Understanding Tenure

This might be the last post I’m able to accomplish for quite some time. I’m not sure what the future holds, now that the UW Regents brought to you by Carl’s Jr…. er… Scott Walker have failed to fight back against the plan to eliminate the state statute that protects professorial tenure. Those who have supported this move in the statehouse, especially Alberta Darling, whose name is an anagram for “Blaring Alert Ad,” have said this isn’t the elimination of tenure. Instead, it’s simply moving it from the state law to the regents’ control, so it’s the same basic thing. This is true, much in the way that if you love the smell of the $158 Calvin Klein Eternity, you’ll love the 50-cent version of this “impostor fragrance” spurted on you from the machine in the truck stop bathroom. The classic scent of a “harmonious blend of white flowers and creamy woods” is so much like the spray of cheap alcohol and cat piss you get at “Cum-N-Go” fuel depot.

I understand why people who feel that professors are lazy or don’t do work or generally sit in their offices in tweed coats and smoke alabaster pipes all day think tenure is bullshit. Truth be told, those of use who view tenure as a shield hate people who use it as a sword to fend off actual work and shared responsibilities. However, you shouldn’t get rid of the whole system simply because a few useless assholes are taking advantage of it. That’s like throwing away your Cadillac Escalade because somebody jammed gum into the ashtray.

The purpose of tenure is to provide faculty with the ability to fearlessly study, publish, promote and question ideas, topics and institutions that might not sit well with everyone else. It also allows professors, who are seen as the experts in their fields, to self-define what makes for worthwhile scholarly and professional endeavors. Thus, a professor who wants to understand how pornography shapes the minds of adults and influences heavy users in their sexual relationships later in life can do so without some half-wit popcorn farmer waving a “Gentlemen Prefer Bridget” DVD in their face and then pink-slipping the scholar.

It’s also why I get to do this. Each week (OK, I’ve been slipping a bit recently…) I get to find a topic of interest, create a post, include links, post the material, read the responses, track the readership data and examine the influence of my words. It also allows me to go back and analyze my own writing to see my influences over time and the ways in which certain topics either emboldened or cowed me in my approach to coverage. I was lucky enough to have a friend/colleague/co-asylum-dweller who had a successful blog who would let me post and give me the chance to see how this all works in a real-life scenario. This is basically the world’s coolest writing lab on a platform a lot of my students will need to understand if they hope to be employable.

I’m not sure how many people think this way about these posts or this blog or anything else they get on the Internet. In fact, I’d bet many people think I do this so I can kill time on a Friday while saying “fuck” a lot in front of other people.

And that the whole point of tenure: I got to decide what mattered and play in that sandbox in hopes of bettering myself without fear of getting fired for it or for lack of “a direct and measurable productivity and output statement.”

This is not, as some people say, “a job for life.” You can be fired as a tenured faculty member, but it just makes it a lot harder for hair-brained, hair-trigger idiots to do so. The people who WANT to fire you must show “just cause” under the state law, which means that professors who act all weird instead of teaching, have “crime-based” issues or view students as a smorgasbord of pussy (that one was for you, A), can and are shown the door. It also means that when you write, as I have, that my governor looks like that creature from “Dreamcatcher,” or that he has the IQ of a salad bar, or occasionally looks like Johnny Drama after he rubbed his boner up against Brooke Shields, no one can activate a trap door under your desk and drop your ass into the Rancor pit.

When a state law demands something with strong punitive measures to inhibit lawbreakers (think of speed limits in Rosendale), people tend to take that shit really seriously and think twice before doing something stupid. However, when it’s only supported by a smaller group with little authority and almost no tangible negative associated with it (think of when teachers on the last day of school yell, “No running in the halls!”), nobody really takes it seriously.

What the new policy will look like, no one here knows. The general reassurances of state officials, regents, system administrators and more are nice, but I’ve seen people fired for far less than what has been written here. It’s sad, but what we have held onto by retaining the Wisconsin Idea, we might be unable to accomplish because we now have people fearful of supporting that Idea.

6 thoughts on “Understanding Tenure

  1. Well, this just sucks, Doc. We here in N.C. are watching, because if they get away with it in Wisconsin, our local gomers almost certainly will try it, too. That’s how ALEC works. I hope that we’ll be seeing you again soon.

  2. Non-academics have not idea what it takes to attain tenure. They think it’s just handed out willy-nilly or awarded at some arbitrary timeline. How many of them would like to document the scholarship, service, and research required in an up or out system?

  3. Of course with more of the teaching positions taken by adjuncts and grad students, tenure track is slowly disappearing anyway.

  4. Politicians, particularly of a “certain” type, really dislike not being able to get someone fired for being an irritant. It is the essence of their power over the peons.

  5. Hell, Doc – if you’re outed, the bastards are going to mine First Draft for everything you’ve ever written, anyway.
    Screw them – double down.

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