Usually, I save everything I write about subjects like tenure for the blog that you’re reading now. After all, I’m in the AAUP and even if you’re not (and you certainly should be), you’re probably sympathetic to most of the principles that the AAUP stands for otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place.
But sometimes we have to do more than just preach to the choir. That’s why I used my regular spot in the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae section this month to discuss the disaster that is the University of Tennessee system’s recent, apparently short-lived, de-tenuring proposal. Spoiler Alert: I think it’s a really bad idea. Spoiler Alert #2: I don’t make the same argument in favor of tenure there that I would had I written a similar piece for this space right here.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself making similar pivots whenever I talk about important higher ed issues with different audiences. Consider the question of contingent faculty working conditions. I happen to think that all contingent faculty everywhere should get a better-than-living wage and be eligible for tenure too. But in most universities, alas, these arguments are non-starters. Therefore, many people who believe what I believe tend to argue simply for getting contingent faculty a raise.
This is not a bad thing. Contingent faculty deserve a raise, besides so much more. The problem comes when people of all political stripes assume that just because you’re arguing that contingent faculty deserve a raise, you don’t think that they also deserve a better-than-living wage and an opportunity for tenure too. Even worse is when people of all political stripes assume that the first kind of argument somehow contradicts the second.
That’s why pivoting is hard to do, yet it remains an absolute necessity in order to achieve our goals. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.