I’m the last person– give my history in the tenure system– to argue that tenure is fine just as it is. It is not. In my book, I argue that the current systems of ranks and tenure ought to be replaced with a strong union and a seniority system with teeth. We all ought to be able to work ourselves into positions of relative comfort and security, and I think this relative comfort and security ought to come earlier rather than later. That’s the greater good, in a nutshell.
A reformed academia begins with a reformed society that funds a national pension system as well as a national health care system. We won’t be able to get those things, of course, until we also imagine a reformed system of labor law that encouraged workplace democracy and bottom-up governance systems, aka unions. These are the issues that too many reformers simply don’t want to be a part of the picture when they discuss tenure reform. Those are the difficult issues.
Given the powerlessness of teachers in higher education, it’s easier to imagine ending tenure once and for all. That’s the tact of Naomi Schaefer Riley in “A Smart Way to End Tenure.” It’s classic right-wing economics because, at bottom, it argues that a system that promotes misery– what is always called “flexibility”– is somehow better for all of us. These ideas have already done immeasurable damage to the rest of the economy. Why do it all over again, just to see if it might work this time?