Mike the Mad Biologist

Why Tenure Matters

While there is a strong economic argument for tenure in higher education, let’s not forget that the ability to speak freely is vital:

This attack on academic freedom — an adjunct hired to teach a course was fired by Brooklyn College [part of the CUNY system] administration after a state assemblyman sent a letter arguing that the syllabus and instructor were too critical of Israel — is depressing. First of all, there’s assemblyman Hikind:

Hikind, who said he earned his master’s degree in political science from Brooklyn College, told Inside Higher Ed that he reached these conclusions after spending “countless hours” reading the newly hired adjunct’s work. This included, chiefly, his unpublished paper, “Inventing the Martyr: Struggle, Sacrifice and the Signification of Palestinian National Identity,” in which he examines martyrdom as it “embodies ideals of struggle and sacrifice” in the context of national identity. Hikind said such works reflect an effort to “understand” suicide bombers. “There’s nothing to understand about someone who murders women and children,” he said. “You condemn.”

Great — BC is outsourcing its hiring decisions to someone who thinks there shouldn’t be any difference between academic work and Weekly Standard editorials. (Wait until he finds out about the criminology department!) But there’s only so much I can blame Hikind; he didn’t, after all, make the final call. So how does the administration justify this? Well, it argued that Petersen-Overton was “unqualified,” but (as the fact that he was hired by the people best situated to evaluate his credentials reflects) the “requirement” that more than an MA and doctoral work at the grad center is required to teach at CUNY is entirely fictitious.

Petersen-Overton was an adjunct at Brooklyn College, which is more and more the norm in higher education. This will have a chilling effect on scholarship:

…there are a num­ber of issues at stake here that clearly res­onate far beyond my own case and affect all stu­dent pro­fes­sors. An attack on aca­d­e­mic free­dom and depart­men­tal inde­pen­dence is trou­bling enough, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the clumsy way I was denied due process by the admin­is­tra­tion in this instance. But the prac­ti­cal con­se­quences of the college’s deci­sion under­score the pre­car­i­ous posi­tion that adjuncts hold at CUNY. In the blink of an eye, I have been denied tuition remis­sion, access to sub­si­dized health care for my fam­ily and finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion for the spring semes­ter in a time of seri­ous eco­nomic uncer­tainty. If the college’s deci­sion stands, it should send a chill through­out the entire adjunct community.

Too bad there isn’t a way to publish pseudonymously…

Comments

  1. #1 Katharine
    February 5, 2011

    Who fired him?

    Also, I’m thinking of applying to Brooklyn College for grad school, but if this is the way they deal with academic freedom they aren’t going to be my first choice.

  2. #2 dean
    February 5, 2011

    This isn’t new. Hope College, in Holland MI, fired a faculty member several years ago because of his stand on against discrimination against gays: several of the big money donors laid on the pressure with the school and whammo, the guy was gone. The official reasons for the firing, given by the admin, were quite different from what faculty in his department say they were told about what views were acceptable.

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    February 5, 2011

    Another aspect of tenure is the encouragement of faculty to engage in long term improvement of the institution. Universities tend to change slowly, and it can take years to correct a fault or make an improvement. The less tenured the faculty, the more the administration controls the development of the university.

  4. #4 adsense hack
    February 5, 2011

    Hope College, in Holland MI, fired a faculty member several years ago because of his stand on against discrimination against gays: several of the big money donors laid on the pressure with the school and whammo, the guy was gone.

  5. #5 dean
    February 5, 2011

    Okay, this “adsense hack” has shown up on a couple blogs: either an automated bit that copies portions of the posts of others OR a person who does the same. the link goes to some turkish site that, I think, has spawned spam before.

  6. #6 g724
    February 5, 2011

    “There is nothing to understand. You condemn.”

    OK, try this: There is nothing to understand about deadly bacterial and viral infections. You condemn!

    Bad bacteria! Evil viruses! Bad! Evil! Bad! Evil!

    Right. F—ing lot of good that attitude does.

    Proud obscurantism makes me want to vomit.

  7. #7 A little common sense
    February 7, 2011

    Reply to the Opening Post

    Tile: Why Tenure Matters

    The case of Petersen-Overton is irrelevant to the subject. Overton was an adjunct. Adjunct professors are typically hired to teach a specific class, are non-salaried (paid only for the class), and are not on a tenure track.

    In addition, the “strong economic argument for tenure” cited above is specious.

  8. #8 dean
    February 7, 2011

    Once again a little common sense proves he has none. Person-Overton was hired, as so many adjuncts are, to avoid the issue of tenure (and obtain cheap labor to boot). The point here is that colleges and universities are supposed to be places for an open exchange of ideas; had there been a tenured faculty member in place this would not have been an issue.

    The more adjunct faculty there is, the greater the turnover, the faster academic integrity becomes hostage to the whims of big donors and political pressure.

    Your comment that the “strong economic argument for tenure” is specious is odd – and, I notice, you didn’t even attempt to justify your comment.