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Tenure and responsibility

James Shapiro's article in the August/00 issue, "Death in a Tenured Position?" rightfully criticizes elderly tenured professors who cling to their tenured positions and thereby effectively deny not only tenure to younger professors but their chance for research and administrative positions. His answer is lame: that senior professors should voluntarily give up their privileges.

Much as one would like this to happen, it probably won't, just as former president Bush's call for the voluntary righting of social wrongs went unanswered. Rather, we must face up to dealing with the problem of tenure itself, which enables professors to continue for decades in positions long after they have ceased being productive or up-to-date in their research or teaching.

Tenure's justification is academic freedom, and it is also sustained by the fear of faculties that increasingly powerful university administrations will ride roughshod over them. The answer is not a system that blindly tolerates incompetence, but one that can deal sensitively with discrimination, if it occurs. This would be faculty unions and associations of university professors energized to protect faculty rights and given mediation powers regarding disputed faculty contracts. Sensitive dealing with cases would determine that some faculty should be required to retire or should be fired, and others are being dealt with unjustly and should be retained.

Tenure does not serve students or the intellectual world and needs to be replaced by a system that protects faculty at the same time as it insures quality.

Craig R. Eisendrath, AB'54

What a very convincing statement James Shapiro wrote. I would like to add three points to his argument that faculty over 65 should voluntarily retire. The first is personal, the second academic, and the third political.

First, I began teaching at the end of the Eisenhower years when I was just a little older than my students. For most of my career the students straddled the ages of my growing children; today they are nearer to my grandchildren. I enjoyed 35 years of exciting career opportunities and I believe it would be outright selfishness to hang on to tenure. As an emeritus I can virtually teach when and what I want, and I can also draw on a university pension, medical benefits and social security. How absurd it would be to hang on, as if surrendering tenure is the only possible alternative to an old age home.

Second, I thought the training I received at Chicago had been absolutely first rate. But there is practically no similarity between the graduate seminars that were so lively in the 1950s (the golden years of Chicago?) and the training that is mandatory today. As one of my distinguished contemporaries put it, there is no way in 2000 in which we could qualify for a tenure appointment. We find the professional journals befogged with algebraic formulae, and we scan computer driven searches that rarely correspond to English syntax.

Third, and politically, I see that at least one-half of the new faculty appointments to be made this year will be on lines that don't carry tenure.

As Professor Shapiro noted, administrators clearly expect within ten years to win their campaign to eradicate tenure, not only at hundreds of state colleges but also at the best graduate schools, simply because a crowd of older white men (few women, or minorities, by the way) are camping on the privileges that they had been awarded 30 or 40 years ago.

One last note. As I continue with active teaching and research, I found pleasure in an off-campus pursuit that few faculty have the time or inclination to pursue: fund-raising among wealthy alumni. Few universities do it at all well. Most employ inexperienced or younger staff to approach the aging alumni who are writing their wills or disposing of accumulated capital. If only the development department had been well organized, the silver-haired faculty would be out gathering funds instead of sitting on them.

Walter Goldstein, PhD'61
New York


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