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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Tenure reform needed

Published: October 24, 2014
Section: Opinions

My work experience has mainly consisted of jobs that forced me to serve people. Having worked at a big box retailer for two years and at a fast food restaurant this past summer, I usually joke that I am writing a book about all the traumatic experiences I suffered. In the past, customers and managers have berated me constantly for hours. I had to put up with their vitriol thanks to the constant mantra of the customer service world: “The customer is always right.”

This seems irrelevant for Brandeis faculty. Tenure is their goal. The problem with tenure at Brandeis is that it focuses on how often a professor publishes work in their field. Some professors are constantly in publication; a professor of mine has written six books. Some professors have not, preferring to focus on their students and guiding us in study. Some do both; my advisors are constantly balancing the worlds of academic publication and academic education.

The tenure program favors the first instead of the latter two. The best professors have to worry about their jobs because they don’t write enough. The worst get job security, wasting our tuition dollars on poorly taught classes. Tenure, in the best of worlds, ensures the good teachers’ jobs. However, this has not happened. Student involvement and terms in a selection system would prevent the bad from benefitting from a system designed to benefit the good.

Personally, I am not a fan of tenure, due to my own philosophy and bad experiences in the past. With the tenure program, even if a professor is not happy with their position, they most often will not leave because of the benefits of staying.

Another problem with the tenure program is that there is no student input on who gets it, which bothers the American in me. Although I have had plenty of good tenured professors, tenure protects bad professors. The only two bad Brandeis professors I have had were tenured. One professor spent her entire class praising radically left political systems and ideologies and shunned whoever disagreed with her. In my student review, I put down my issues and asked her to be more impartial in the future. Thanks to the program’s anonymity, I was spared from her wrath. I say “wrath” because once she got my review, she spent 15 minutes of a 50-minute class complaining that whoever wrote it “needed a good hit on the head.”

The second professor spent his class time the same as hers, berating conservative students and praising liberal ones. To him, his class was an extension of his political evangelization; he was very open in his involvement in a campaign. I considered making complaints, but when I found out they were both tenured, I knew it would be futile. Nothing would happen; the minute some professors get tenure, students become constant pests, and they give favored status to some based on the stupidest of reasons. The problem is, of course, ensuring that the good professors get tenure, and the bad get fired.

I propose four reforms to the tenure selection system to protect against the corruption of tenure: student involvement, terms, academic output and transparency. The first is tied to the fourth: Students should have a say on where and on whom their tuition money is spent. Tenure hearings should be public and the agenda of consideration be offered a month in advance by email. During this time, students should find and offer evidence for and against the confirmation. They should then be able to present it to the committee for consideration. The second is that the tenure is not for life but for a five-year term. Once one receives tenure, the program should last for five years and then be renewed depending on the evidence presented at their next committee meeting. If one does not get tenure at the meeting, it does not mean instant dismissal but rather that they cannot be tenured for another three years, when they can appeal their cause and get an additional two years of tenure early. Tenure must only be offered to the best professors.

All in all, the tenure process needs reform to prevent bad professors from prospering and good professors from suffering. Tenure is an academic creation; it does not exist in the world outside of campus. Like all workers, people can be fired if they are incompetent or unruly. I see no reason why it is standard for academia to be the exemption. Firing is a sign of needed self improvement. It is necessary. One learns more from a loss than from 20 wins. Tenure for bad professors robs them from a necessary experience: a Scrooge-like journey to show them the error of their ways. Firing, for all intents and purposes, is good.