after a tenured position
James Shapiro's trenchant article ("Death in a Tenured
Position?," August/00) warns that "it won't be long before the
overwhelming majority of academics will no longer be on the tenure
track, and will not receive the kind of institutional support
crucial to sustain scholarly work." Shapiro's underlying assumption
here-that tenure, full-time service, and significant institutional
support are all pieces of the same pie-is of course largely correct.
But need this be the case?
After a double A.B. in music theory and English
from a distinguished liberal arts college (Kenyon) I was trained
as a teacher-and superbly so-in the University's M.A.T. program.
I put that training to good use while working my way to a Ph.D.
at another institution-though it also slowed me down, since I
had a persistent tendency to think of my students as my first
priority instead of my dissertation. Thereafter my career path
took me away first from teaching, then from academia altogether-I
currently serve as archivist for a medical specialty society.
Now contemplating the near-inevitable mid-life career
change, I'd love to return to teaching. But-and here's the big
catch-specifically on a part-time basis, because there are other
things, like musical performance and program annotating, that
I also feel called to and good at, and for which I want to leave
space. Unhappily, this scenario hasn't yet panned out, in large
part because part-time teaching pays so poorly that I simply can't
afford to start doing it without also finding another part-time
gig (something Net-related, perhaps?) that's lucrative enough
to subsidize it.
So I think the problem is even more wide-ranging
than Mr. Shapiro suggests. In addition to re-assessing the role
of the tenure system, we need to take counsel how better to support
and compensate potentially productive teachers and scholars for
whom-for whatever reason-a traditional full-time academic career
simply isn't the right option.
G. Carson, MAT'75
In Chapter 12 of Anthony Trollope's Barchester
Towers, an elderly clergyman named Septimus Harding is harangued
by the new bishop's zealous chaplain, Obadiah Slope, who denounces
the received beliefs cherished by Harding and the old High Church
party of Barchester as "the useless rubbish of past centuries."
"New men, Mr. Harding, are now needed," Slope informs him, "and
are now forthcoming in the church, as well as in other professions."
I emphatically agree with James Shapiro that "new
men," and new women, are "now needed" in college teaching and
that it is a calamity for our profession that, for a number of
reasons, they are not "forthcoming" in tenure-track positions.
But I seriously doubt that the remedy proposed by Professor Shapiro,
the voluntary retirement of faculty members after 35 years or
so, has any chance of success.
To establish my own bona fides, perhaps I should
say that I did retire voluntarily after 40, not 35, years at one
university. I thought that the time had come for me to step aside
to make way for younger blood, even though there was no evidence
that my capacities were diminishing and considerable evidence
that they were at least as resilient as ever. I have long identified
with the mild-mannered Reverend Mr. Harding, and I must say that
I cannot recognize myself or those of my peers with whom I have
worked in the picture Professor Shapiro paints of veteran professors
who knowingly or unknowingly use their privileged positions to
block the careers or stifle the creativity of junior colleagues.
On the contrary, I think those junior colleagues I know would
agree that we have been welcoming and helpful to them, rather
than the reverse, in a number of ways.
So why does Professor Shapiro's essay make me so
First, there is no assurance that the retirement
of a senior professor will result in the appointment of a tenure-track
replacement on anything resembling a one-for-one basis. I could
document that from personal experience as a faculty member and
one-time department chair.
Second, why should senior faculty members bow out
after 35 years, rather than 30, or 25, or what-number-have-you?
Any attempt to set such a figure is as arbitrary as were the rules
governing mandatory retirement before 1994.
The logical outcome of Professor Shapiro's proposal
is periodic post-tenure review, which may well be coming even
without his efforts. Such a procedure would be conducted either
by bureaucrats, something that would please neither him nor me,
or by overworked faculty members, who already spend too much of
their time evaluating one another.
J. Worth, AB'48, AM'51
Bravo for James Shapiro's "Death in a Tenured Position"
and to you for printing it. And for an honest response from Provost
Shapiro's facts and demographics are as telling
as his interpretation of their import. However, he could have
added a crass appeal to self-interest, namely the coupling of
retirement with good health and new opportunities to engage a
world beyond the university.
After a rewarding teaching career of 31 years, I
retired at age 59. Making room for younger scholars was one motive,
but not the main one.
Although I have published two post-retirement books
and several articles, the real rewards lie elsewhere. Here are
some of the remarkable experiences that would have been impossible
had not my wife and I retired early:
A six-week camping and hiking tour of the
Residing twice in the Black Forest-actually
using the German language required for my Chicago degree.
Volunteering three times at Holden Village,
a Lutheran retreat center in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.
Two winter hikes into Havasu Canyon.
Traversing Alaska's Brooks Range by foot and
Acting as chief fund-raiser for the local
Extensive relations with corporations, small
businessmen, and philanthropic individuals.
Working to conserve 2,300 acres of forest
that includes 1,000-year-old trees.
Helping to create a bald eagle park on the
Being with grandkids for days instead of hours.
Once again reading for sheer pleasure.