Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tenure, Slavery, Marriage

In a wonderful article, Franke of Columbia's Law School, unearths the history of the freed slaves after the Civil War, now allowed to marry legally. How such an "achievement" came with lots of strings, many of which were used by white suprematists to control and punish Negroes. She analogizes this with the desire for same-sex marriage, with again the informal and folkways of gay people will be under attack when gay marriage becomes legal.

As I read Franke's article, I could not help thinking of tenure. What are the modes of control exercised upon us once we are tenure-track or tenured? I'm not for slavery, against marriage, or against tenure. But Franke's point is that one has to understand the consequences of becoming institutionally secure, in effect over-protected.

I always thought that the best defense in the case of tenure would be to have job offers from other places, not all the time, but regularly. Tenure or on the tenure track would not take you out of the market, and the potential to leave would make deans and chairs and provosts think a bit before they exercised their powers. The net effect would be a much more liquid market for faculty, less secure about the institution, more secure about your value. And one would not so much be applying for academic jobs, as the headhunters would be looking for you.

Some of us would find we are not very marketable, yet at least we do have tenure. Still, my guess is that more people would look for other positions where their talents were a better fit. On the other hand, the transaction costs would be large, the disruptions problematic: but perhaps the greater salary and respect and role would be attractive.

Those who really need tenure, to protect their ability to follow their research and teaching where it will lead are not much hurt here, although it may be that their compensation would not be so robust--except if there are institutions who see the these tenure-needing scholars as doing special work.

In any case, non-tenure-track faculty should be aware of what they are wishing for.

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