Sunday, September 5, 2010

Higher Ed Jeremiads

Randall Stephens

Read Christopher Shea's review essay in the NYT: "The End of Tenure?" Quite a few American's outside the academy are mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore. Rumors of pampered academics tooling around their college towns in Maseratis are utterly cartoonish. But, something like that vision dominates popular thinking about the professor as aristocrat. (Anyone know how many, say, history professors actually work at schools with a 2-2 load? I'd bet money they're in the smallish minority.)

Should academics be accountable to the broader public for the writing and teaching that they do? Perhaps something like the UK's Research Assessment Exercise could be in American higher ed's future.

Anyhow, Shea considers several books that offer up nightmare scenarios of privilege or offer some suggestions for reform.

"The higher-ed jeremiads of the last generation came mainly from the right," says Shea. "But this time, it’s the tenured radicals — or at least the tenured liberals — who are leading the charge. [Andrew] Hacker is a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books and the author of the acclaimed study 'Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal,' while [Mark] Taylor, a religion scholar who recently moved to Columbia from Williams College, has taught courses that Allan Bloom would have gagged on ('Imagologies: Media Philosophy'). And these two books arrive at a time, unlike the early 1990s, when universities are, like many students, backed into a fiscal corner. Taylor writes of walking into a meeting one day and learning that Columbia’s endowment had dropped by 'at least' 30 percent. Simply brushing off calls for reform, however strident and scattershot, may no longer be an option.">>>

1 comment:

hcr said...

Educational reform is such a touchy subject!

But a couple of things about tenure in education strike me as odd. We are in one of the only professions I can think of-- the judiciary is another-- where we get more valuable, rather than less, as we get older. Why, then,
should our jobs be protected more than those who become less valuable?

The idea, of course, was to protect the freedom of ideas by guaranteeing a scholar's ability to speak freely. But is that what has happened? I think you could make a case (as Louis Menand did recently) that the hiring and
tenure committees are slow to hire or promote scholars who don't think like them.

It strikes me that it would be worthwhile to try a system of seven-year contracts for professors. That would offer protection from hostile
administrators, and would also help to encourage scholars to stay active in research and teaching."