Tenure And Academic Careers

Two stories remind of us the limits, usefulness, and effectiveness of tenure in universities.

Sidebar: University tenure is much different from K-12 tenure.  In K-12, tenure is automatic or nearly so after a short period of time.  At most universities, tenure is a significant hurdle, usually decided in the candidate’s sixth year.  At major research schools earning tenure is the exception.  At mid-level schools candidates are successful more often then not but it is a significant barrier.  End Sidebar.

First, there is Roger Pielke, jr recounting My Unhappy Life As A Climate Heretic at the WSJ.  Tenure did not protect his research:

More troubling [than the attacks from the Center for American Progress] is the degree to which journalists and other academics joined the campaign against me. What sort of responsibility do scientists and the media have to defend the ability to share research, on any subject, that might be inconvenient to political interests—even our own?

Roger lost his primary research interest but end of the article tells us the rest of the story.  It is almost a happy ending:

Mr. Pielke is a professor and director of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His most recent book is “The Edge: The Wars Against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports” (Roaring Forties Press, 2016).

So Roger has found a new area of research.  He isn’t entirely happy about the way he was treated but it appears tenure was helpful to him even if his colleagues failed him.

The University of Kentucky is having a conflict with Professor Buck Ryan.  Glenn Reynolds’ (Instapundit) analysis is exactly right:

AS WELL THEY SHOULD BE: University of Kentucky faculty upset over University’s claim that professor in “California Girls” case has no due process rights. The university’s position that there’s no due process unless tenure is revoked is both wrong and foolish.

But if I were a journalism professor in his position, I’d start looking into the University’s finances and relationships. I’m sure there’s plenty of dirt that an enterprising investigative journalist could find, because there always is. Remember, as a tenured faculty member you’re not trapped in there with them; they’re trapped in there with you!  [emphasis added]

One of the reports describes the situation as murky and it is unclear that Buck is as blame free as Roger. It is true that if similar charges were levied against an untenured faculty member it would put that person in a world of hurt.  We have seen it happen.  Now, as Instapundit says, Buck loses some travel funds but he is free to vex the administration.

Tenure is not without fault.  It seems to have provided real value to Roger.  It may provide for Buck too or it may be protecting him from justice.  The latter doesn’t appear likely at this point but more evidence could be forthcoming.  On the other hand, Buck would not be the first faculty member to suffer from being accused.  Conservatives should bear that in mind when evaluating tenure.



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