Friday, March 25, 2011
The Importance of Tenure
Bill Cronon, the founder of Environmental Studies, professor of History and Geography, an extremely influential academic, President-Elect of the American Historical Association and repeated winner of dozens of undergraduate teaching awards, has become the target of political retribution for writing and publishing this Op-Ed in the New York Times.
It criticized the recent events in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin GOP struck back by deeming Professors at a state university to be "public officials" and therefore subject to the state's Open Record laws. They requested that his professional email account be turned over for Republican scrutiny. If any email in that account deals with displeasure over the political scene (which threatened the well-being of his students and colleagues) or discussed his Op-Ed piece, Cronon could be guilty of violating his contract with the University.
Will those who have used their professional email accounts ONLY for teaching and nothing else please raise their hands?
I thought not.
This article puts the attack and intimidation into perspective. It's the President-Elect of the AHA. It's high-profile. It tells everyone else to shut up.
And suddenly, all reasonable attempts to abolish tenure seem to threaten free speech and balanced debate. We need tenure. Academics' jobs may seem like babysitting, but ultimately our value to society is observing society. And if we can get fired for such observations, if the PRESIDENT of the AHA can be threatened and attacked for dissenting against some pretty crazy McCarthyist ham-fisted tactics, then suddenly I cannot entertain a single form of compromise. Never before has this issue seemed so crystal clear to me.
Even if it means that 1/3 of us lose our jobs in order to return to the tenure system.
And just like that, I suddenly become an adherent to the vital importance of tenure. After resisting it for so long.
In related news, Stanley Fish suddenly becomes an ardent supporter of academic unions, after decades of finding them worthless. I wonder how he's reacting to the news about Cronon?
Tenure, unions. Job security. It's all related, and the toxic situation in Wisconsin is spreading.