A Rant on Academic Tenure

Whee! I’m going to write something controversial! And I’m going to post it in places where I know people are going to be offended by it! I’d first like to apologize to those people. I personally know a handful of people who work in academia, and I’m rather fond of those people. This post isn’t about them. This post is about people who suck at their jobs yet get to keep them anyway. It isn’t a problem unique to academia. I, and others I know, have often expressed anger at meteorologists for the same reason. You’d be better off most of the time going by the opposite of their predictions. This is a post about a simple principle that I wholeheartedly believe should be universal: If you suck at your job, you should be fired.

First, a little background. Why now? Why am I writing this when I have productive work (expect a blog post in the next day or two about what I’m working on, but here’s a hint) to do? When it comes down to it, I was inspired to write this now because I was just reading an argument over what’s wrong with education in this country. There were arguments over things like student loans and other sideshows. I decided to bring up the real issue: Academic tenure.

More specifically, I’m writing this because academic tenure has really, really screwed me over. Go back about a year. I had a statistics class at McNeese State University (I feel like I should leave the school anonymous, but it isn’t a problem specific to McNeese, and there are actually a lot of great professors there, especially in the computer science department, and pretty much everyone knows which school I go to anyway). Only one person teaches that class during normal fall/spring semesters, and it’s more or less universally agreed upon that this person can’t teach. I know several people who have failed this professor’s class. Including myself. Furthermore, I know it’s that particular professor at fault since I failed the class once, took it again with that same professor and had to drop the class, and finally took it again this summer, with a different professor, and got an A for the class. I do personally know one person who passed the class with the awful professor, but even she got a B, and to her a B is like failing anyway.

Anyway, I failed a class. Why am I so angry? It happens to people all the time. Because in this particular case, failing that class kept me from passing the twelve credit hours a semester necessary to keep my TOPS scholarship. As a result, I now have $5000 in student loan debt (which I wholeheartedly believe should be taken out of that professor’s check; here’s a crazy thought – let’s actually hold bad professors and trigger-happy cops responsible for their own actions). Let’s hope I get this job I interviewed for recently (they said they should need me in 2-3 weeks). If not, my six-month grace period for the loan will pass, and I’ll be expected to begin repayment, because of the one class I have left to take (because of an advising screw-up outside the scope of this topic) not making me a half-time student eligible to not have to pay that yet.

ANYWAY, back to my original point. If you suck at your job, you should be fired. Full stop. This puts pressure on people to actually work hard to do their job well. I understand the concept of academic tenure (and I also understand that my opinion that the tenure system should be abolished is unpopular, as a majority of Americans support it, but I stand by my opinion nonetheless). It’s to protect academic freedom and protect those who publish unpopular research. However, as a student, whose social circles mostly consist of other students, I know large numbers of people who have been victimized by the tenure system, and I think it’s time we do away with it.

I guess I see it like this. College is expensive. It practically ruins its target audience, some of the most financially volatile people in the country. And with students being paying customers, I think we deserve better. Students, not research, should be a professor’s top priority. Students are paying customers, and by means of that payment, they have the right to a quality education. This should come above a professor’s personal search for fame and glory. I’m not saying research is unimportant. I am saying that students, as in people who need an education to succeed in life, and pay large sums of money to obtain that education, are more important. And the least those students deserve is to have the wheat separated from the chaff – to present them with professors who can actually deliver the education they need. We at McNeese fill out evaluation forms toward the end of each semester. Here’s a thought – if a professor receives an overall negative rating for two consecutive semesters, they should get the boot. This also solves the academic freedom issue. Don’t allow a professor to be fired for anything research-related, but put a fire under them to do well in the classroom.

In summary, do the right thing for students. Hold professors accountable for the education their students receive.

10 Responses to “A Rant on Academic Tenure”

  1. Thomas Hounsell

    Of course the education system is like it is. You make the common mistake that the modern education system exists to educate. This notion was abandoned not too long after the second world war in western countries.

    Instead, it simply exists to perpetuate itself and provide employment for those who lack any meaningful skills that would otherwise allow them to gain meaningful employment. This is why western education systems have increased the length students stay within them, increased the number of students trapped within them, and yet a student populace that, despite these advantages, only perform weaker and weaker when compared with countries that still educate their children.

    All that said, I find your suggestion that your teachers failings absolves you of blame for your failures, absurd. A good teacher will help all their students see success, but a good student can overcome a bad teacher. You should always aim to be a good student – once you leave college, your real learning will only just be starting, but you’ll have no teacher to hold your hand. You have to take responsibility for your own successes and failures.

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