Disincentivizing Dissent, Ctd

by Chris Bodenner

The debate over tenure was one of the most popular threads this week - find it all here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Thanks to everyone who wrote it. Some final thoughts:

The graduate student in psychology who weighed in on the issue bemoaned the fact that faculty don't spend enough time teaching their graduate students, both before and after tenure.  The fact that this is true both before and after tenure suggests to me that tenure here isn't the issue.  Rather, the issue is the fact that the faculty's employer, the unnamed university in the midwest, does not reward graduate teaching.  It factors little into tenure decisions, and likely factors equally little into decisions about promotions and pay raises.  If the university in question came to care more about it, I can assure you that faculty would put more effort into it, both before and after tenure, and would do so even absent the tenure system.

The particularly frustrating thing about this post, though, is that it is internally contradictory.  The author faults junior faculty for spending time writing grants, because it takes away from their teaching time.  But the author later faults senior faculty who do not spend the time writing grants, because graduate students need the money.  But you can't have it both ways - the grants don't come without the time put into writing them.  And changing the tenure system won't change this fact.

Another writes:

Having read through all of the tenure responses so far, a simple fact has become clear to me: different people react to tenure differently. For some, it is a shield for provocative research and opinionated teaching; for others, an excuse to avoid students, abandon scholarship, and slack on grant writing; for others, a welcomed reward for innovation and skill; for others, a soul-grinding political game that sours them on academia in general. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies not in the tenure process, but in ourselves. If that's the case, and its worst aspects arise not from its nature but from the nature of some humans who experience it, then does it really deserve to be thrown out?