Pivoting is hard to do.

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.

2 thoughts on “Pivoting is hard to do.

  1. People who don’t understand this need a course in Argument (most First-year Writing courses now incorporate at least a rudimentary introduction), where they would learn the importance of directing your points to your expected or intended readers and considering those readers’ assumptions and needs, and not trying to cover all points in any one argument but focusing on one that your audience will find interesting and you can present clearly to them. If they have already had such a course, they need to be reminded that these lessons are relevant to the audience as well as to the writer. Bravo, Jonathan.

  2. Because the tenured faculty are massively “pivoting” and willing to “settle” for small incremental arguments to address the sad lot of contingents the system grinds on — and grinds up adjuncts’ lives.

    This is why many contingent faculty object to being forced into the same unions as tenure-stream faculty: they can only rarely count on the tenured to articulate a whole vision rather than a piecemeal tidbit offered in the hope it will upset no one. And, as contingents often note, such reserve is rarely reserved for the concerns of the tenured whose interests sit front and center on their unions’ and faculty senates’ agendas.

    And why are the tenured so timid? And what does it mean to author pieces equally available to all on the Internet as if they existed in isolation of each other? What does it mean to have a tenured voice if the voice is concerned not to upset the interlocutor?

    Yes, in presenting an argument one might foreground this or that as an entrée to winning the hearts and minds — but to abandon the true soul of the affair in such exchanges in favor of a small gain and never to risk “rocking the boat” is to betray the very reason tenure exists in the first place: to seek the truth and not to have to fear to speak truth to power.

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