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TO THE EDITOR:
I usually take great pleasure in reading Mary Burgan's well-written and hard-hitting columns in Academe. Not so with "Tenure and Its Discontents" from the November-December issue, which I feel reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the character and mission of the research university.
Burgan argues that the publication requirements for tenure have become "impossibly grandiose," and that this has generated resentment against tenure itself. She cites a two-book tenure requirement for humanities professors and implies it is representative, which it is not. A tiny number of elite schools-less than twenty-have always had unreasonably high or even impossible standards for tenure; some of them rarely grant it. The two-book requirement is indeed obscene, since it undermines faculty members' commitment to teaching and service, but there is no sign it is a trend.
She also suggests that research universities should be willing to grant tenure for service and teaching, even when the candidates are failed scholars. I disagree. People actively engaged in research are more likely to communicate the current state of the discipline to their students and more likely to be models of intellectual commitment. They are also the faculty most qualified to make good hiring decisions. When all faculty in a department are successful scholars, the effect on the teaching climate is powerful. Those are the very departments most able to train the profession's future scholars. People do not generally resent such expectations when they are clear and consistent.
Even small colleges benefit from having some highly productive scholars on the staff. The key to raising tenure requirements is to provide sufficient release time and financial support to make it possible for people to meet them. Overall, fewer than 20 percent of American colleges and universities have serious research expectations of tenure-track faculty. Attacking their mission only fuels American anti-intellectualism. It is certainly not something the AAUP should do.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I believe that Cary Nelson has missed the nuances in my column, which actually calls for reform in the name of scholarship. I do not advocate tenure for "failed scholars," for example, but I do suggest that there are different balances among the features of academic careers, even in research universities, that make scholarship possible. And I do not say that all standards are "impossibly grandiose," but that too many are. Finally, my aim is not to undermine research but to take it out of the status competition that has corrupted many (and not all!) of our best educational traditions-even at nonresearch institutions.
TO THE EDITOR:
Thank you for including Mary Gray and Barbara Bergmann's article, "Student Teaching Evaluations: Inaccurate, Demeaning, Misused," in the September-October issue. Faculty have been held hostage to student evaluations for too long. There are too many cases in which students banded together to punish an energetic, demanding, and challenging younger professor. (No, I'm not one of them, and my scores have been mostly "above average.") Students' evaluations are only one measure of good teaching, but administrators as well as tenure and promotion committees have used them as a tool to judge faculty members. If the candidate is disliked, evaluation scores are a convenient excuse for not granting salary increases, tenure, and promotion; if the candidate is liked, the scores are conveniently ignored. Student evaluations lead to not only a watering down of courses and grade inflation, but also to self-censorship when professors consider the inclusion of possibly controversial material in courses. …