Malcolm Kline, executive director of Accuracy in Academia, has responded to my critique yesterday of his essay listing the professors who provide “100 arguments against tenure.” Kline argues that abolishing tenure “is not tantamount to firing.” That’s absolutely true. But Kline is not making a broad argument against the existence of tenure (and there are legitimate arguments to make, although I disagree with them). Kline is correct that there are some colleges without tenure that have low dismissal rates.
That, however, has nothing to do with his argument citing specific individuals as “proof” that tenure should be abolished. I could refute Kline’s incorrect claim about tenure that “academics are the only ones who enjoy this perk in this day and age” (somehow ignoring the many other professions, such as teaching, which have far more professionals with tenure than academia). I’m concerned about an argument against tenure which condemns 100 specific individuals who have done nothing to deserve being fired.
If Kline thinks these 100 professors should not be fired, why would they be “proof” that tenure is wrong? Surely, what Kline thinks is wrong about tenure is that it protects incompetent people from being fired. And logically, these 100 professors would be a small part of the incompetent professors who ought to be fired if only we could get rid of tenure. Since Kline does not reassure us that he doesn’t want to see any of these professors fired, I would have to conclude that he seems to favor that alarming conclusion. If Kline doesn’t think any of these professors (apparently the worst of the worst) should be fired, then why is tenure bad?
Kline’s defense of denouncing these particular professors is also suspect. He defends Rate My Professors and declares, “ We never rely on the RMPs exclusively.” Really? Because the example I cited of Northwestern professor Rachel Davis Mersey is a case where Kline not only relied on Rate My Professor exclusively but also relied on a single report on Rate My Professor, a report that where the professor didn’t do anything wrong but merely asked students to evaluate how much their peers worked on a group project.
Kline defends attacking scholars of comic books because “comic books are readily available at most newsstands and bookstores.” Of course, books are readily available at bookstores, too, but that shouldn’t stop professors from assigning them in classes. Comic books, like other aspects of popular culture, are surely worthy of study by some professors. And many comic books, such as Maus and Persepolis, are certainly worthy of a spot in some literature classes. To simply assert that no one in academia should ever be allowed to study comic books seems far too simple-minded.
Kline calls Joseph Stiglitz “one of the most suspect” professors on the list. I certainly think Stiglitz deserves criticism, but I deeply question the idea that we should abolish tenure merely because Kline doesn’t like Stiglitz’s economic theories.
Kline claims, “The Innocence Project is still working to exonerate at least one condemned convict already proven guilty—Henry W. Skinner.” Of course, the Innocence Project regularly exonerated condemned convicts who have been proven guilty but claim to be innocent. And there’s nothing wrong with defending guilty people and ensuring that they have a fair trial.
Finally, Kline suggests that I “check out the electronic FBI reading room: the search for innocents in them is likely to be a frustrating one.” Considering that I raised the issue of Kline’s guilty-by-association attacks on Studs Terkel, I would invite Kline to check out the electronic FBI reading room and inform all of us about what crimes Studs Terkel committed. What crimes of treason does Kline believe Studs Terkel should have been convicted of?
But remember, we’re not debating the historical record here. What Kline questions is whether critics of McCarthyism should have any place in academia. I don’t think the misguided defenders of McCarthyism should be fired from their jobs. And I certainly don’t think that the wrong-headed ideas of a few individuals are “proof” that tenure should be abolished.