Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A few thoughts on tenure from this side of the fence

GMP had a repost yesterday on the tenure debate that I thought was quite good. When I mentioned it to my partner, he told me about a rationale for tenure that one of his colleagues puts forth. Note to readers: This is being translated twice from the original source, and both times by people who don't have limited to no experience sitting on faculty committees, and neither of who have tenure. Feel free to correct our interpretations if you know better.

The way that universities are run, the faculty play a large roll in the management of the university. In a normal corporation, the equivalent management duties are performed by people who a) were chosen for the position because of their management skills, b) have their pay checks/ working conditions/ jobs retainment tied to how well their domain fares. In particular, there is a good mechanism to ensure that the managers have the interests of the corporation in mind.

How do you ensure that university faculty have the interests of the university in mind? You could only put people who are brilliant researchers and good at working with other faculty on faculty committees. This creates incentives for people to be particularly bad at working with their colleagues. You could make faculty committee work a more explicit part of a faculty member's pay check/ raise criteria. This would probably have the effect of decreasing the level of research produced by these faculty. Or, you could offer incentives for the university faculty to be personally invested in the long term future of the university. A faculty member who knows they have a secure position for life, and therefore is likely to still be at a university in 15 years is more likely to create a good environment for his/her future self than a faculty member who is on a 5 year contract.

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