Jun 8, 201502:39 PMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
Got tenure? Academic necrosis is in crisis!
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Your Squire is put in mind of a New Yorker cartoon from decades ago, when one cap and mortared professor says to another, “Poor Higgins. He published and published, yet still he perished.”
About the same time, but in real life, a long-tenured chemistry professor went increasingly batty — his once cutting-edge field rendered obsolete by scientific advances. The poor fellow made ever-more outlandish claims of unsafe campus laboratories to the local news media, which the then-afternoon daily lapped up like a kitten’s saucer of milk. Finally, the rest of the faculty wrote a letter to the editor vowing that either the old professor goes or we do.
Fast forward to the present. The Wisconsin State Journal trumpets the case of a chemistry prof leaving for the U of Minnesota, who — best I can figure — came to UW-Madison nine years ago. Well into the story it lets slip this telling nugget: “Graduate school tuition has roughly tripled during his tenure, cutting into his research grants because he pays the freight for his roughly 10 student employees.”
That is the untold story of Scott Walker’s latest reform: skyrocketing college tuition costs. Instead, the major narrative swirls around six-figure salaried professors set for life denouncing the supposed assault on their unique sinecure.
”It … remains to be seen if the departures will sharply increase in coming years, as some insiders have forecast, after the brutal run-in with the Legislature this year,” the State Journal news story editorialized. Brutal?
And “remains to be seen” as in, no evidence yet. Of course, it is early. But, like so much of the Sturm und Drang mustered at other reforms (like Act 10), one wonders if the sky really is falling or it’s just a temporary squall.
It goes almost unmentioned in the news media narrative that the Walker Republicans will have frozen tuition for a record four years running.
Contrast that with the ever-more fantastic schemes from the other party on re-jiggering student debt. The Walker regime is focused on the cause — escalating costs. The Institute for College Access and Success tells that 2013 graduates left college with an average of $28,400 in debt. Note that sainted Minnesota is among the five most indebted states at $30,894. Wisconsin at $28,128 is the least indebted among the seven upper Midwest states, although that debt is in the same stratosphere. (Source here.)
So, the state legislature is poised to remove tenure from the statute books. Wisconsin is one of the few states that includes tenure in state statute rather than in university policy. But it does position the university to be more nimble. Yes, change is coming to the hallowed halls of academia. Gawd, how the liberals hate change!
Sunday’s New York Times acknowledges, “In an era of rapid change, long lifespans, economic strains, and a dwindling college-age population, there is a high cost to awarding professors lifetime jobs guarantees.”
… Someone who gets tenure at [age] 30, for example, may still be teaching 50 years later, which could hinder universities in reinvigorating their professorial ranks with young people better versed in current scholarship or … keep[ing] up with evolving knowledge and market demands.
Regents would be permitted to set a standard by which they could fire a tenured faculty member when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, not only in the case of just cause or a financial emergency, as permitted previously.
Would the university be able to pursue academic stars if it could cast off the dead wood in necrotic academic fields? Gender studies, anyone?