Monday, November 27, 2006

Editorial: Hark! The Tenured Angels Sing

By Peter Holslin
      The majority of Eugene Lang College’s academic departments have only a handful of full-time faculty members. In part, this is because the school depends on a body of part-time faculty members who can elucidate students with their unique real-world experience. Unfortunately, most of these professors don’t stay for long.
      That poses a dilemma for a school that is twenty years old and rapidly developing new programs like “Science, Technology and Society” and Journalism while reshaping what used to be Social and Historical Inquiry and Arts in Context. Without a dedicated full-time faculty, creating solid programs is more difficult. Students also have a harder time building relationships with professors who leave before they graduate.
      Thankfully, the university is now working through the details of introducing tenure. Establishing tenure is a smart move, because everyone benefits.
      Tenure guarantees that full-time professors will not lose their jobs after their contracts expire. It ensures job security and academic freedom—a professor cannot be fired for arbitrary reasons or because of controversies—and provides pay standards and medical benefits. Students can get to know professors better and professors will be less likely to be lured away from The New School by other institutions. Nor will they have to worry about how to pay their rent when the next semester comes around.
      Not everyone likes tenure. In 1994, in a famously brazen move, Elizabeth Coleman ended tenure at Bennington College, a liberal arts college in Vermont with about 725 students, where she serves as president.
      Coleman’s move was part of a series of actions—firing a third of the school’s faculty, trading in its seven different schools for a university-wide structure and hiring only practicing artists, writers and musicians—that earned the ire of university institutions and associations, but staved off tuition hikes and brought in students. In the spring of 1994, Bennington had only about 400 students and tuition was $25,800 a year. Now the enrollment is nearly doubled and tuition is, relatively, not much higher, at $34,340.
      Abolishing tenure may be a workable option, then, for a college in financial crisis. But it is detrimental to one in the middle of a growth spurt, like Lang.
      An Inprint staff member who had attended Bennington last year said the school has trouble retaining talented faculty. Lang has seen its share of defections, too. A good example is Tracy Dahlby, Inprint’s former faculty advisor and a journalism professor, who decided to leave suddenly this summer after getting a tenured job offer at the University of Texas, Austin.
      Rob Buchanan, our new advisor, is an able replacement that we are happy to work with. Nevertheless, Buchanan’s full-time faculty contract only lasts for one year and doesn’t offer the job security of a tenured position. This puts the budding journalism program on an unstable foundation.
      That’s why introducing tenure is a crucial move for Lang.
      The Provost expects the university’s divisions will come up with standards for tenured positions by the end of this semester. Ideally, Lang will begin offering tenured positions soon after. After all, the earlier we can hold on to our favorite professors, the better.

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