Megan McArdle argues that tenure is an idea whose time has gone, and that universities should get rid of it.
Among her points:
- The academic job market is horrible, with a small elite permanently entrenched, and a wide swath of folks who give up their lives pursuing tenure, who end up failing.
- Tenure exacerbates the publish or perish mentality in academic, which isn’t productive.
- Tenure protects the old — folks who aren’t even at the prime of their careers.
- Tenure discourages diversity of thought, as aspirants have a strong incentive to toe the line with whatever the dominant strain of thought is at any given institution.
But so what?
First of all, other industries have models, whereby you kill yourself for several years in hopes of achieving some brass ring. Law and Wall Street have similar models, though to varying degrees. Most folks at the top law firms don’t make partner.
But beyond that particular rigid structure across business, there are plenty of models where there’s a huge reward for those at the top, which only a select few can make it to.
The thing is, lots of folks want to live the academic life? Who wouldn’t want to spend their careers on a nice idyllic campus, getting paid to just think, study, write (and possibly teach) all the time. It sounds freakin’ awesome.
But because the life is so desirable, the system will inevitably be brutally competitive, with few winners. That would be the case, with tenure or not.
If you don’t want to be in a tournament, so to speak, with few winners, and huge rewards, you can become a public school teacher. You definitely don’t want to become a lawyer, or go into Wall Street, or something like that.
But as long as you know what you’re getting into beforehand, there’s really nothing wrong with it*
*Disclosure: The author’s father is a tenured physics professor, though he’s at a small, teaching (not scholarship) based institution, and the situation is not really the same. But just in case someone were going to point it out, there you go….
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