Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Before I started writing semi-full-time, I taught full time.  Believe me, there are very few teaching jobs that are "fluff" jobs, but lately there has been a lot of debate about the fate of tenure in American universities.  A recent essay by Christopher Shea in the New York Times Sunday Book Review addresses two books that tackle the question — Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It, by Andrew Hacker and Claudia C. Dreifus, and Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, by Mark C. Taylor.  Earlier in July, the NYT also posted a debate that considers the ramifications of eliminating tenure and restructure higher education altogether, a thought that makes me cringe, though I am no blind disciple of the system as it is.  

I'm not going to rant and rave about why tenure should be protected or why colleges should cutout the bulk of administrative fat that clogs the financial and social arteries of most institutions of higher learning.  However, I find it funny that so many people seem to think the majority of tenured college professors are self-indulgent fusspots who rest on their laurels and do little teaching and spend their time spouting communist propaganda and cranking out fluff scholarship and books that no one reads while the adjuncts do all the heavy lifting with no benefits or job security.  Come on folks!  For every job in America, from sanitation to corporations, you will find that guy.  

As an English teacher, I constantly warn my students against laying out sweeping generalizations to prove a point.  It undermines your credibility and obscures the real issue.  Yes, such examples of vocational gluttony do exist, and I'm sure those professors feel they are entitled because of their own years of slave-labor and hard-won scholarly credentials.  But most of the tenured professors I know do teach full loads AND work on research or scholarship or service projects.  Their extra-curricular work makes considerable contributions to their students as well as their field of study and their campus community.  

As for who gets the money...few college professors I know make more than $50,000-80,000 a year, while college administrators and athletic personnel go well into 6-digit salaries.  And that's where Shea gets it right:  
And if colleges are ever going to bend the cost curve, to borrow jargon from the health care debate, it might well be time to think about vetoing Olympic-quality athletic facilities and trimming the ranks of administrators.

I know that from city school districts to small colleges to major universities, administrations are far too often top-heavy and the distributions of funds less than equitable or reasonable.

When it comes to tenure, let me say this.  In a profession where speaking your mind is one of the most essential tools in your belt, as well as the most dangerous, and where your "superiors" can wield an Orwellian power that could extinguish a brilliant mind just for having an opinion if there were no protections against such dictatorial rule, tenure is merely a safety net that allows a professor an iota of freedom to do his job well.  Without it, education would cease to exist and indoctrination would takes its place.  Yes, that may be a little over-dramatic, but think about what a professor's job is all about.

Now consider the ever-growing complexities of the university system as a whole and the competitive playing field that now encompasses web presence, commercial appeal, financial growth, and social credibility in addition to its altruistic roots of education.

Every college or university has its own's own "mission."  For some, research is their claim to fame, while others subsist quietly on the satisfaction of educating eager minds no matter what their next step may be.  So while I sit up and wait for my tenure-track professor husband as he sweats out the next book or the next service project or the next committee meeting along with preparing inspiring class lectures and activities and grading essays and advising students, I'll think about how "overpaid" he is.  Next time I take my calculator to the grocery store and put back six items because they just aren't in the budget, I think about how "overpaid" he is.   And next time I try to plan that family vacation that we have never taken in 15 years...I'll think about how overpaid he is.

At least he has job security...

1 comment:

  1. This is AWESOME! (Said the woman who is also married to an "overpaid" university professor.)

    You took the words right out of my mouth.


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