Criticism of tenure is baseless nonsense

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As a tenured professor who works incredibly hard for my students and on my research, I was dismayed and offended by Professor Mark Bauerlein’s characterization of tenure in his recent column that was published in the Union-Bulletin on Aug. 18.

He correctly cites the fact that the number of tenured professors in this country has declined significantly since the 1970s, but his explanation for this decline is incorrect. There are fewer tenured professors in the academy because colleges and universities are following the lead of corporate America and downsizing their labor forces by relying more on adjunct professors.

Often, adjunct professors work without benefits and for astonishingly little pay. For good reason, then, they are often less committed to the institutions they work for and the students they teach. The result is a qualitatively worse educational experience for students.

Professor Bauerlein also fails to mention that, at the same time tenured track positions have been declining in America, the number of administrators on college campuses has shot through the roof and, as with corporate America’s CEO’s, the pay for administrators has also risen exponentially (while the salaries of professors have remained stagnant), creating a wage gap on campuses that resemble the wealth gap in America more generally.

If we were to take Professor Baurlein at his word, professors automatically get tenure at 35 and then do as little work as possible for the rest of their careers.

This is utter nonsense. The tenure process at Whitman, for instance, is extremely rigorous. One has to prove to the institution and to one’s peers that one is a productive scholar and excellent teacher. People are denied tenure in this country all the time. No one at Whitman sits back after tenure and thinks, “Oh, great! Now I don’t have to work!”

The lazy hordes Professor Bauerlein describes are pure fiction (although they clearly make great scapegoats for the woes of higher education!).

Finally, Profesor Bauerlein correctly observes that tenure was created to protect academic freedom. More than ever, in this expanding security state, it is essential that we preserve a space where people engaged in critical research can continue to publish and teach without fear of retribution from their institutions, institutions that are increasingly beholden to private money.

Indeed, Professor Bauerlein’s own tenure status at Emory offers an excellent negative example of this: In a world without tenure, writing such baseless editorial nonsense would be reason enough for dismissal.

Jeanne Morefield

Walla Walla

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