Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Tenured Life, Part 3: Wasting It

In the last post on this topic I discussed faculty who fake it while untenured and run out of steam shortly thereafter. It is a huge cost to the public in two ways. First is being locked into paying a lifetime annuity with a low return. The other is the opportunity cost. For every non producer who is locked in, there is possibly productive person a school cannot hire.

Tenure is also wasted on another way. Tenure is granted on the basis of a very small sample of work. Still, those with tenure are given the freedom to take risks in research. Reading about a topic an finding there is nothing to say would be fine. Or working through a theory that turns out not to catch on or which is subject to flaws would also be risk free. Tenure is supposed to lead to big thoughts, deep thinking, taking risks, and at least once in awhile writing something provocation. People who do anything else are wasting tenure.

That idea of the tenure professor has given way to a race to fill resume lines. Law professors (and maybe others, I do not know) have gravitated to the quick fix – short symposium articles in which they repeat something they have already said and preaching to the choir in the process, casebooks, descriptive hornbook-type efforts. Many if not most law professor books that are not purely descriptive or casebooks, are recycled old articles. The point is even many people are “productive” in a quantitative sense are not really productive in the way that tenure would permit. Tenure is wasted squandered by these people.

I am hard pressed to understand the new emphasis on numbers of line on a resume. Deans typically have little money to spread around. Movement from school to school is rare and even more rarely based on article churning. One possibility is that faculty do not trust administrators to appreciate risk taking and quality. They do trust the same administrators to be able to count and this leads to the assembly line mentality.

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