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  > > Editor's Notes

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  > > From the President


Life 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.

James G. Carson, MAT'75
Evanston, Illinois

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 uncomfortable?

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.

George J. Worth, AB'48, AM'51
Lawrence, Kansas

Bravo for James Shapiro's "Death in a Tenured Position" and to you for printing it. And for an honest response from Provost Geoffrey Stone.

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 Far West.
  • 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 canoe.
  • Acting as chief fund-raiser for the local Land Trust.
  • 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 Nooksack River.
  • Being with grandkids for days instead of hours.
  • Once again reading for sheer pleasure.

This is the crucial question we asked ourselves while pondering my early departure from academe: "What can we do in our 60s that may well be impossible in our 70s?"

Robert H. Keller, PhB'61, AM'62, PhD'67
Marblemount, Washington

  OCTOBER 2000

  > > Volume 93, Number 1

  > >
Déjà views
  > >
Women in white
  > >
Gay studies at Chicago
  > >
Reclamation project

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Investigations

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > College Report



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