October 10, 2005
Tenure
Posted by Gordon Smith

Tom Smith checks in on the debate about blogging and tenure:

I certainly would not advise it, at least not copiously and on controversial, political topics, at institutions that regularly deny tenure (which excludes most law schools). Of course elder professors who think the internet has something to do with computers will be appalled by it.

But he saves his most interesting insights for the institution of tenure generally:

I find it hard to see it as anything but a relic that proves inefficient institutions can survive indefinitely. I think it originated as a kind of guild rule to insulate professors from dissatisfied students; it certainly looks like one. I wonder what a more market based arrangement would look like. Professors would have to be paid more to compensate for lack of security, but they would have to work harder too, to keep their jobs. Why retention decisions should be made by colleagues who have no direct stake in the scholar and/or teacher's product is unclear. Many academics seem to regard academic accomplishment as a zero sum game; it is not like a law partnership where partners share profits--not really. So why should they make the decision? The notion that the product tie-in between teaching and scholarship is efficient has always struck me as pretty unpersuasive as well. Sometimes good teachers are good scholars, and sometimes not. I suspect in my lifetime, technology driven changes will shake up institutions, and the long middle ages of the university may finally draw to a close. I hope I'm young enough to enjoy it, but old enough not to be harmed by it.

Honestly, I haven't thought much about tenure, other than the fact that I wanted and got it. As a first-year member of the tenure and promotions committee at the University of Wisconsin Law School, I probably should refrain from endorsing any radical changes, but I am interested to see the end of the medieval university.

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