Today’s Inside Higher Ed includes an exceptionally perceptive essay by Christopher Newfield, professor of literature and American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, cosponsor of the Remaking the University website, and a member of the Academe magazine advisory board, calling for a new strategy in defense of tenure. Everyone should read it.
“So what would motivate the wider public to fight for academic tenure and shared governance?,” asks Newfield. His answer, in part:
To present them as general public benefits rather than as our special privileges. . . .
The faculty’s central political problem is that their assertion of their tenure and governance rights is read as their tacit denial to everyone else. The problem starts with the “new faculty majority” of non-tenure-track professors on campus and spreads out from there. This sense of tenure as a special privilege (error one) is the cornerstone of the politically powerful stereotype of the elitist professors who proclaim their superiority to other people (error two) and can’t deal with regular people directly (error three). In making these mistakes, we have played into our opponents’ hands.
Rather than claiming academic freedom, tenure and fair governance as a special perk of our unique standing, we should hold them out as the general economic and social justice virtues that they are. Faculty have models of collaborative self-governance that we now rarely bother to develop, that we have allowed to serve an ever-smaller share of our colleagues, that are not taken seriously by many administrations, but that are designed to allow both intellectual originality and decent, honorable workplaces. Faculty must now model how shared governance, if spread to other workplaces, would improve society as a whole. And we are going to have to do it soon.
But the entire piece is a must-read. You’ll find it here: