The abolition of tenure

Posted: Dec 27, 2004 12:00 AM
After every article I write lamenting the deplorable state of higher education, I get letters from readers that say ?thank God for tenure.? I guess that many have concluded that tenure is solely responsible for my continued employment at the institution I so frequently criticize. I don?t see it that way.

Over the last couple of years, my columns have been read by millions of people. Fortunately, many of my readers are among the finest lawyers in the United States of America. Some of those lawyers have now become my good friends. Put simply, I buy my ink by the barrel and I have far better lawyers than those employed in the UNC system. That?s why I don?t have to feign respect for the people that employ me, just to keep my job.

However, my opposition to tenure isn?t based solely upon my belief that it does nothing for me. It is based instead on the problems I believe that it causes for me and for others on a daily basis.

Sometimes the problems caused by tenure are minor. For example, some untenured professors incessantly brown-nose me before they have gotten my vote for tenure. After they find out they have achieved tenure, the same professors will hardly smile or say ?hello? when they pass in the hallway. They become rude and withdrawn almost overnight. And, suddenly, they show up late for every department meeting. They answer cell phones in the middle of committee meetings, and so on.

Worse than the way the newly-tenured treat their colleagues is the way they become suddenly inaccessible to students. I will grant that few ever worked a 40-hour week before tenure, but some will never work a 20-hour week after tenure. There are tenured professors I know who never come to work before noon. In one extreme case, a professor down the hall from me is so absent that I have considered putting a sign on my door saying ?No, I have NOT seen your professor today!? It wouldn?t have much of an impact on our relationship, since I only see that professor about twice a semester.

Then there are the really extreme cases of incivility, which are produced by tenure. Recently, a tenured professor publicly accused me of creating a ?hostile work environment? for writing an article exposing her for making a false accusation of sexual harassment against another professor. In her mind, a false accusation of sexual harassment is only false if no one talks about it. When they do, the false harassment becomes real because it is difficult to work in a place where people stigmatize you for filing false sexual harassment charges.

Idiocy of this magnitude is difficult to discover, unless you spend time with tenured professors. Usually, untenured professors are capable of the same degree of idiocy but manage to keep it hidden until there is no chance that it will get them fired.

Of course, there is a ?moral turpitude? clause that can technically be used to fire a tenured professor. A UNC professor was once fired under this clause after he was caught having sex with a male prostitute in a downtown alley. The second time he was arrested, the officer was a student. It was a real Maalox moment for everyone involved.

If the same incident happened today, the student/police officer would be expelled for sexually harassing (arresting) the gay professor. The gay activists who run the campus diversity movement have successfully put the notion of ?moral turpitude? to rest. One result is that tenured professors can now file numerous false accusations of sexual harassment with impunity.

While these reasons are all good enough to abolish tenure, the best one is called (if only by me) the ?McCarthy Effect.? Put simply, this effect explains how the abolition of tenure would do a better job of rooting communists out of government work than Senator Joe McCarthy did in his entire career. Better still, it would do so without a single false accusation against an innocent party.

In order to understand the ?McCarthy Effect,? one needs to understand the concept of sample selection bias. One must also understand that communists are inherently needy. They are not drawn to communism because of the part of the doctrine that says ?from each according to his ability.? They are attracted, instead, by the part that says ?to each according to his need.? In other words, they are lazy people who do not want to compete in order to get ahead in society. Instead, they want to do as little as possible without any prospect of ending up with nothing. They believe that communism will afford them this opportunity.

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many have had to seek an alternative to the communist ideal. And many have found that alternative at the American university. Of course, when Marxists become professors, they do have to work for several years to get tenure. While it may not be perfect, they know that things will be better after tenure. Paychecks, pensions, and health benefits will be provided, regardless of productivity.

Many of those who are unfit for any job besides that of a tenured professor would be unemployed and homeless if we abolished tenure tomorrow. Without tenure, these people would not be such an irritation at work, although they would probably be just as irritating as panhandlers once their unemployment checks ran out.

Tenure is supposed to foster academic freedom on our nation?s campuses. Instead, it fosters socialism, laziness, and incivility. I would enjoy my job a lot more without it. And, more importantly, our children would get a much better education.