Thursday, January 3, 2019

Keep Pushing for Abolition of Tenure

I have long maintained that tenure is a major system of labor abuse. This article came out in Chronicle, one of several that has surfaced in the last few days:

Here Liz McMillen talks about the tragedy that tenure-track faculty at universities never formed an effective allegiance with "adjuncts," the temporary instructors who get paid per class and have zero job security.

When I abandoned tenure in 2016, I spoke sincerely about my conviction that tenure is not something that a Christian should seek or hold. Tenure is an earthly vanity, and fundamentally unjust. If you participate in the tenure system, you abet the many people on the tenure-track who demonstrate such constant inhumanity in the way they deal with people.

Liz McMillen, who I believe was the one who fired Naomi Schafer-Riley seven years ago, shocks me by now naming the tenure-track faculty and calling them out. Those of you who do not work in academia may or may not have experienced the work environment of the tenure-track world. It is truly barbaric. 

Rather than guarantee you academic freedom (a lie that academics constantly regurgitate), tenure binds you to a system of flattery and obsequy, in which you have to prove to people who have tenure that you are just like them, think like them, and will protect them from scrutiny once they let you into their club. 

It is easy when you work in academia to think this is the way it has to be, because it's been that way since you went to college. The truth is, tenure is a completely illegitimate system. It harms people, as you can see from the reports of serious mental illness among people in graduate school. Associate professors have high rates of depression--the people who just got tenure! Why? Because tenure is a world. It is a distorted world, where people are mean and petty. 

When I think back on my days at Northridge, for instance, I get the chills. To be in a system like that, like you are inside the bowels of a monster, watching all your colleagues bloviate, preen, and abuse each other, constantly holding each other hostage with the threat of sabbatical reviews, promotion panels, committee assignments. They all protected their turf and behaved in ways that would have never been tolerated in any other field. They cover for each other's incompetence. And they waste inordinate amounts of money. They spend their junior years thinking only about research (and their research is garbage), then they get tenure and strut around like small gods. Very small gods. 

Meanwhile, an enormous army of temporary workers does the heavy lifting in our field. They come, teach huge workloads of classes, and frankly do a better job for the students because they know they cannot take their job for granted. And the tenured people act like the vast inequality between themselves and the people who are doing all the big work is righteous, fully deserved, and the way things must be, because the profession says so. 

I find myself getting better each semester as a teacher, scholar, and service to the community, because I don't have tenure. Tenure is anti-Christian. Tenure causes you to rely upon an earthly institution, and one based on vanity, flattery, and snobbery at that. 

As the academy claims to want a real fight against racism in academia, they have to face the tough fact of tenure. Tenure will always be a racist system because it is arbitrary and an old boys network. You get ahead in the system by playing to the mannerisms and sensibilities of the egotistical white liberals who run the whole system. If you are ethnic you have two choices. Tap-dance and fetch things for the white liberals, so you can get tenure and be left alone for a life of self-humiliating servitude to condescending people who swear they are not racist. Or, if that does not interest you, you can be yourself, speak honestly, and expect to be driven out the way I was. Tenure is a world in which people in power delude themselves to justify the scam they are pulling off on the world. They have to convince themselves that their personal discomforts and defensiveness around people who refuse to play along with their games are not petty vindictive responses from people trying to cover up their own incompetence--no, they must convince themselves that if they feel uncomfortable, that's because there is something wrong with the person who makes them uncomfortable.

I don't care how many Toni Morrison conferences these people have presented at or how many books they have written on W.E.B. DuBois. Academics will get very uncomfortable if you are ethnic, well trained, confident, and willing to walk through the front door with your head held high. They don't like people of color who have degrees in Greek. They like people of color who kiss up to them and tell them that their disgusting, disjointed poetry is great art. They like people of color who will beg them for approval and backing all week and then go disappear.

I was on the tenure track and fully competent. I spoke up at meetings and posted my thoughts on the listserv. One by one the white folks in the tenure-track department where I worked flipped out until I had no friends left. It didn't matter how nice I tried to sound or how softly I phrased things. I was brown and not somebody they could condescend to. So they pushed me around. When that didn't work, they just coached students to make up crazy accusations about me, and they dragged a knife across the Army decals on my door. And then they bullied the university administrators to make sure they did not investigate it.

The adjuncts probably have it worse. I am not sure. I left and love working in a place where the tenure system does not exist. We all cover the full range of courses taught in our college from freshman intro classes to senior seminars. We don't use adjuncts almost at all. It is far more humane and we do a better job. You live with job insecurity, but remember, Jesus wanted you not to put your faith in the treasures of this world. He did not want you to become a pharisee with long tassels seated in the place of honor at the banquets. He wanted you to think of the lilies in the field. They neither spin nor sew, yet Solomon never dressed as well as they do.

Remember that.