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Berube on Tenure and the Dept of Ed

Michael Berube checks out the recent “issue paper” on college costs issued by the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education and argues that the paper appropriated his idea — using efficiency as a metric for measuring success in higher ed. He was joking when he floated the idea. He’s serious now.


More to the point, tenure prevents university presidents and trustees from engaging in what may be the hallmark of American business today: the use of efficiency experts and external consultants to fire middle-aged account executives, nurses, editors, and secretaries, after having made them run a humiliating gantlet of pointless self-assessment trials.

The issue paper:

A combination of institutional practice and emerging case law has resulted in a situation where institutional flexibility is reduced in two key ways. First, if student demand for academic programs shifts, faculty capacity to deliver it cannot. Tenured faculty members are not interchangeable parts (a physics professor can’t usually teach journalism, and vice versa). Second, it has become increasingly difficult for college administrators to remove a tenured faculty member who is no longer effective. Thus, the decision to tenure has an accompanying long-term price tag that easily exceeds $1 million per person.

Read the whole thing.