Larry Summers has some interesting thoughts about grade inflation, tenure, and the curriculum. As an economist, Summers is part of the problem (he’s completely absorbed in the Keynesian view that the federal government can and should manage the economy), but with regard to higher education, he sees its problems and speaks his mind forcefully.
This video (h/t The Blaze) excerpts interviews of two UCSD professors, Micha Cardenas and Ricardo Dominguez, who advocate the dissolution of the United States. Professor Dominguez states that he won tenure at UCSD by designing a GPS system for aliens illegally entering the country. He offers that information as proof of the GPS system's worth. He includes poetry that he wrote in the GPS system so that those crossing the border may benefit from his mellifluous verse while they steer clear of the border patrol.
Tom Blumer observes that our leftist universities and their ilk possess and abuse their power to destroy careers and control people's lives. The communists, he says, constructed checkpoints, whereas our leftist leaders use "chokepoints":
Those who occupy positions in university systems, government bureaucracies, as well as certain union and professional organizations, often with the active assistance of the courts, serve as the system’s “Chokepoint Charlies.” You can’t get through or move on unless you jump through their hoops, comply with their demands, or behave according to their established norms.
Here is Blumer's take on campus chokepoints:
In university systems, the most obvious chokepoint is tenure. If you achieve it, you have a position for life; if you don’t, your career is essentially over. Not surprisingly, leftist-dominated universities have used denial of tenure as a principal means of culling promising conservative professors, or even usually reliable liberals who utter occasional center-right thoughts, from their faculties’ ranks. Other university chokepoints are in the classroom. For the most part, it’s still true that if you’re bright enough, apply yourself, keep your head down, and avoid making too many waves, you’ll get through. But if you happen to incur the wrath of an intolerant radical prof by expressing a dissenting view, no matter how well-supported, you may find yourself with a failing grade, a lengthy redress or appeals process with less than assured results, and perhaps the inability, at least at that university, to go on to the next step in your desired major. Perhaps the most dangerous chokepoint at universities is in research. If your line of inquiry leads to conclusions that are contrary to established beliefs — say, just for the heck of it, if you find evidence that the earth really hasn’t been warming, or even if it is warming that it’s not significantly influenced by human activity — there’s more than a slight chance that your “peer reviewers” won’t be impressed and that your next funding request may not be granted. Just like that, you’re on the outside looking in.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal (June 18), Timothy Knowles, “a former teacher, principal and district leader” laments the difficulty of eliminating “low-performing teachers.” Granted, there are abundant reasons for tenure reform at the K-12 level. College, however, is a different matter. Marketing his new book, Cary Nelson, spear point of the AAUP, says
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, devout believer that you only have academic freedom and free speech if you have job security. If you don’t have job security, you can’t speak out forcefully, and I think that means academic freedom will be diminished.
I rarely agree with Dr. Nelson, a fellow I find usually animated by left-wing, social constructivist, and Sixties sentiments, but in this case he is right. Mr. Knowles paints administrators as ex-teachers called to a higher mission. However, in college, many administrators have little or no classroom experience, and Mr. Knowles seems oblivious to just how political, punitive, and self-serving careerist administrators can be (just look at how many of the cases at FIRE originate from administrative excesses). Without tenure, my campus would have no discernible conservative voice at all. I would have been fired by at least three different college presidents for a variety of transgressions: organizing the faculty union, suing the college, publically criticizing multiculturalism, openly opposing “student learning outcomes.” Students can survive a poor teacher (how many great teachers are there?), but they can’t survive a university monoculture that is an ideological echo chamber. Tenure may sometimes protect incompetent knaves but, where it still exists, tenure also protects vital intellectual pluralism.
Back in March, I received a leaked copy of a plan for one of the colleges at Virginia Tech. It was a new set of guidelines for faculty promotion and tenure that would require every candidate to compile an annual record of “demonstrated” diversity accomplishments. Other Virginia Tech documents spelled out in detail what would pass muster as a diversity accomplishment. The new rules were intended to apply to the classroom, research, publication, faculty involvement with student activities, and everything else that faculty members might do. I raised a fuss through the National Association of Scholars website, and other organizations, including FIRE and ACTA joined in. Eventually, the Virginia Tech board and the president backed down. But after the furor subsided the president and other officials made clear that their commitment to a comprehensive diversity regime at this state university was unchanged. Now comes a new document, a “Strategic Diversity Plan,” for Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. I got this one by internal leak as well, but it has subsequently been posted publicly. Should anyone much care what is happening at this large and pretty ordinary university in southern Virginia? I suppose the taxpayers of Virginia should have some interest. But the matter does seem to deserve a some broader attention if for one reason: it is about as well-documented a case as we are ever likely to see of a university in the grip of a race preference ideology attempting to enforce that ideology over everyone and everything in its reach. Nothing is too large (creation of whole new departments), or too small (flyers to be inserted in packets for job applicants) to escape the diversiphiles at Virginia Tech—and they propose to fund their whole enterprise not with line items in the budget, but with a fixed percentage of the whole budget! Ashley Thorne and I have pored over the “Strategic Diversity Plan” and “fisked” it, i.e. added a critical commentary inside the original text: http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=1133. Last week we summarized the developments leading up to this new plan: http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=1131. It’s hard to say whether this sort of effort on our part has any practical benefit. Virginia Tech and a great many other colleges and universities are scudding along with their racial preference regimes (and other forms of diversity that likewise debase the academic mission) without serious public opposition. But I do like the idea that we have paid attention and not just let this stuff settle in as though it made good sense and wise policy.
At a northeastern college the chair of a department also chaired a tenure and promotion committee that made a negative decision on an untenured associate professor. The associate professor under consideration had published many books and articles, and his publication record was better than the majority of tenured faculty at the institution. However, he had offended other of the senior faculty politically by outshining them. He was accused of lack of collegiality. The promotion committee rejected the tenure application, and that became news. Ultimately, the university's chancellor rescinded the committee's decision. Fast forward five years. Another professor, this time a full professor, offends the same departmental chair. The chair accuses the full professor of harrassing a female professor. The accusation of harassment is not referred to a personnel or EEO office, but is raised in a public, departmental meeting without investigation or hearing. The charges are discussed publicly. The departmental chair demands that a vote of censure be taken against the full professor. The full professor states that he was helping the untenured female professor and discussing a course with her, and that she does not claim that she was harassed. In other words, he was acting collegially. I deduce a simple conclusion for the politically incorrect: if you are collegial, you will be called a harasser. If you are a talented hard worker, you will be said to lack collegiality.
We've reached the tipping point in human resources where administrators now outnumber teaching faculty. Things have been sliding quietly in that direction, aided by the addition of new positions such as Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Multicultural Life. Although the trend has gone largely unbeknownst to the larger university community, NAS has been on task to end such disregard. To that end, we are organizing a core of academy watchers, who will penetrate the obscurity that veils such questionable practices. Keep the tipping point in mind as you hear of newly created positions at your institution, and please consider becoming one of those who will be "eyes" for us as the NAS tracks trends and events in higher education.