Sunday, September 12, 2010

The end of tenure ...

Tenure in academia refers to the status professors are awarded that guarantees them job security. Many, of course most are non-academics, argue that there is no longer any need to grant academics tenure, which in the past prevented them from harassment for pursuing research and teaching in matters that were deemed unfavorable by the establishment.

The New York Times also reported on the same in its review of books, which was published on September 5. One of the arguments against tenure is that somehow universities will save money by abolishing tenure. I think this is the most unrealistic argument. Following are my reasons.

First, academics are usually very well trained and have attained the terminal degree, often a PhD, in their discipline. They work for wages much lower than the industry wages. For instance, engineering professors earn much less than what they would earn in the private sector. They agree to such lower wages because tenure offers job security that other careers do not offer. It is therefore not surprising to see engineering and management professors leaving academia for the private sector earning multiples of their academic wages.

If the universities eliminate tenure, they have to inflate the salaries of academics in professional disciplines, such as engineering and management, to account for the added risk resulting from lack of tenure. Otherwise, why would an assistant professor with a management phd join a university for $85,000 instead of joining a management consulting firm for twice as much.

Second, only those academic disciplines where professors may not have lucrative offers from the private sector be able to keep the salaries at the same scales in the absence of tenure. Even amongst their ranks only those would stay with academia who may not be employable anywhere else. This is hardly a formula for success for academia. So until you have deep pockets to pay market wages for the marketable academics, keep tenure as is or improve it so that the students may get better education.

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