Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Tue, Jul 18 1995

I can understand the public's misconception about tenure. There are times I have doubts about whether it has outlived its usefulness. There are times I feel uncomfortable having what seems at a quick glance a life-time guarantee of a job without any accountability of performance in a time of such drastic and rapid change, and downsizing, when people are concerned about their livelihood. And, there are times tenure, like anything else, is misused and abused. But, nothing is perfect in this world, and we should stop for a moment and reflect on the wisdom of destroying or seriously revising an institution merely because a few people display human faults and cannot live up to the expected ideal.

I am, however, a staunch defender of tenure because I think a position in higher education carries with it a responsibility that is not like any other job. If there is a defense of tenure it is that institutions of higher education must be active, independent critics of society and agents of social change. We in higher education are partly paid to be burrs, to be irritants to the hand that feeds us! And, I do think we are at our best when we are most annoying, when we stand apart from the daily life of society and point out its flaws, when we're leaders instead of followers, when we tell people what they need to hear and see instead of merely serving up what they want to hear and see, when we're critics rather than merely submissive supporters, when we are major players in raising the national consciousness above the selfishness, close- mindedness, divisiveness, and intolerance that has characterized American life in recent years.

It is one of the major mission's of higher education to "tweak noses" of the status quo, to transmit values and take a critical stance, to have an impact far beyond the campus, to use free and fair inquiry as a means of possibly bringing insight and wisdom into social issues. As such we must be able to resist the threat from all sides to impose uniformity of thought and values on either the professors or in the curriculum; on teaching, on interactions between members of the campus community, on interactions between members of the campus community and the community at large.

I see only two reasons for attacking tenure. The first is that we're not doing our job as critics of society, if we are wrongly defending more of what we should be doing rather than what we are actually doing. I do not believe tenure is defensible if we in higher education limit ourselves to either parochial educational matters, bury our heads in the sand of our subject, run scared for our jobs, remain isolated in a locked ivory tower where we merely talk to each other on society's dole. Tenure, however, is justified if we carry out our mission and speak out on broader social issues. That brings me to the second reason for which tenure may be attacked. Namely, that we're doing our job to prick the public conscience and thereby need the protective armor against the attacks from those who benefit most from the status quo or wish to impose their tyranny, and reduce education to little more than propaganda.

Have a good one.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
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