Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tenure doesn't work - from the Chronicle

A commenter sent this in this morning (from the Chronicle of Higher Education). Best quote from a quick read -
Academic freedom should mean that professors with tenure act without fear of reprisal in the real-life situations we asked about, pursuing research that interests them, reporting unethical conduct by colleagues, and so forth. Sadly, tenure does not appear to confer such freedom.
Clearly tenure doesn't work, any objective observer knows this. You guys should be looking for a better system.

Of course, your comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

The Chronicle article is upside down. The problem is that professors, even when immunized by tenure, will not take a stand on anything that requires even a tiny bit of courage.

Tenure's primary purpose seems to be to discourage hard work and devotion among the tenured.

Gary Walkup said...

I think there needs to be an improved method of evaluating educators, and I'm honest enough to admit that devising such a method is WAY above my abilities.

My wife has recently gone "back to school", at age 50. It's interesting to see how 30 years has changed our opinions of educational methods. It's certainly changed our tolerance for educational methods that leave much to be desired.

For instance, she's experienced the whole spectrum of instructors. From those who ONLY provide an email address as a method of contact..and then never return email poorly-prepared instructors who walk into class and ask the class..."well, what should we talk about today?" those on the other end of the spectrum who welcome the opportunity to educate, even to the extent of meeting with students on a Sunday afternoon!

30 years ago, when an instructor unexpectedly cancelled a class, I rejoiced because I had an unexpected holiday. 30 years later, I feel like I deserve a tuition refund. After all, I paid for at least X hours of instruction, and I'm getting shortchanged. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I'd bet most instructors would complain if they purchased 4 tires at Plaza tire but only received three tires, or paid for a value meal at McDonalds but didn't receive the fries. Should paid-for class time be any different?

So what elements SHOULD go into an effective evaluation system? Perhaps we can start with subject knowledge and the ability to present that knowledge in an effective AND INTERESTING way.

As a student, and in business, I've endured my share of boring instructors who weren't capable of getting people excited about a sure-fire chance at winning the Mega Million Jackpot, and also experienced instructors who could keep me captivated while talking about boring technical stuff like how Ford truck chassis are built.

Peter's right, we need to have a better system that rewards quality instructors.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I like Gary's comments, but to say instruction is all that universities should be doing is not correct. Research is more important to our society then instruction, in our few research universities.

The problem is that SIU professors don't do well enough at that either.

Don Mills said...

Tenure clearly does not work, and unfortunately, the system as it currently stands cannot be fixed. When one's career is dependent upon the judgments of one's charges rather than one's peers (i.e., student evaluations), it becomes clear that the current framework cannot be sustained, nor should it be.

Asking students to critique someone's instruction is a little like the average Joe walking into an NBA locker room and telling the players how to better shoot, rebound, pass, and so forth. Nothing good can come of non-experts trying to tell experts how to do their jobs.

Peer-review mechanisms should be in place from the moment someone is hired to the moment they retire. The current system, in which professors submit annual reports to their department heads, is fine insofar as it permits others to assess the research and service accomplishments of the participants, but it is entirely inadequate in determining whether the professor excels in the classroom. Performance reviews that assess overall achievement are executed on a regular basis in other professions, so why shouldn't academics expect rigorous yearly reviews, as well as assessments every three to five years? Drop in, unannounced, on each of Professor Smith's classes at least once every term, and see whether he's doing the job for which he's paid.

I must tell you that the current framework, in which students wield the sword of Damocles over the necks of their instructors, proves depressingly frustrating. It makes one contemplate working at a research lab or pursuing some other avenue that would permit one to continue to do research without having to deal with all of the unnecessary headaches associated with the classroom.