Today’s Boston Globe featured a story about a no confidence vote by the U. Massachusetts faculty against the U. Mass. President and Board of Trustees. The story mentions strong statements by faculty members to the President, who attended the meeting.
This story reminds me of the value of tenure, an institution under criticism within the legal academy and elsewhere. If we want faculty to have strong influence over the direction of educational institutions, including law schools, then tenure is perhaps the best method of ensuring that influence. Faculty who can be fired at will, or in a short period of time when their contracts expire, are far less likely to speak out against university actions they don’t like.
To be clear, I am not arguing that the tenure system is perfect (there may be ways in which it should be revised), or that law schools should never employ faculty without tenure. Tenure can shield underperforming or misbehaving faculty from the consequences of their actions, so it comes with real costs. However, I don’t think that is enough of an argument for getting rid of tenure unless we want to significantly lower the influence of faculty on institutions of higher education.
On the one hand, academic freedoma and free speech are important for the free flow of ideas on campus. OTOH, sometimes faculty hide behind â€œfaculty governanceâ€ when itâ€™s really just a case of the inmates trying to run the asylum. In any organization (even a university) there needs to be accountability and someone in charge. And so the idea that employees can throw a tantrum until someone fires their boss is a pretty lousy way to run a railroad (or university or asylum). The link provides yet another example of the throw-a-fit-to-get-the-president-fired trick. Since the “Massachusetts Society of Professors” is organizing it at UMass Amherst, it must be a standard tactic in the NEA higher education handbook.