it begins again, I made the mistake of reading something by Megan. This piece on tenure is just so monumentally wrong in every imaginable way I have to write a long ranty response, to be read by potentially dozens. The assault on academia and education in general inherent in it is just... no. It's amazing she can write so many words about how she doesn't like anyone who actually knows anything. Megan depends on ignorance, both general and willful, as the basis of her work, so I suppose it's natural for her to hate teachers as a group. But in the past she seemed mostly concerned with high school teachers, who are, primarily, government employees. That makes ideological sense, but her words about college and university professors sound almost personal, as if she hates them for having told her she's wrong or inherently mediocre so many times. People who are informed about their subjects and trained to craft concise, coherent arguments seem to piss off Megan the same way hot girls piss off /b/tards; they want, but will never have.
Anyway, let's get to the stupid;
The arguments for academic tenure have always struck me as pretty weak, and more to the point, transparently self-serving. The best you can say of the system is that it preserves a sort of continuity in schools that is desireable [sic] for the purposes of cultivating alumni donations. But the cost of such a system is simply staggering.I almost wonder if she consciously placed that huge steaming pile of projection at the very beginning to be a stumbling block for anyone who will criticize her. Yes, tenure is an imperfect system and yes it is abused by some granted power in it and yes it can shield incompetents, but all that and far worse can be said for fucking capitalism, especially the corporate crony based variety currently dominant which Megan considers the most important and sacred thing humanity has ever created. But concern troll needs something to shift concern onto, and as always her ideological blinders help lead the way. Problems in academia aren't due to endowments shrinking in the economic meltdown or American society being profoundly anti-intellectual in character leading to a general bias against knowing what the fuck you're talking about because the economic meltdown was a blameless act of God and/or poor people who bought houses and, as said, Megan depends on ignorance in order to sound plausible. That only leaves tenure.
I had to read the following, so you do too;
Consider what the academic job market now looks like. You have a small elite on top who have lifetime employment regardless of how little work they do. This lifetime employment commences somewhere between 35 and 40. For the ten-to-fifteen years before that, they spend their lives in pursuit of the brass ring. They live in poverty suck up to professors, and publish, for one must publish to be tenured. It's very unfortunate if you don't have anything much worth saying; you need to publish anyway, in order to improve your chances. Fortunately, for the needy tenure seeker, a bevy of journals have sprung up that will print your trivial contributions. If nothing else, they provide a nice simple model which helps introductory economics professors explain Say's Law.How this differs from Megan's career path and context is, of course, not something you should think about. In no way does becoming a Village Pundit resemble being granted tenure, move along. This is not Megan whining about her own life after the bursting of the tech bubble killed her financial sector job before it ever started a decade and change ago, so shut up.
At the end of the process, most of the aspirants do not have tenure; they have dropped out, or been dropped, at some point along the way. Meanwhile, the system has ripped up their lives in other ways. They've invested their whole youth, and are back on the job market near entry level at an age when most of their peers have spent ten years building up marketable skills. Many of them will have seen relationships ripped apart by the difficulties of finding not one, but two tenure-track jobs in the same area. Others will have invested their early thirties in a college town with no other industry, forcing them to move elsewhere to restart both their careers and their social lives. Or perhaps they string along adjuncting at near-poverty wages, unable to quite leave the academy that has abused them for so long.Meanwhile, every MBA is guaranteed either an executive level position at a Fortune500 company or a small successful business of their own to run. "Adjuncting" (which we're pretending is a word) is in no way comparable to corporations firing employees then rehiring them as temps or independent contractors so as to avoid paying benefits. And there are no non-financial personal benefits to choosing a life learning about and sharing a subject you love, so being an adjunct prof of English at a community college is exactly as dreary a life as working in a cubicle processing paperwork for who the fuck cares what purpose.
Back to Megan;
Is this producing better education? Doubtful; there's no particular relationship between scholarship and the ability to teach. How about valuable scholarship? Well, define valuable--in many liberal arts fields, the only possible consumer of the research in question is a handful of scholars in the same field. That sort of research is valuable in the same way that children's craft projects are priceless--to their mothers. Basically, these people are supporting an expensive hobby with a sideline business certifying the ability of certain twenty-year olds to write in complete sentences.Go look for yourself, she actually wrote "there's no particular relationship between scholarship and the ability to teach". She thinks she's saying the biggest expert isn't always the best teacher and adding a non-sequitur empty tautology like "statistics can be uncertain" in place of a premise in a valid argument, but she couldn't even manage to do that much coherently. She might as well have said there's no particular relation between a knowledge of human anatomy and the ability to operate.
And what about the people who do get tenure, and are producing scholarship in areas that other people care about? Doesn't tenure protect free intellectual inquiry? Diversity of thought? Doesn't it allow teachers to be more demanding of students?Ummm, yeah, it does.
Perhaps--but the question is, at what point?...
I'm going to go kill 50 people and see if it calms me down at all.
She admits the best arguments in favor of tenure, namely academic freedom and the ability to respond appropriately to ignorance in pupils, are valid, but irrelevant. Why, you ask?
Most scholars in their sixties are not producing path-breaking new research, but they are precisely the people that tenure protects. Scholars in their twenties and thirties, on the other hand, have no academic freedom at all. Indeed, because tenure raises the stakes so high, the vetting of future employees is much more careful--and the candidates, who know this, are almost certainly more careful than they would be if they were on more ordinary employment contracts. As a result, the process of getting a degree, getting a job, and getting tenure has stretched out to cover one's whole youth. So tenure makes young scholars--the kind most likely to attack a dominant paradigm--probably more careful than they would be under more normal employment process.Yes, it's because old people are dumb, and forget how to read. And they make everyone in the department pretend their faulty memories are accurate, which is why I always thought Hamlet said "To be or to buy new socks?" until I saw the play performed.
Megan is actually demonstrating intellectual insecurity to think the liberal arts portions of academia are intellectually monolithic and discourage new and challenging interpretations. All institutions have structural inertia, which is no excuse when it's found in academia, but the ratio of bad scholars unwilling to or incapable of recognizing the flaws in their own arguments to stifled geniuses is high enough to break Megan's calculator.
The same is true of diversity. Academics within the tenure system are probably more careful about weeding out heresy, because they'll be stuck with it if it manages to sneak in. Tenure can easily be used to entrench the ideological or scholarly commitments of a department's powerful members, reducing diversity rather than enhancing it.Granted, this is anecdotal, but in my undergrad philosophy dept there was a legendary tale of an actual fistfight breaking out after a dept meeting between two tenured professors over how to interpret Plato's Republic. Groupthink is a genuine danger, but the type of professor who tries to force their views on an entire department isn't going to be eliminated with tenure, or even necessarily changed in the least. Bullies are bullies, and they'll use whatever means they can to be what they are.
The current tenure system only protects revolutionary, dangerous ideas to the extent that they spring full blown from an academic's head after he has secured tenure, startling the hell out of everyone who hired him. Or perhaps after he's secured his full professorship. Or after he's managed to move to a better class of research institution with a nicer salary.This is quite simply wrong. Any scholar worth their weight can probably name half a dozen doctoral theses at least which made major impact on their fields and were subsequently publicly published to even greater impact. Even knowing Megan's stupidity as well as I do I can't understand how she could make this claim. It's like saying rookies are prohibited by Major League Baseball from winning the batting title. You have to be deeply, deeply seeped in movement conservative anti-intellectualism to even consider this claim plausible. In other words, you have to be as ignorant as Megan to agree.
Since I don't know of many cases where this has happened, I find it hard to believe that tenure is crucial to preserving the spirit of free inquiry at our nation's colleges. I'm sure it's protected more than one scholar from getting fired after making stupid remarks to a class. And we would all of us--not just academics--like to be immune from getting fired for making stupid remarks. But what's not clear to me is that this has, in any instance, protected Very Important Scholarship from being censored for the benefit of Mrs. Grundy.Yes, irony just died again, Megan made a stupid remark indicating her lack of awareness of her own insulation from the consequences of making stupid remarks. But there's a second layer of shading to the irony you might miss, of the corporate propagandist questioning whether the honest scholar needs protections from the "market forces" which placed her hack self in a position of false authority. Megan has to believe she rose on talent, lest self-awareness creep into her head and the cookie crumble.
Thanks Jebus, we're almost done.
Even if it were, I'd want to know if all that Very Important Scholarship were worth the enormous cost of this outmoded system. And advocates would have a steep uphill battle to convince me that it is.The "enormous cost" demonstrated by Megan being that people have to work hard at their career with no guarantees of eventual success, and that academia sometimes struggles to be open to new ideas. This is her actual argument against tenure, and she's damn well pleased with it. I can't go on, and thankfully don't have to. I hope this doesn't mean I'm going to start doing this regularly again, she's really fucking stupid.