking to our students. Curt, you asked what we were paying for. I think we’re paying for faculty to have the security to think new thoughts and speak their minds. These tenured faculty are often folk who teach the classes, publish the books/articles/ lab results that push innovation in many fields and inspire our university students to their own innovations. Not everyone who gets tenure will take this intellectual mission as seriously as they should, and I do believe that can be a problem. But many tenured faculty will take great care, and I think their contributions are worth it.

  18. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Mark H.,

    I respect you on many, many levels which is why I feel comfortable confronting. You said:

    Tenure is something that, in my opinion, all working people the world over should have the right to strive to earn. That huge reform would make for a much better and more just world, and a more stable one.

    And here in creeps my cynicism… You are an influential person in a powerful union. Sadly, as you say, those secretaries you pass every day are paying more in health care on far less wages than you. I only ask this because I want to believe in the institution, but please do something besides bemoaning the sadness of their situation. Make it clear to their belittled union that if they strike for the same benefits you receive, the AAUP will strike in solidarity. Say clearly that their rights to health care are as important as yours.

    Their condition isn’t just sad; it entirely within your union’s power to change. Please, a very sincere please, convince me that you think it’s “sad” enough to do something intellectually and perhaps financially risky about.

    You have tenure … aka superpowers, for most of us. Pull the cape over your shoulders and make all those long nights in the library worth something for humanity besides, um, personal tenure.

    Again, this isn’t just lip speak, I have a long-held if waning respect for profs. You often, to me, speak like a lover of revolution. I said this long ago, during the strike, but you are, at the U, upper management for most of us. You are, as close as we get in straight society, an untouchable. Really, you need to digest your place of power compared not to the president of the university but to those around you, students and staff. And, then, decide what to do with your superpowers and show us what you really stand for. Show us revolution or show us, yet again, what people with power always protect.


  19. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh ho!

  20. The Exterminator
    Posted May 2, 2009 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    You should quit your demanding teacher jobs and be exterminators. I have plenty of time to think about stuff when I’m driving all day in every rush hour there is, walking on someone’s roof, army crawling through their nasty crawlspaces, and having my face burn and tingle for getting pesticide mist drift onto me all day. Also, I get almost the whole winter off because there aren’t any bugs. Luckily I just broke the $22,000 barrier for the first time in my life, having moved into management, so I can finally afford my own health insurance ($2500 deductible), since we get no benefits. I don’t worry about Dental too much, since I haven’t been to the dentist in over 10 years anyway. I get my glasses cheap at Walmart. I have no papers to grade, so when I come home I can speak my mind on Mark’s blog if I want and not worry about being fired. Seriously, it’s an awesome job. It’s like being on vacation, except you have to be at certain places at certain times. But it’s real nice when the weather’s nice and no one’s giving you a hard time.

  21. Mark H.
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    EOS wrote “Tenure ensures that anyone let into the club won’t expose it for the fraud that it is. Tenure ensures that greater than 95% of professors are of the liberal ideology. Tenure is a result of a vote of all the faculty in the department, not a result of achieving a certain number of publications or demonstrating any teaching competence. It’s who you know and what your ideology is more than what you know. It’s also about whether you can suck up to all the pompous and arrogant individuals who proceeded you.” This statement shows that EOS does not have a clue as to how higher education in America works.

    Becky: I agree wholeheartedly with you.

    Ol East Cross: you know my real name, I don’t know yours. But if you think I am a powerful person within my union, the AAUP at EMU, you don’t know much about my union. But contact me off the blog and we can have coffee or a beer and talk of your ideas. Be warned in advance however that your suggested strategies involve steps that are not permitted by the relevant labor laws, and are hence unlikely to succeed. But let’s talk, OK? On me.

    Exterminator: Glad you like your job – or are you being sarcastic? Probably you’ve noticed that in our advanced capitalistic society, good wage jobs are not equally distributed among the working population, and even noticed that higher income jobs tend to be held by people who have obtained more education. Conversely, low income jobs tend to be held by people with less education. These are general propositions, not absolute rules; but, for example, all physicians – the nation’s highest paid profession, if I recall correctly — are held by people with several university degrees. Do you think exterminators are paid less because professors and physicians are paid too much, or because presently employed exterminators are more readily replaced by other workers? The costs of entering some occupations (physician, professorate) are high, and the costs of entering others (fast food worker, exterminator) are low. Guess which group of professions tend to be paid more?

    The workings of the labor market explain more inequities of our society than do the unique requirements of the academic professions.

    EOS, let’s debate the merits of the tenure system at a public venue. I challenge you. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

  22. The Exterminator
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m saying people with worse jobs tend to complain less.

  23. EOS
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    My apologies. 95% was an exaggeration. In reality, at elite universities only 87% of the faculty self-identify as liberal.

    So Mark H., do you think a Chi-square test would rule out the null hypothesis?

  24. Mark H.
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    EOS, I think you should figure out what facts you want to base your arguments on before you make public claims. You wrote “Tenure ensures that greater than 95% of professors are of the liberal ideology” but now, ex post facto, you want to modify that claim by limiting it to “elite universities” — yet there was no such stipulation in your original claim. Further, you make no case for the relevance of the modified claim. (And I won’t even get into the validity, or lack thereof, of your quickly Googled source…..)

    Would it surprise anyone that a high percentage of, say, bankers or physicians, are Republicans? People who go into banking are different types than those who go into, say, biology or the social sciences. And what is meant by “liberal” – a complex question. Edmund Burke, the great founder of convservative thinking, was of course a liberal; the right-wing Bush administration advocated what the world recognizes as the liberal principle of self-government thru elections. It’s an easy label to toss, EOS, but not an easy one to define meaningfully in a poll of any kind.

    No evidence supports the claim that the tenure system perpetuates some kind of POLITICAL bias among university faculties. (It does perpetuate disciplinary bias – which is mostly good: no astronomy department is granting tenure to advocates of astrology or UFOs, which are not scientifically based.)

    Of course, EOS knows he’s just repeating right-wing political dogma, and he knows he has no case to make against tenure aside from his ideological bias. If this wasn’t true, EOS would be courageous enough to come out of his exurban sprawal refuge and debate the matter publicly, as I’ve challenged him to. EOS is an intellectual coward. Everybody knows this is true.

    Prove me wrong, EOS: agree to debate affirmatively for the following proposition: “RESOLVED, the tenure system perpetuates political bias among university professors, it harms students’ education and hinders the advance of knowledge, and should therefore be abolished.” I’ll take the negative side. At a time and public place to be discussed on Put up or shut up, Mr. EOS.

  25. Mark H.
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    To beat a dead horse just a little bit more, I’ll add that, according to the very source EOS cites to support his attack on the tenure system by saying professors are of the liberal ideology, “The study appears in the March issue of the Forum, an online political science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Tax Reform.” Nothing in the news story defines what the “liberal ideology” is nor is it indicated that such a term was used by the scholars who collected the data. So EOS is playing fast and loose with his own sources.

    Right wing garbage in, right wing garbage out, facts be damned. That’s the method of EOS.

  26. Posted May 4, 2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    EoS would fill geology departments with people who adhere to fantasies that the earth is 6000 years old and bio departments with religious zealots that would fill lectures with scripture rather than science.

    Don’t underestimate stupidity.

    I want to see this debate. This would be some great entertainment.

  27. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Uh, you’re having a public debate right here, Mark H. You seem to want to bully EOS and OEC into shutting up by refusing to have much of a public debate here on this blog, and putting the burden of cowardice on them if they refuse to meet you face to face. Why don’t you just challenge them to a duel with pistols? Or why don’t you agree to that little wager I offered a while back regarding hyperinflation? You sure didn’t put up then, didja? I don’t have a problem with tenure, but I have a problem with your persistant bullying and demonizing tactics. You always rush to accuse people of political bias in lieu of providing unbiased sources yourself. Debate them here, right now. Put up or shut up.

  28. EOS
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Prof. Alan Dershowitz :
    “In America, I am left-center, but certainly closer to the left. And on the Harvard arts and sciences faculty, I would be on the extreme right.”

    David Horowitz and Eli Lehrer of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture did a study in 2002 analyzing the publicly available voter registration information for the faculty and staff of 32 elite US universities and colleges. The study was able to identify the party registration for more than 1,500 faculty members and found that more than 91% were registered Democrats versus 9% who were registered as Republicans. In four colleges (Williams, MIT, Oberlin and Haverford) the study was unable to identify any Republicans among the faculty.

    Want something more local?

    Even the Chronicle of Higher Education admits a detrimental liberal bias on campuses:

  29. SK
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Huh. Interesting that so many people are interested in this.

    For the record, I’m not at all bitter. I have what is, for me, a truly wonderful life: I get to do exactly the creative and intellectual work that I want to do, and I am super thankful that I didn’t have to spend a decade waiting for some committees to give me the go-ahead. Instead of a tenured windowless office and stacks of papers to grade, I have several part-time gigs and I pay for my own health benefits, pencils, and Internet access. This, I suppose, buys me the freedom to choose my own work, say what I think, and work in my pajamas. I’m fully aware that I have it better than most people in the world—and look, I even have disposable minutes to comment on blogs now and then. :)

    It seems like people are conflating two different things. Yes, long-term funding of a lab (or a film, or a research study, or a literary analysis project) doing breakthrough work seems like a good thing. Does long-term funding of a worthy project equal lifetime employment for a person, though? Hmm, maybe not.

    The other issue, and the one I really was objecting to in my OP, is the ‘intellectual risks’ question. I might be hopelessly naive, but I just really have a hard time understanding why people can’t and don’t create an academic culture in which everyone is free to say what they think, and to support the best creative thinking of others, regardless of where they stand in some pre- or post-tenure pecking order. Isn’t that what institutions devoted to ideas and learning should be about—the ideas, the learning?

    I’m not saying all faculty should lose their perks and be made to live like adjuncts with no semester-to-semester certainty. I am, however, completely confused by the idea that smart, creative people NEED *lifetime economic security* in order to have the courage to say what they think.

  30. DesignatedRepublican
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    “Would it surprise anyone that a high percentage of, say, bankers or physicians, are Republicans? People who go into banking are different types than those who go into, say, biology or the social sciences.”

    Wall Street types contributed far more to the campaign funds of Democrat leaders in Congress (i.e. Pelosi, Frank, Dodd, et. al.) than they did to Republicans during the 2008 election cycle.

    I am a republican who has worked in the “social sciences” most of my adult life. People I work with are often surprised to find out my (R) status. Why? Because their assumption is the same as yours, Mark H. It sounds much like the country club mentality of “we don’t get many of your kind here.”

  31. Posted May 4, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink


    Business hates paying taxes and regulation because it hinders development and cuts into profit margins. It is of course perfectly logical that they would vote Republican.

    My personal bread and butter comes from government spending on education and health research, which the Democrats are known to fund. Of course I vote Democrat. I’d be stupid not to.

    There is no conspiracy.

  32. kjc
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    “The costs of entering some occupations (physician, professorate) are high, and the costs of entering others (fast food worker, exterminator) are low. Guess which group of professions tend to be paid more?”

    How interesting. I never understood this before.

  33. Curt Waugh
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    What I find most interesting about topics like this is that folks like EOS and DR are always the first to start naming political ideologies. EOS cried “liberal” in his first post on the topic.

    Mark H is clearly political. He clearly has a strong opinion on things and he doesn’t seem to be shy about stating them. But to call him “bullying” seems a little extreme. If I disagreed with him on this topic, I’d take him on in a heartbeat, but I think he has a point. How, exactly, is being eloquent and actually checking your crappy sources “bullying”?

    EOS, what do you expect at universities? These are places dedicated to open thought. Are they supposed to be 50% Republican? Seriously, name your number. Do you expect universities — to whom Republicans are historically very hostile — to go out of their way to hire GOPers?

    You bitch up a storm about the way it is now. Please enlighten us at to how it should be. I want hard numbers here. No dodging. If, as BA suggests, we’re having an actual debate here, I want you to answer.

    SK, again with your follow-up you don’t say squat about the benefits of tenure to the rank and file students. And you’re damned right we’re interested in how our money is used at our public universities. You should expect nothing less.

  34. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Mark H is clearly political. He clearly has a strong opinion on things and he doesn’t seem to be shy about stating them. But to call him “bullying” seems a little extreme. If I disagreed with him on this topic, I’d take him on in a heartbeat, but I think he has a point. How, exactly, is being eloquent and actually checking your crappy sources “bullying”?

    Firstly, I don’t have much of a dog in this fight because I don’t give a damn or know anything about tenure. So I’m not going to keep defending myself beyond this point… unless I totally change my mind.

    Anyway: Calling out someone’s source is totally valid; that’s not what I was talking about. What I have a problem with is the tactic of trying to take the discussion off this public forum by challenging one’s opponants to talk it over face to face or have a public debate, which few people will probably do, especially if they don’t want their identities known to every crackhead on the internet. So, it silences the discussion and implies that one’s opponant is too cowardly to meet him face to face. It’s a cheap tactic and I call foul, much like Mark H. cried foul over my bet with him over hyperinflation, after which he seemed to take his toys, and went home (even though no public meeting was necessary in the case of my wager — we could do it through intermediaries). I also have a problem when he accuses his opponants of being motivated by political ideology and dogma, no matter how many original sources they site (not in EOS’s case, here, but in the past w/me) as if he’s unbiased by political ideology, which he sure seems to be. It bothers me because he’s a historian, and I assume is paid a lot of money to be an unbiased historian, not a slippery propagandist seemingly without a shred of intellectual honesty.

    Anyway, back to the tenure argument. I’ll try to quit playing self-appointed referee from now on.

  35. EOS
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    All I was trying to do was a little truth to this discussion that tenure “contributes to the freedom of humanity”. (Make me puke.) My point was that Universities are by no means dedicated to open thought. Tenured professors are the individuals responsible for hiring new faculty. The collective faculty of all the Universities in the nation are predominately liberal. New hires tend to share the ideology of the group that is responsible for hiring. You can do the research yourself and not rely on any crappy reference I might have googled. That fact is not in dispute. Promotion of “diversity” on campus pertains only to skin color or sexual preference but not to political views. Even tenured professors are constrained by the predominate political views of their department if they hope to get promoted.

    No, I don’t believe we should have any quotas. I just believe it would benefit all individuals to have more awareness of the bias. Often scientists at Universities reach their conclusions based on Political Science rather than Physical or Natural Science. Peer reviewed often means that the paper’s conclusion supports the previous work of the professors who are on the review committees. Grants are awarded for only those projects that promote the ideologies of the liberal persons who distribute the funds. Universities are not the exalted ivory towers that some pompous and arrogant professors would have you believe.

  36. EOS
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I meant to “add” a little truth.

  37. Posted May 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    What is your experience with academia, EoS?

    Washtenaw Community College?

    Let me know what graduate degree you have and from what institution it comes from and I might be inclined to believe that you know what you’re talking about.

  38. Posted May 4, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    “Grants are awarded for only those projects that promote the ideologies of the liberal persons who distribute the funds.”

    But Bushy and Co. delivered plenty of funds for 8 years…

  39. Paw
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Why are most professors liberal? Couldn’t it be that the more intelligent people are, the more likely it is that they become liberal. People overlook that, but it seems to me to be obvious.

  40. EOS
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    If you want an example of the bias, just look at Mark H’s response:

    “The study appears in the March issue of the Forum, an online political science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Tax Reform.” Nothing in the news story defines what the “liberal ideology” is nor is it indicated that such a term was used by the scholars who collected the data.

    And then Curt chimed in with:
    “…actually checking your crappy sources …”

    The fact that a study was funded by a conservative organization is all Mark needed to conclude that its conclusions were faulty. Had he even read the brief article he would have realized that the study merely asked current professors their ideology and the categories were self reported. Later, a quote by Alan Dershowitz claims he’s “left of center” which is almost delusional, but self reported. I think Alan may be left of everyone, except maybe Ginsberg and Obama. If anything, the bias in the cited study minimizes the left leaning tendencies of academia.

    If we threw out all studies funded by ideologues of any persuasion, would we have any data at all? Curt, did you read the study itself? On what basis did you assume that it was a crappy source? Should I ignore everything funded by the Ford or MacArthur Foundations? Are either of you arguing that there is not a predominant number of liberals in academia?

  41. EOS
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Paw –
    Couldn’t it be that the more intelligent people are, the more likely it is that they work in the private sector where their incomes are not so limited and their freedoms are not so restricted?

  42. Posted May 5, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Still absolutely no indication that this person has had any experience with academia at all.

  43. Curt Waugh
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Dershowitz is a tool who thinks the world of Dershowitz. If you Google “attention whore” I’m sure he’ll pop up a bunch of times.

    EOS, you turned this thing political with your first post, regardless of my choice of words for your sources. You turn all the discussions political. Yawn.

  44. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    For the record, I don’t feel “bullied” by Mark H. when he asks me to meet in person and more than he should feel bullied when I press him on stuff and take advantage of his openness about his identity. And, in theory, I’d like to meet … my reticence is connected to my lack of “tenure” (and no, Dude, I’m not going further than that).

    Mark H., I didn’t say you were powerful, just influential in a powerful union (powerful, compared to the others). And, I see your no longer on the exec committee so, my assumption of you influence is dated.

    We first, I think, interacted on this blog during the faculty strike. My primary assertion then was that faculty need to recognize the power relationships they have with those around them, students, staff and lecturers. That’s the same thing I was aiming for in my last post. I’ve got to run. But will try to get to check the other post later. Been a little busy and away from the web.

  45. EOS
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Curt, Tenure is nothing but political. I didn’t turn it that way.

  46. Posted May 5, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    It’s still obvious that you have no experience with academia.

  47. Posted May 5, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Tenure is only partially political. Mostly, it’s a performance review. Is the candidate publishing? Is the candidate bringing funding into the department? Is the candidate successfully mentoring promising students? Is the person worth keeping for the next 20 years? Do we like working with this guy/girl?

    Sure, there’s politics, but it’s mostly internal, in the same way that promotions and long term contracts are given to anyone.

    You’re kidding yourself if you believe that there is a check box for “Liberal” that determines whether someone gets tenure or not. I know plenty of people that I do not consider “liberal” (a stupid, non-informative term, imho) who have tenure or work in academia. They may vote Democrat because that’s where the funding comes from, but don’t think for a second that educated people are that simple minded and black and white in their personal political beliefs.

    That being said, there’s no reason anyone should listen to your bullshit. Even the most hardcore of conservative thinkers would think that you’re a moron. Personally, I wonder why anybody would give a shit. No one is taking the military to task in how they determine promotions. Before you start wailing, remember that the military is an exclusively publicly funded government institution (I admit, I may not be 100% correct here), very much unlike academia, whose funding comes from many different sources, public and private. Granted, my experience with the military is limited.

    I have the strong suspicion that a vast majority of military officers vote Republican since Republican administrations traditionally are willing to provide large amounts of funding. However, I also believe that their personal political beliefs span a wide range across a number of issues and aren’t nearly as simple minded as someone like yourself.

  48. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I agree with you on many points Mark H., but you academic arrogance is rude, obnoxious and turns many away from your argument.

  49. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    dude, do you do anything other than insult others and their point of view?

  50. Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    do you?

  51. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    No, but at least I’m honest.

  52. Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’m a liar. I really don’t think that neither you or EoS is a moron. Sorry, if I mislead anyone.

  53. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Ouch! How am I going to recover from that zinger! Such wit!

  54. Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Let me know and I’ll send an ambulance.

  55. Curt Waugh
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Can’t… watch…. but……. can’t… look… away………………..

    And tenure doesn’t have diddly poop to do with politics. It — like every other thing having to do with work — is about money. As soon as The Education Industry admits as much maybe we can really get to the heart of the thing, eh?

  56. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Troll fight!!!

  57. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    No wonder no one likes you BA

  58. Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I like BA.

  59. Robert
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit, as much as I don’t want to, I still like BA.

    Dude and ytown sort of grow on you after a while too…

    …like fungus.

  60. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Actually I like most of you, not for your views, but for your wit and intellect. Mark M. does provide a forum for some quite intelligent discussions. However Mark H sounds and acts like a academic who is never wrong and is the type that gives tenure and unions a bad name. For the record, I have tenure and am in a union.

    I am sure you don’t care if I like you all, but this site is entertaining if nothing else.

    Yes I post comments to push buttons when it is so easy to get a reaction, especially from dude and robert.

  61. Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    They’ll give tenure to anybody these days.

  62. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    That’s why Mark H loves it.

  63. Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    This should prove to EoS and anyone else that tenure has little to do with liberal politics.

  64. EOS
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I just did a quick check on our esteemed tenured professor who has mysteriously dropped out of this conversation. The department web site lists his recent publications. Two of the three publications listed for the last 8 years are local blog entries. Maybe he’s commenting here to pad his CV?

  65. Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    EMU is a teaching university, not a research institution.

  66. Robert
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Hey ytown, have you come to the realization yet that it was you, and those like you, that cost the Republican Party the White House and Congress?

  67. ypsi grad
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    From what I’ve seen (while earning a B.S. and M.S.), it’s primarily those who bring funding and/or recognition to the department by way of grants and frequent publications who become tenured. This makes sense, as one of the primary objectives for a university should be to come up with and research new ideas.
    Teaching ability, however, seems to have much less emphasis in the overall determination about tenure. This makes much less sense, since the other primary objective for a university should be to continue to pass on these ideas/concepts to a new group of students. But since teaching ability is less quantifiable than the amount of money an individual brings in to the department or the number of papers he or she has published, it doesn’t seem to be as large of a factor. As far as I’m concerned, this is the problem with the current tenure system.

    And, just to throw my two cents in – there does seem to be a correlation between education and liberalism in my experience. There’s not a conspiracy to promote left-leaning individuals to tenured positions, people who are more highly educated just tend to think more liberally.

  68. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    No Robert.

  69. Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    What department is your faculty appointment in, ytown? Not an attack, I’m sincerely curious.

  70. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    dude, I don’t you can be sincere

  71. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    whoops, I don’t think you can be sincere

  72. Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I am. What department are you in?

  73. ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Say please….with sugar on top.

  74. Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Please. With sugar on top. And sprinkles.

  75. Robert
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I knew you’d be especially slow to realize that, ytown. Let us all know once it hits you.

  76. Posted May 5, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Wow, guess we’ll never know. I was hoping that a tenured EMU prof like ytown might have some intelligent insights from his own particular department.

  77. Ytown
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I never said I was an EMU prof., typical dude, assuming. I said I had tenure and that i was a member of a union.

    Is Mark H still around?

  78. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Geez. You’re all starting to make me feel protective of Mark H.

  79. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Oh, what?!? Nobody speaks up for me anymore when I’m getting dogpiled! Although knowing everybody likes me but ytown more than makes up for it.

  80. ninjerk
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Interesting reading on Prof. Higbee.

  81. Posted May 6, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Um, Dude? Really??You couldn’t do ANY better than this?????”Teacher Patti needs to get a new career or become an administrator since she obviously hates her job”

    Please give an offer of proof on that statement. Seriously. I’d like to read it. (I have a Doctorate in Law, so I can probably understand what you have to say. If not, I’m sure someone on this site will kindly help me out).

    Let me guess. You are one of those people who goes to the on Snow Days and complains about how lazy teachers are that we don’t want to drive in to work when it snows. And then you get really hot and bothered and post about how rich and greedy we are.

    For the record, I have the absolute best life–great job (not high school-special education middle school), great schedule, great pay, great benefits (including pension)…I have no complaints. Anyone who thinks that I hate my job either can’t read and comprehend (you should come to my class then, because we are working on that in a few hours!) or is so anxious to slam me that they let their emotions get the best of them and they only “hear” what they want to.

  82. Posted May 6, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I have reread your original post, and you are correct. There is little to suggest that you hate your job.

    I apologize.

  83. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    It’s the nice weather. It’s got to be.

  84. Snoop
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I found him. I searched and I searched and I found Ytown!

  85. Ytown
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Dude, do you ever think before you post?

  86. Ytown
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Snoop, I am flattered that you would spend your valuable time looking for me, you could’ve just asked your mom.

  87. Ytown
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I know that is juvenile.

  88. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Watch people achieve tenure.

    (…I swear, I’m almost done with the mushroom kick.)

  89. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Just to be clear, I’m in favor of tenure and the above link is only me searching for a place to post my current and hopefully fleeting juvenile infatuation with phallic fungi.

  90. Posted May 7, 2009 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    So, you’ve found the history department’s video archives, have you?

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