Answering Tenure Arguments

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Academia, in the person of the formidable John K. Wilson, has found our 100 arguments against tenure wanting, to put it mildly. “Since tenure provides job security against arbitrary firings, we can conclude that any individual described as ‘proof’ of the evils of tenure must be someone Kline thinks should not have tenure, and should be fired,” Wilson writes in his blog on

By the way, academics are the only ones who enjoy this perk in this day and age. Yet and still,  abolishing tenure is not tantamount to firing. Naomi Schaefer Riley points out in her book, The Faculty Lounges, that there are schools without tenure—from the political right mostly but also from the political left—that have no tenure but low dismissal rates.

He goes on to pick apart the list. I should note here that in many cases I selected the professors as much for the disciplines they chose as for their contributions to them. For example, comic books are readily available at most newsstands and bookstores: Why inflate the cost of an already expensive education by padding it with expensive extras you can easily procure off campus?

Ultimately, what our readers decide to do with the information we provide, if anything, is up to them. We try to leave them more informed than they were going into our articles.

Moreover, we try to provide information they are not likely to get anywhere else—certainly not from a college press release, which too many on the ever-dwindling education beat seem to rely exclusively on.  It is interesting that the knowledge industry is apparently not subject to Truth in Advertising laws.

As well, Dr. Wilson objects to our reliance on Rate My ratings.

Five points on this score:

  1. The Chronicle of Higher Education a few years back found that the RMPs were surprisingly close to the equally anonymous evaluations that professors routinely ask their students to fill out towards the end of courses. Ironically, the latter are factored into tenure decisions.
  2. We never rely on the RMPs exclusively.
  3. When we examine them, we often draw the bulk of our information from that site, not from the unfavorable ratings, but from the favorable ones.
  4. We focus on accounts provided rather than characterizations, as our attempt is always to lean what happened and what was said.
  5. Finally, when a professor’s RMPs are overwhelmingly favorable, we always make note of that, even if our profile does not turn out to be overwhelmingly favorable.

Similarly, Dr. Wilson is dismayed that global warming alarmists make our lists. First of all, we need to point out that global warming skeptics have a difficult time getting tenure. Further, the Climategate e-mails released on WikiLeaks (another delicious irony) show that the science behind the former is, in a word deceptive, as witness the most famous quote from the electronic mail traffic: “Hide the decline.”

Dr. Wilson wants to tag me as a McCarthyite red-baiter for columns I wrote that touched on espionage cases during the Cold War. Well, I won’t ask him to walk a mile in my shoes, but I do suggest he check out the electronic FBI reading room: the search for innocents in them is likely to be a frustrating one.

As another column of mine shows—AIA Honor Roll—I am more than willing to provide upbeat coverage of a scholar, whether or not that pedagogue shares my political views, if the information warrants it.

The editor of Illinois Academe, Dr. Wilson also objects to my inclusion of an octet from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern  in our roster. Particularly, my focus on The Medill Innocence Project and its founder David Protess disturbs Dr. Wilson.

  1. Mr. Protess left Medill under a bit of a cloud after a contretemps with the local county prosecutor’s office.
  2. The Innocence Project is still working to exonerate at least one condemned convict already proven guilty—Henry W. Skinner.

For now, let me close the discussion by observing that one of the first professors on our list who Dr. Wilson lauds—Josepth W. Stiglitz—is arguably one of the most suspect. To blame the subprime mortgage crisis on the Iraq War may be merely bizarre.

To do so, after letting the likely culprit off the hook before the fact—Fannie Mae—is in another zone of questionable practices, particularly when that agency commissioned the essay Mr. Stiglitz attached his name to.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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