ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Bean Counters

May 16, 2005 by ACTA

What happens when you change the requirements for tenure--and apply the new standards to untenured faculty who have been operating for years according to a different standard? At Loyola College in Maryland, the adoption of a firm rule stating that assistant professors must have three scholarly publications in order to be eligible for tenure has been retroactively applied to junior faculty hired when the college's requirements were far more flexible. The result, not surprisingly, is that the college has been denying tenure to young academics on whom the rules were summarily changed---and that in the process, the college has abandoned careful individual assessment of a faculty member's unique combination of qualifications in favor of a bureaucratic absolutism that is as inhumane an indicator of performance as it is an ultimately inaccurate one.

Tenure is a far from perfect system, not least because it increasingly seems to involve--even to encourage--the arbitrary and capricious application of both overly rigid numerical criteria and overly subjective personal judgements. The myth of tenure, that it exists to encourage and protect free inquiry in both research and teaching, is too often very far from the reality. If tenure review can consist of the sorts of degrading impersonal bean counting described above (or of the sorts of equally degrading personal and political attacks famously documented in the case of KC Johnson), post-tenure review can be just as bad.

At Virginia State University, for example, post-tenure review has lately resulted in dismissals of tenured faculty that seem to be alternately arbitrary and ideological. Post-tenure review at VSU has also involved violations of due process disturbing enough to cause the AAUP to censure the school. It remains to be seen whether those violations will interest lawyers as much as they have the AAUP.

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