Posts Tagged ‘tenure’

Question: Randy, can you explain why the concept of tenure is so important to teachers in universities? I understand somewhat its origins in the 60s and 70s and the desire of teachers to speak freely, but what makes teachers different than other professions?

Answer: Tenure is much older than the 60s or 70s. It goes back to the teens. The troubles began in the 1890s when college faculty members were routinely fired for advocating unpopular (often new, often true) ideas. There were a number of cases, such as Sheldon who was fired from Boston University for unpopular views on the Bible, and culminating in a series of cases in the teens. The American Association of University Professors formed to advocate the value to a free society of protections for persons who were likely to be generating ideas that were uncomfortable to those benefiting from the status quo. The institution of tenure was devised to protect academic freedom. It isn’t a perfect plan, far from it. But a free society requires some ways of safe-guarding the free flow of ideas among those who have earned the right through diligence, productivity, loyalty to their institutions and students, to enjoy some protection for speaking the truth as they see it. That protection now traditionally belongs to tenured university and college faculty members, among whom I am to be counted. Assuming I live a morally acceptable life beyond the academy, and that I perform my assigned duties, I can express my opinions within my discipline without fear of reprisal for their being controversial, or threatening to the beneficiaries of current received opinion, or even if those views are radically out of line with what is now regarded as knowledge. Knowing me as you do, it may not surprise you to learn that I say unpopular things that could get me fired if I were not protected, but I do not say them to stand out; I say what I honestly believe, and I expect to have those views tolerated and never censored. I have earned the right to this protection, and unlike most people, I earned it twice, at different institutions. I do not take my speech lightly, and I intent to do whatever is within my power to insure that people like me, who have earned this kind of protection, are still able to speak their minds without fear of petty or unjustified reprisal, in the future. As Sarah says above, if they can stifle me in Illinois, at a public institution, they can much more easily stifle people in benighted places like Oklahoma. (I speak from extensive first-hand knowledge.) Our struggle here will have implications all over the nation. Illinois has the best labor law in the country, from a worker’s point of view. If we can’t protect tenure, no one can. You asked.

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Posted today on Socialistworker.org:

The key issues in the strike flow from SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng and SIU President Glen Poshard’s attempts to impose a “corporate education” model on the school. As one student and Navy veteran asked in an open letter, “Is SIUC just after my government benefits after all? Like [the for-profit] University of Phoenix?”

“What is at stake here,” said striking professor Jyostna Kapur, “is the education of working class and middle class students. The administration wants to cheat our students of a good education by trying to make us work for more and more with less and less at a time when working class and middle class students are going into debt for this education.”

Read the full article.

Message from Randy Hughes, President of the Faculty Association:

Today, Wednesday, November 9th, we’re still on strike. But there is good news, too. In twelve hours of negotiations, our bargaining team made progress on a number of fronts. We are near agreement on language that will ensure that we retain our right to pursue our Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge concerning the unilateral imposition of furlough days last spring. And there was also some progress on countering the inflammatory and disrespectful language in the BOT back to work proposal. But at 9:00 pm the two bargaining teams mutually agreed to break off work for the night and return to the bargaining table at 9:30 am on Wednesday.

Slow progress, while better than no progress at all, is frustrating. And we all want to be in the classroom rather than on the picket line. But it’s important to remember everything that our hard work and resolve has enabled us to achieve so far. We’ve protected tenure. We’ve ensured that administrators cannot force faculty to teach distance education against our own academic judgement. We’ve strengthened shared governance by strengthening the faculty’s ability to control their own operating papers. We’ve reached a workable compromise on overload pay. And we’ve established a schedule for dealing with procedures concerning Conflict of Interest and Sexual Harassment.

Most heartening of all may well be the incredible support we’ve received from SIUC students. Their support has not only helped us achieve progress at the bargaining table, but is a victory in itself – a victory for our university, its students, and the bond between faculty and students on campus.

While we’ve made much progress, several important issues remain. The BOT proposal on furloughs, while it has been improved since the terms imposed on us in the spring, still fails to provide adequate transparency and accountability. Their back to work proposal would not provide for the make up days we would like to offer to students whose classes have been covered by unqualified substitutes. While it contains new language protecting actions taken in support of the strike, it still gives the false impression that faculty have engaged in misconduct and threats. And the administration is still unwilling to offer us the same chance for securing fair share that it has offered other locals.

These issues are worth fighting for. And if we remain united in our commitment to securing a fair agreement, we have every reason to believe that we can reach one sooner rather than later.

You may have heard mention of an infamous incident in SIUC’s history related to another administration’s lack of respect for its faculty and tenure. Some aspects of this incident sound awfully familiar:

“This is a very grim and unfortunate thing that no one on this campus wanted,” said Southern Illinois University President David R. Derge. It is just about the only statement that has been made recently on the Carbondale, Ill., campus with which everyone can agree. The event that Derge referred to: as a result of a budget cut, the university fired 104 faculty and staff members and then, in a move that at first glance seemed to add insult to injury, immediately filed a class-action suit against six of the dismissed teachers.

Source: Time Magazine. (The full article requires a subscription, but those of you who haven’t had your siu.edu ID blocked can access it for free through Morris Library’s website.)

Hardest hit by the firings, which included 64 faculty members and 40 professional staff members and program directors, were the humanities–English, philosophy and history.

[Assistant Professor of English Robert] Harrell contends that this is part of a general restructuring of SIU away from the humanities and into a technically oriented vocational school to serve industry.

Source: Tthe Milwaukee Journal.

Nicknamed “The Carbondale 104”, the fired professors and their colleagues fought back, eventually restoring tenure protections. Some of those fired were reinstated, but the administration’s decision led to a lingering climate of distrust that affects SIUC to this day.

Topic: "the idea of the UNIVERSITY"
Professor Anthony Steinbock, of the Philosophy Department, created a Free Teach Zone this morning outside Faner Hall.


Jyotsna Kapur connects the dots.

While SIU is currently involved in a strike over transparency in definitions of “financial exigency” for purposes of furloughs and layoffs, our colleagues around the country have also had experience with this issue. Helpful perspective about the importance of transparency in this process is available in a report released by the American Council on Education. See especially the section “Faculty Consultation in Times of Budget Crises,” which begins on page 16 of the report, available at the link below. Throughout that section, the council articulately advocates for the importance of faculty participation throughout the process of creating and applying standards for layoff and other decisions related to financial exigency. This is required reading for all of us.

http://www.acenet.edu/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&CONTENTID=32783&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm