Tenure, again? Oh, noes!

Virtually Me  I’m posting briefly here to direct you to this discussion of the tenure debate at Inside Higher Ed featuring Tenured Radical, which also mentions Lumpenprofessoriat‘s rebuttal and Slaves of Academe‘s discussion of tenure as hazing.  (The article totally neglects the brilliantly informed disucssions of this subject at Historiann, and Professor Zero‘s ongoing meditations on the topic of tenure, however!  Shocking!)  I love this quote from the Radical about why transparency is so threatening to the tenure regime:  “A private institution is like an allegory for the WASP family when it comes to talking about tenure — it’s like you’re not supposed to say that Mommy’s drinking. Whatever happens, the real crime is talking about it.”  I think it works pretty much the same way in public institutions too, but that quote struck me because I used to have a tenure-track job at a private university, and I regularly compared my department to an alcoholic family, where I was cast as the “bad daughter” for talking about and questioning the abuse.

Stay tuned–Prof. Zero and I may be cooking up a Modest Proposal for tenure reform. 

RED ALERT UPDATE, 4/1/08:  Click here to read about the insanity at Baylor, where administrators have applied new tenure standards that were apparently pulled out of their a**es after this year’s tenure candidates submitted their dossiers!  And guess what, boys and girls?  The 40% rejection rate this year worked disproportionately to disadvantage female tenure candidates–six of the nine women up for tenure were denied.  Surprise!  My favorite part of the article is where President of the Faculty Senate Matt Cordon suggests that he’s worried that this will hurt faculty recruiting, a worthy point, especially considering that you’ve already got to recruit people to WACO, TEXAS!  Come on, people–you’ve already got a weak hand to play.  Abusing people and denying them tenure is bad enough, but the ones you “reward” with tenure have to live in Waco, Texas.

0 thoughts on “Tenure, again? Oh, noes!

  1. My sense is that tenure moves differently at privates and publics (and also varies among publics and among privates) — don’t underestimate the bureacratic depth of some universities. Some places have very lengthy personnel manuals, and the procedures are spelled out in detail.

    Is there such thing as “the WASP family”?


  2. Good point about privates v. publics–public universities have such unbelieveable accretions of bureaucracy that they make late medieval Italian city-states look transparent and easy to navigate.

    Rad, are you saying that WASP families typically so cold, condescending, and all about appearances that WASP children are better off without them? (Or are you joking around about wasps, as in the stinging kind?) Ur funniez confuz meh.


  3. Lumpenprof wants a total of 7 years to tenure. I.E., if you worked somewhere full time post PhD it must count to tenure in the next place. The goal being to force all institutions to have reasonable standards … not standards that can’t be met in 7 years and have to be started on earlier than the job in which one is going to be tenured starts.

    I get it but I think it is complicated. I like the idea of 2 years to tenure better, but does it bring its own complications?


  4. While there definitely would appear to be something fishy going on at Baylor, you really can’t argue gender discrimination based solely on the women’s rejection “rate” (the misnomer used by the reporter).

    The sample size — a sub-set of an already small sample size — is simply waaaay too small.


  5. Yes, I’m sure that it’s simply a coincidence that the overall rejection rate (men and women combined) was 40%, but the women’s rejection rate was 67%. That strikes me as an improbably random variation, especially given what I know and have seen, and what we know about gender and tenure across disciplines and kinds of institutions.


  6. Well, I would never argue that the absence of a smoking gun necessitates that it’s all just coincidence. Instead, I am choosing the third option: we don’t yet know; we need more evidence.

    And I agree. It does seem improbable that it was mere random variation. But, after a closer look, the laws of statistics say: with a sample of only 9, it’s entirely possible and, alas, not very meaningful.

    Suppose a baseball player has 6 hits in 9 at-bats against a certain pitcher. Does he absolutely dominate this pitcher? Many fans and announcers will reply: of course! But the truth is: we don’t know. We don’t have nearly enough data.

    To reiterate, it would appear that something fishy is going on. And it would certainly not surprise me if gender discrimination were going on. But one can’t base that on a tiny data point taken from one year. I’d be much more interested in Baylor’s aggregate data over the past two decades or so.


  7. David,

    The problem is that even at a biggish university like Baylor, there are still relatively few regular women faculty that any year-to-year comparison is always going to be too small a sample. And of course, institutions always claim have perfectly logical and clear reasons for rejecting anyone’s tenure application. A twenty- or thirty-year analysis of Baylor’s record of tenuring women would be nice, but kind of beside the point of this post, which was about the sudden and dramatic rate of tenure denials this year in particular (going from 10 to 40% from 2007 to 2008). My point in this post was to highlight the distinct possibility that Baylor’s process wasn’t playing fair with anyone, and that (as readers of this blog might suspect) they were playing even more unfairly with the women. Neither I nor the readers here can know the details of each tenure case–but it’s fascinating how in every instance it’s women faculty who pay a higher price. When administrators interfere in in tenure cases, it’s always more women who lose, not more men.


  8. I hear you. And I definitely understand the point of your post. My criticism was significantly more narrow, but still kind of important (I’d like to think).

    If the sample size is indeed too small, as you appear to acknowledge above (but the insidehighered.com article ignores), then talking about — and comparing — things like annual “rejection rates” is a slippery slope.

    Among other reasons, it allows the other side to play the same game.

    Suppose that Baylor has five women up for tenure next year. Three get tenure. Suddenly, Baylor can now boast of how its tenure rate for women has nearly doubled!


  9. David–actually, I don’t think going 3/5 is meaningful–it’s still the 40% denial rate that caught everyone’s attention this year. But, I think that incremental improvements can be noticeable and meaningful. If after denying tenure to a majority of women, any institution tenured 5/5 women in a single year, I would take that as a meaningful sign that someone–like the Provost–is paying attention and is committed to change. It wouldn’t be conclusive proof that everything is fine now and we don’t need to worry, but within universities that kind of message would be a powerful signal, just as it’s highly meaningful to a campus that 6/9 women were denied tenure.


  10. Being someone close to the situation at Baylor, please let me provide some more accurate information for you. There were 12 of 30 faculty (40%) denied for tenure at Baylor in 2008. SEVEN of eleven women were denied for tenure (64% of women) and 5 of 19 men (26%) were denied for tenure. Is this a coincidence? No, I think not. Is there evidence of discrimination? Yes, at every level from departments through administration. Does it affect just those denied for tenure this year? No, in my opinion, Baylor has perpetuated a culture of discrimination for many years.

    Small sample size or not, those numbers are significant and speak to a larger institutional problem.


  11. Wow, Andrea–thanks so much for the additional information. I will post on this again, with your permission. As I suspected, this is something that will have a chilling effect on junior women, and will serve to intimidate many tenured women as well, I’m afraid.

    I’m so very sorry if this is your work environment. My sympathies to all of the women who have been poorly treated at Baylor. I hope they all get rockin’ jobs somewhere better. I would imagine that they’ve got very strong records if they were even permitted to go up for tenure there.


  12. Pingback: Deep in the Heart of Asshats : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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