A former colleague, Charlie Swayne, has come out with a blistering attack against tenure in Wisconsin.  We suppose he is against it everywhere but Wisconsin is what concerns him at the present time.  Here we are going to discuss what Swayne says.  There is another issue about academic freedom that should be important to conservatives but will not be discussed here.  We may have an additional post on it.  He starts by saying:

Gov. Scott Walker says tenured professors at the University of Wisconsin should teach another class. He’s wrong — but more on why in a moment.

He ends with:

Walker says UW professors should teach another class. He’s wrong. If they are a great teacher, they should teach several more classes. If not, they should go to the University of Minnesota.

In between he says that tenure is a scam, research is useless, and questions the ethics of faculty on both research and work.  He misses that service is a requirement of faculty at most schools and a statutory requirement at state schools in Wisconsin.

Decisions relating to renewal of appointments or recommending of tenure shall be made in accordance with institutional rules and procedures which shall require an evaluation of teaching, research, and professional and public service and contribution to the institution. [emphasis added]

He is also concerned about the cost of education.  Of course, just eliminating tenure will increase the cost of education.  Instructors, like everyone else (it is one of those research things), trade off risk and reward.  Tenure makes a position less risky so an instructor is willing to accept a lower salary.  What would make it cheaper is eliminating the research requirement.  The issue is: would eliminating research make for better or worse teaching?  One reason to think research makes teaching and learning in college better is the recent emphasis on undergraduate research (see NCUR).

Professional and public service and contribution to the institution is often referred to as service.  In practice, a big part of service is related to operating the school including curriculum and personnel.  See one school for example.

We have been involved in taking action for cause against a tenured faculty member so we know how difficult it is.  That experience showed both the difficulty of it and that it can be done successfully.  We have also been involved in highly charged university-wide budget confrontations.  Tenure was very reassuring in those instances because we were a faculty member making recommendations to deans and other senior administrators.  To make it clear, the university expects faculty to make quality recommendations to folks who are their superiors on the organizational chart.

We have found that the tenure decision is taken very seriously and a significant number are denied tenure.  We think that research is critical to the mission of educating students.  We have found that with rare exceptions, faculty are ethical about research and work.  Indeed, the senior faculty are generally effective at creating an ethical environment.  Faculty work hard and research in an ethical manner.

There are two concerns.  The big one is that tenured faculty can be taken to task for is the failure to stop the administrative bloat at the university.   Of less significance to us, is the exception to the rule where tenured faculty shirk their responsibilities.

Administrative bloat is part of the reason that tuition has increased so rapidly.  Faculty may have constrained it but must take some of the blame because curriculum has been in part moved outside of faculty to the dorms.  On the other hand, it might be worse without faculty and tenure.

Tenured faculty that shirk their responsibilities are a small but intense problem.  It rarely happens but when it does it is a big problem for everybody.  Processes can be improved so these situations can be resolved or tenure will be eliminated.  If it is eliminated it may inhibit academic discourse, it will make administering the university more difficult, and it will probably increase faculty salaries.

To summarize: tenure can cause some problems but it does not make school more expensive.  An emphasis on research does make school more expensive.  There are several reasons to think that research is positively correlated with quality teaching.

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