Thursday, July 22, 2010

More On Tenure

....... breaking news .........

You have to pay tenured professors money, every year, without fail. Megan uses her elite math skills to argue this makes tenure more expensive than a purely contractual system would be.

One interesting response I've seen from a lot of people is that tenure is a non-pecuniary reward that enables us to keep the cost of teaching lower. That's one way to think about it. But I think of it not in terms of annual salary, but as an accounting cost. And in accounting terms, hiring someone on a five year contract at $80,000 is much less expensive than hiring them on a forty year contract at $65,000. One is a liability of perhaps $350,000; the other, of millions.

Is that a ridiculous way to think about it? After all, you'll have to hire another professor at the end of the contract. But you may have to anyway, if, say, their area of specialty won't attract the top students. You also lose the very valuable option to downsize if you run into financial trouble. Fixed payments are what turn cash flow problems into catastrophes. Option value and opportunity costs really matter.
Yes, the stupid is obvious. Megan's ideological biases are literally making her hallucinate (and maybe the Ambien). Fortunately for me, commenter Lisa A spared the need to provide my own response;
Yes, but what most people fail to consider is the cost of hiring and salary inflation. For example: Six years ago, a university hires an assistant professor at a salary of $57k. Said university does not give annual COLA adjustments, only "merit" raises. Not eligible for the first year, the professor gets a 3% raise halfway through the first six years, increasing the salary to $59,850. The professor is tenured, and given a "large" raise for promotion and tenure, increasing said salary to $65,835. Now, you have an associate professor with tenure making $65,835. However, if you were to hire a new *assistant* professor six years after hiring the first one, the new starting salary will be at least $65k.
In short, there's no way that I, as a professor, would accept a renewed contract for anything less than current market salary. For me, as an associate professor, my salary would go up over $10,000 (I've been at my current institution for ten years, and with tenure, 15 years of being in the profession, and two books to my name, I make less than the newly-minted Ph.D. who my department just hired this past spring).
Tenure may be "permanent" employment, but not if the university decides to eliminate your department. People often leave (usually to get a salary increase), and few people today stay at the same university for their entire career.
As for tenure encouraging mastery, there's this little thing called "post-tenure review." Between that and no COLA, if you're not producing scholarship and actively engaged with students, your salary will never go up, and you could actually be fired.
Meanwhile, much of the rest of her commentariat ignore reality and riff on Megan's wishcasting. If we assume that at least one tenured professor somewhere, at some time, has committed rape, then clearly the system facilitates it and must be abolished. One commenter even seems to believe that for-profit colleges, which presumably means private institutions, don't offer tenure. Or maybe he means DeVry. He also seems to think it's metaphysically impossible to fire someone with tenure, because he hasn't the slightest clue what he's talking about, like his heroine.

Shoot me before I post again.


Unknown said...

"He also seems to think it's metaphysically impossible to fire someone with tenure, because he hasn't the slightest clue what he's talking about, like his heroine."

But he feels just like Jesus' son
and I guess that I just don't know

D. Sidhe said...

There was a recent Frontline episode on for profit colleges, and yes, I think the commenter means DeVry and the ones that advertise on late night TV, rather than simply private institutions. They are apparently mostly scams to get grant and loan money out of the government by leaving students on the hook for more than they imagined while learning approximately nothing that will help them get a job. I believe they did say that these places don't offer tenure to their professors.

Ecks said...

So private schools don't offer tenure eh. Wait till all the profs at Harvard hear they've been lied to all these years! There'll be a riot.

NutellaonToast said...

At semi-private schools like UPitt, you're guaranteed half time employment for life. You gotta fucking EARN that other half, though.