Thursday, August 20, 2020
Chronicle of Higher Education, First They Came For Adjuncts, Now They'll Come For Tenure:
I have an uncomfortable question for you: If, by their own accord or by caving to outside political pressures, university administrators take the current crisis as an opportunity to eliminate tenure once and for all, who’s going to stop them?
Put another way: Are there enough academic workers with a stake in the tenure system left to defend it? Sure, the tenured and tenure-track faculty who currently make up less than 30 percent of the college teaching force would be pissed, but could they count on the great nontenured masses of university workers — contingent faculty, grad students, staff members, etc. — to come to their defense? Why would they? Seriously, I’m asking: Why would they? If you’re a tenured or tenure-track faculty member, what concrete reasons have you given your university colleagues to fight with (and for) you to defend what you have and they don’t?
If tenure is going to have a future, tenured professors need to do something that academia rarely encourages them to do: see themselves not as separate or elite, but first and foremost as labor. As go the adjuncts and the nonacademic staff today, so go the tenured faculty tomorrow. You know the quote, “First they came for. … ” This is a crisis from which no one will be exempted in time. ...
The choice has always been between sinking separately — as rigid “classes” of the labor force — or fighting for our collective interests together. If tenure is to be saved, those who now enjoy it must recognize that turning a blind eye to the problems of the professionally less fortunate is not merely ignorant but actively harmful to their own cause — because when they come for tenure (and they will), what will faculty members do if they, too, are met with nothing but blind eyes?