Without the job security of tenure, the professoriate is reduced to the role of a paid workforce serving at the whim of various bottom lines. More importantly, ending tenure would mean throwing the whole sadistic and ritualistic system into disarray: it means, oddly enough, removing the mystery, and replacing Christ on a Cross with a test tube, or worse, a torn glossy photo of the latest talentless starlet from Vanity Fair.
That guild model upon which tenure is based is dead as a doornail, yet we dwell in its ashes, rubbing them on our faces like barbarians, in the mistaken belief that they still connote magic. We still believe in tenure because it is linked to the mysteries of the profession, and like all dead systems, that faith is much more dangerous in decline, like a drowning swimmer.
Now various people, some, I discern, younger than me, are against the tenure system because it is too destructive. I agree that many things about the academic system are destructive, but I have trouble seeing how the abolition of tenure would do anything except worsen current problems.
I think the abolition of tenure would be an CEO-administrator’s dream. The entire workforce would be contingent, and certain research and development stars could be retained through very high salaries and the elimination, for them, of all but the most specialized teaching and all service except on projects which directly benefit them.
Otherwise, teaching and research would be conducted by casual laborers at the mercy of staff managers, who might not have actual training or experience resembling that of the people they were managing.
What do you think? I am more interested here in the creation of alternative systems, in imagining the model that might replace the tenure model, than in critiques of the tenure system tout court – although these are, of course, also welcome.