UNIVERSITIES and major league baseball have one thing in common:
It's tough to fire bums. Guarantee someone lifetime employment, and
the result is a nonproductive, outdated snob who shows up for class
two days a week to lecture from yellowed, tattered notes.
In eight states, discussions are taking place about professors
and their unique employment. Deadwood is the key term in these
Tenure is an appalling concept to those who survive solely on
the basis of performance. That's because discussions about tenure's
elimination are based on free-market notions, such as "If you're
good, you can always find a job," and "Tenure doesn't matter if
you're doing your job."
Yet within tenure's genesis lies the justification for its
continuation. Tenure exists because of religion. Education was
originally an extension of religion in its ecclesiastical focus.
Even academic regalia has its roots in priests' robes. Scholarly
work challenging that religious base was grounds for termination.
The Puritans, for example, ousted the first president of Harvard
College for his heretical beliefs.
German universities first recognized the need for an educational
environment that fostered freedom of thought - lehrfreiheit
(freedom to teach) and lernfreiheit (freedom to learn). Tenure
provided these freedoms. Research and discussions that might pierce
the veil of religious thought were protected.
The concepts of academic freedom and tenure emerged in the
United States when Darwinism could not find a research or teaching
home in higher education. The American Association of University
Professors (AAUP) became the proponent of tenure in the US in 1915.
Without tenure, research would have been controlled and limited by
the insecurity of faculty, who frequently were fired for
challenging the Good Book.
American courts embraced the connection between the freedom and
ability to speak candidly and the need for stability of employment.
Justice Felix Frankfurter described professors as "professors of
democracy" who fulfilled a unique role of seeking information and
expounding on it.
Critics point out that, unlike the Darwinesque era,
antidiscrimination protections as well as limitations on
employment-at-will now exist. Yet, tenure and the freedom to speak
remain inextricably intertwined. Socrates's life might have been
different if he'd had tenure. Tenure protected free-market thinkers
such as Milton Friedman during the Keynesian era, just as it
protected regulatory advocates during the roaring 1920s.
Most schools today are government sponsored or, at a minimum,
government beneficiaries. The insertion of religious views and
morality in lectures outside of religion courses is risky business. …