The Faculty Lounges

Friday, July 08, 2011

Journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley argues that tenure—the job security entitlement that comes with a university position—is at the heart of so many problems with higher education today. In The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get The College Education You Pay For she explores how tenure and the job security, mediocre salaries, and low levels of accountability it entails may be attracting the least innovative and interesting members of our society into teaching.


Naomi Schaefer Riley

Comments [48]

At times, Shaefer-Riley makes a pretty good case for tenure. The problem with adjuncts? Too much teaching for too many employers for lousy pay and under insecure terms of work! (Actually, she only describes, half-accurately, only a subset of non-tenure-related faculty). Since job security is about all that colleges and universities have to offer in relation to the amount of education required to get a professor's job, tenure for adjuncts would seem a simple and cost-effective solution.

At other times, she comes off as a shill for corporate interests. She is puzzled by the proposition that public money is "cleaner" than corporate money ... the obvious implication being that she has no problem with a system of research in higher education that is financed (and controlled) by corporate dollars. The shoe drops when Shaefer-Riley suggests that perhaps research in the social sciences and humanities ought to be conducted solely at corporate-funded think tanks like the one she serves.

I propose an empirical experiment: let Shaefer-Riley write a polemical piece about the nefarious influence of corporate influence over research at institutions of higher learning ... and see how long she lasts at the Heritage Foundation.

Jul. 10 2011 12:59 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

So, a bit of googling reveals that the author of this screed is affiliated with the Institute of American Values. The Heritage Foundation is promoting her book with a special panel. It seems kind of irresponsible not to have drawn out this guest on her obvious ideological biases. She's obviously forthright about them; see this featured quotation from the National Review online website: "Is it worth saving the jobs of the one hundred conservatives in order to make sure we keep the one hundred thousand liberals? I think the [tenure] system needs to be scrapped. I realize that there will be conservative academics who may be hurt in that process, but at this point I think it is so skewed that it is impossible to justify keeping the system as it is," says Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of The Faculty Lounges.
Research and tenure should not have been the topic of conversation: the vast right wing conspiracy against higher education should have been.

Jul. 08 2011 01:24 PM

as an unexcpetional undergrad concentrating on fine arts i was engaged and motivated by professors who were doing meaningful research, publishing, etc. it made a huge difference in my life. i was lucky to be at a school where professors doing research were requierd to teach introducory courses.

i suspect the author's suggestion that marginal students do not benefit from studying with researchers may be exactly wrong. students can find school contrived and difficult to relate to, leading to lackluster perfromance. connecting with people doing real work in the real world can change that dramatically.

Jul. 08 2011 01:05 PM
Sumit from New Jersey

I have not read the book yet, but the author's comments on the radio seemed sweeping. There is some truth to her critique especially (like some I could name) where the whole point of being a 'distinguished' professor is to have minimal contact with undergraduates.

But as regards the 'explosion' in research publication in the humanities and social sciences - you should note that it has proliferated in 'soft' areas where a moderate command of English and fluency in Pomo-nish suffice. You will find a hundred books on Shakespeare but far fewer on the Elder Edda or Gilgamesh. In my own area, South Asia you will find dozens of titles written by people who have not gone beyond English-language printed sources.
What you need to allow for is that someone who works in Akkadian or Old Hebrew of Sanskrit has to spend years in preparation and is by no means 'lounging'.

Jul. 08 2011 01:00 PM

Isn't this an argument for sending one's child to the Amhersts of the world as opposed to the Harvards, to schools where undergraduate teaching is the sole focus?

Jul. 08 2011 12:55 PM
Julian from Manhattan

Unfortunately, she is also a sensationalist. Deficiencies in teaching could be remedied by making teaching a strong part of the tenure review process - this is done at CUNY community colleges, one of which I am a faculty member of. Her comment about students entering with academic deficiency (as in the California college she cited) ignores the fact that many community colleges have basic skills programs for these students. Doing away with tenure will not address these problems, but will curtail the freedom of professors to comment on an oppose initiatives on their campuses. This happens all the time, there is a big conflict on transferability of credits between community and senior colleges in CUNY going on right now. Without tenure, who will really speak for the good of the students - the administrators?

Jul. 08 2011 12:49 PM
Raymond R Arons from New York

As a professor, you were given 10% for teaching and the remainder needed to be raised from grants. If you never published and had a NIH RO1 grant with 95% overhead you were on a tenure track.

Jul. 08 2011 12:45 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

Admittedly I've only tuned in at the middle of this discussion--I've been spending the morning toiling at the research your guest is dismissing as a kind of luxurious self-indulgence of the tenured professor. I am finding your guest's comments remarkably uninformed about the dynamics between research and pedagogy in the university. What I have seen in over 20 years in higher education is that there is a strong correlation between effective teaching and an active research career.

Jul. 08 2011 12:44 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

Something the guest said about adjunct lecturers is not true. It is not true that they are not evaluated by colleagues and/or administrators. Colleagues come into their classes, evaluate them and submit the evaluations to the department.

Jul. 08 2011 12:43 PM
Fred from Queens

Grant money is a huge factor in getting tenure. (The school gets a big percent of the grant.)

Jul. 08 2011 12:43 PM

At the present time, 75% of college and university teachers are not on the tenure track. The 25% who are tenured are concentrated in the schools generally recognized to be the best--not just in terms of faculty publications but also in terms of student educations. Does Ms. Riley really expect us to believe that Harvard would deliver a better education if its percentage of ternure-track faculty members more closely resembled that at colleges where nearly all the courses are taught by adjuncts? Her book is not the product of serious research. It's an ideological screed financed by the right-wing Searle Trust.

Jul. 08 2011 12:42 PM
Martha from Manhattann

I don't think you can address the tenure and teaching questions - regardless of which side of this debate you are on - without addressing the over-production of Ph.D.'s relative to the number of jobs available -

Jul. 08 2011 12:41 PM

Isn't this an argument for sending one's child to the Amhersts of the world as opposed to the Harvards, to schools where undergraduate teaching is the sole focus?

Jul. 08 2011 12:41 PM

This guest is misguided. I hardly know where to begin. During the McCarthy era, fourth grade teachers were fired for being communists. A friend's father (who had been falsely accused) was not able to teach for 30 years and had to work as a physical laborer. Perhaps some of the tenure requirements for public schools could be stricter but getting rid of them entirely is a bit extreme.

Faculty have a variety of responsibilities beyond teaching and research. We help to run the university and committee work is very time consuming. Also, research makes people better teachers. One purpose of the university (as a guest is currently saying) is to develop knowledge. Professors are responsible for a lot of new medical knowledge, social science knowledge, etc. Faculty who do not conduct research are more likely to have stale knowledge.

As a newly tenured professor, I recognize that tenure is not without its weaknesses (there are some lazy senior people) but, on the whole, the alternative seems much worse. Administrators are often concerned with bringing money to the University and tenure protects professors to look out for the non-financial interests of the university.

Jul. 08 2011 12:40 PM

I am a recently tenured professor. There are small, liberal arts colleges that emphasize teaching and there are large universities that emphasize research. Perhaps students just need to be more aware of which they are attending. Academics are not necessarily going into their fields to be teachers. Teaching is often a way to support your ability to conduct research.

In addition, I know academics who have not received tenure because they have conducted research that counters the goals of major corporate funders. Tenure continues to function to allow such research and critique to take place.

Finally, only in very elite universities do professors get so much choice about what and when they teach. In most places, professors must abide by the needs of their departments.

Jul. 08 2011 12:39 PM
Gilles Chabannes

How does one contend with a brilliant physicist who cannot teach and a dullard who can? Just because one has the necessary knowledge does not mean one can teach.

Jul. 08 2011 12:39 PM
Philipp from Queens

Your guest does not seem to understand the role of "universitas," whose fundamental strength is the connection of and interplay between teaching and research. If you take away tenure from, say mathematics faculty, people with the corresponding abilities will flock to go to private enterprises where they earn five times as much. The only reason they stay in academe and inspire it with their insight is tenure!

Jul. 08 2011 12:39 PM

Going forward, Ms. Shaefer Riley should dial it back a bit not not be so shouty and fast-paced and annoying.

I get it, she has an agenda to promote, but it would be easier to promote that agenda if I could actually listen to her.

Jul. 08 2011 12:38 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

The notion that Ward Churchill's firing was anything less than politically motivated is a delusional fantasy. If you look into ANY tenured Professor's work you can find innumerable instances of poor research, sources that pass without proper citations (i.e plagiarism) and on and on. They combed his record for anything they could find, threw every charge but the kitchen sink at him and hoped some of it stuck. A jury awarded him 1 million before the "powers that be" awarded the University "quasi-judicial immunity". Please, this guest needs to get real, she is a petulant child with a similar worldview.

Jul. 08 2011 12:37 PM
Raymond R Arons from New York

Many faculty publish however, grants are king. No grants no tenure, no job. Almost like pay to play.

Jul. 08 2011 12:37 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

OK. So now faculty are not supposed to do research? So, how do they become experts in their fields? So students are not supposed to be taught by those to are active people in their fields? I suppose we're just supposed to read the publications of others? Who would write those?

Jul. 08 2011 12:36 PM
Jason from Westchester from Westchester

I teach at a state college business school, and our outside accreditation (private) organization REQUIRES us to publish 2 articles every 5 years in an approved list of peer-reviewed business journals. My research also makes me a better teacher because it forces me to stay current in the ever-changing field of finance.

Jul. 08 2011 12:36 PM
John Monti from Brooklyn, NY

I am tenured faculty at a preeminent Art & Design College in NYC. I am the only Tenured faculty in my area of 20 faculty and was the first Tenure hire (two years ago) in 30 years at my school. I serve on several committees, meet with students on my own time and am depended upon as the brain trust for the area I serve. More teacher bashing here I'm afraid. The Dept. depends on Full-Time faculty to run Departments beyond the classroom. Adjunct is cheaper labor for most schools.

Jul. 08 2011 12:36 PM
Lonnie K. Stevans from Amityville, NY

I do not know what Ms.Riley is talking about. Apparently, she does not know that 65 percent of all faculty positions are already part-time or non-tenure track.

It is not tenure that it is the problem, but the fact that we have had a movement towards non-tenure track positions, where university administrations (which is, by the way, the fastest growing component of university costs) can hire and fire like a private business.

Jul. 08 2011 12:35 PM
Jose from NJ

I think this is a biased view of tenure: the reason why there are so many adjuncts is because they are cheaper. Universities and society have decided to divest from universities. This has little to do with job security.

"Prioritizing research" over research feeds into the anti-intellectual climate that pervades so much of the conservative spectrum

Jul. 08 2011 12:33 PM
John from Brooklyn

Adjuncts are frequently hired based on enrollment. As an adjunct at two different institutions, I do not know for certain whether or not any of my classes will fill until the week befor classes begin. This makes it impossible to seek additional work, and it also tempts me to teach so that students like me so that word gets out I'm an easy A and student enrollment in my classes will be high.

Jul. 08 2011 12:33 PM
Noah Silverman from New York

Your guest seems to completely overlook, or, at the least, is not discussing that teaching is only one of many functions for which higher education exists. Many would argue that the main function is for the development of new knowledge: "knowledge for knowledge's sake." When you keep that in mind, tenure makes a lot more sense than if you just evaluate it against teaching.

Jul. 08 2011 12:33 PM
CL from NYC

An utterly simplistic position. This person has a very naive, ahistorical, ill-informed notion of university tenure. If listeners want an intelligent discussion of the topic, see Stanley Fish.

Jul. 08 2011 12:33 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

"Most people have job security"
Is this idiotic woman living in a fantasy world?

Just because you state something emphatically does NOT make it true. You lost all credibility with that statement.

Jul. 08 2011 12:32 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

I know someone who worked as an adjunct lecturer at two city colleges and did not get a pay check during the semesters in which he taught. It was unclear when the check would come and when it did it was long after they left for a job in a corporation. He ended up leaving one college mid-semester because he needed to pay his rent. A student later expressed disdain that their class had gotten disrupted.

Jul. 08 2011 12:31 PM

There is no such thing as job security in any private industry anymore; the author must be living in some alternate universe. Many people certainly DO walk around worrying about losing their jobs every day. And for good reason. Losing your job is not the same as "getting fired."

Jul. 08 2011 12:31 PM
Bob from Brooklyn from brooklyn

I am not a professor. I have no job. Like more ad more people I am a free-lancer (the joke being "free to starve"). I don't know many people who are not worried about job security. Especially these days. Millions have people have been thrown under the bus, and the bus is just picking up speed.

Jul. 08 2011 12:31 PM
Melanie Lee from Brooklyn

Your guest seems to think that 'fourth graders" don't deserve the benefits of tried and proven professionals. Otherwise, how does she explain the dismissive tone of her wondering aloud whether "fourth grade" teachers ought to be getting tenure. Do elementary school teachers deserve less consideration of their valuable powers than their counterparts in higher education? If these teachers got the respect they deserve, the American public would not be wringing its hands over the state of the students.

Jul. 08 2011 12:29 PM
Sharon from Washington, DC

I will read Ms. Riley's book with interest, but she can't base her argument on examples of individual schools that don't grant tenure. I taught at 3 schools with a "religious mission" and I can assure her that ONLY the tenured faculty spoke out on serious issues--and it was not uncommon for tenured faculty to be punished through denial of leaves, pay raises, etc.

In the early 90s, the Catholic Church was advising Catholic Universities to make faculty in certain disciplines sign pledges that they would not teach things not supported by church doctrine. This has serious implications for intellectual freedom.

Jul. 08 2011 12:29 PM
NJ Prof from NJ

Tenure is NOT the issue.

At my school, I'm shocked at how little my colleagues teach. I LOVE teaching and fought to teach more.... Only to have the Dean and Provost tell me I could not.

Thankfully, we had plenty of Adjuncts to take my place.

Jul. 08 2011 12:28 PM
Anthony Mancini from Brooklyn, NY

Tendentious agitprop, the primary purpose of which is to sell books. As a tenure-track professor, very little of what your guest is saying comports with my experience.

Jul. 08 2011 12:27 PM
Steve from Baltimore

I'm a grad student at a large university, and I'd go one step farther than "publish or perish." I'd say, it's about writing grant or going on welfare. Thus we're getting paid to say we will do something rather than have produced something. I think linking pay too closely to performance explains the gender gap because middle class men still feel a lot of pressure to be the bread winner.

Jul. 08 2011 12:27 PM

Your guest's dismissal of academic research in the humanities -- "Do we really need another theory about who wrote Shakespeare's plays?"-- suggests she's not as in touch with what academics care about as she claims to be. Readings of texts change as our cultures changes, and research projects make scholars into smarter, better teachers.

Jul. 08 2011 12:27 PM
James from Brooklyn

I find your guest's findings highly offensive. I am a Ph.D. candidate in English. The idea that what the cutting edge of humanities scholarship does is to produce aimless drivel on Shakespeare demonstrates a total lack of familiarity with actual humanities research.

Moreover: tenure is needed more than ever now. Tenure is needed to defend the humanities as Dean's simply more and more pressure the humanities to produce 'verifiable' results, reduce time to degree, etc. Rather than hire a tenure line, Dean's will hire several adjuncts--a process of pure and simple labor EXPLOITATION.

Finally, the idea that adjuncts do not attempt to teach with great dedication is additionally offensive. Tenure is the ONLY way to offer space for dissent that we have come up with. Renewable contracts would only force each university into a big lump homogeneously oriented towards its 'goal' that you speak of. This is one of the only professions where you can labor for 10 years in school for a job that isn't there, and when you finally get that job, you have to fear for your life if you don't please the Dean--assuming you get a job. After 10 years of education, please, job security.

Jul. 08 2011 12:25 PM
Julian from Manhattan

Your guest is much more balanced and less tongue-and-cheek than Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, who have gotten a lot of mileage out of their book that basically paints professors and administrators with the same bad brush.

Jul. 08 2011 12:24 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

Tenure didn't save Ward Churchill, if you say anything against the establishment kiss your career goodbye, the tenure track is for bootlicking pedants with political skills, higher education is just affirmation of the status quo now, nothing more or less.

Jul. 08 2011 12:22 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

In my experience as a tenured faculty member, I can say that tenure does provide for space for dissent. The idea that years of not being able to dissent would make you never dissent for the rest of your life is ridiculous. Tenure allows for the teaching of controversial ideas (at our college there are administrators and trustees who are not too happy about that). At state universities, politicians are trying to influence what is taught and researched there. Tenure is more important that ever. I suppose the author would like faculty to be able to be fired at whim over these issues.

Most universities give tenure based on good teaching as well as good research. No one at my school could get tenure if they were not a good teacher. What the guest is describing is the elite research schools, not the typical college or university.

As far as research goes, PhD training involves getting specialized within a large context. If everyone was a generalist, what would we be experts in?

Jul. 08 2011 12:20 PM
Matt from Brooklyn, NY

In practice these days, how portable is tenure? Do tenured professors often move to new universities and receive tenure at their new institution, or do they feel locked into their tenured position for fear of not getting tenure at a new position?

Jul. 08 2011 12:20 PM
JC from NYC

Ms. Riley seems to think that humanity already knows everything it needs to know and that it just needs to be taught to the next generation. She seems not to be addressing the university's role in knowledge production and how this is vital to having a college education remain relevant and worthwhile.

Jul. 08 2011 12:18 PM
C. E. Connelly from Manhattan

So, really, really, her argument is, it takes a long time to earn a Ph.D. and get tenure, and during that time they've been trained not to speak out, therefore, they won't once they get tenure. That's ridiculous and illogical. That's why they worked so hard for tenure, so they can be more free to write what they want.
The uniformity of thinking in most departments is likewise an argument FOR not an argument AGAINST tenure.
What do we gain by eliminating tenure, I've yet to hear your guest cit any clear benefits of eliminating tenure.

Jul. 08 2011 12:17 PM
Jen from New York

I have not read Ms. Riley's book, but I am wondering if you can ask you guest if she thinks the adjunct issue is the same problem, or the opposite problem with what she is seeing in the college trend.
More and more colleges are staffing as much as 45-65% of the staff with adjunct instructors.

Jul. 08 2011 12:14 PM
Paul from Cranford, NJ

In New Jersey the 4th grade teacher you referred to needs tenure because of Boards of Education. Nepotism is rampant and tenure does reduce it. Eliminate Boards of education and then one can look at eliminating tenure.

Jul. 08 2011 12:14 PM

I attended Caltech as a grad student, but I took some classes.

The professors were indeed busy, but their TAs were quite good and I didn't feel that I was left alone.

Jul. 08 2011 12:12 PM

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