Thursday, July 17, 2008

Did the Elites Invent Tenure?

I do not know but it looks like it. Elites are very good at figuring out ways to redistribute income from those less affluent to themselves. Think about it. Tenure involves a pre commitment in which (for public schools) taxpayers through their agents (faculty) say "No matter what you do over the next 20-50 years, I want to keep employing you." It's not exactly like the many Venezuelans who voted (on the losing side) to have a permanent President but it's the same type of idea. In both cases, people give up options about the future and it is only rational to do that if there is an eventual payoff.

Here's how it works. Each year an already elitist dominated establishment of law professors examine those who apply for similar positions for a trial period. It's something like a debutantes' ball for aspiring law professors. They routinely select those who are mostly children of privilege. After a 6 or 7 year trial period they then, using the money of others -- students, taxpayers, donors -- grant to most of them lifetime membership. Sounds like a club, doesn't it? Let's think about it. Privileged people invite the children of privilege to join and then, after a probationary period, they invite those who "fit in" to stay forever.

Could they be expelled from the country club? Sure but the reasons are not things like poor teaching, inadequate research or not being willing to teach what is most needed when it is needed. Instead they would have to do something comparable to driving a bulldozer over the 9th green while drunk.

Is there any payoff at all for those who pay the club's bill? Is the teaching better because of tenure? Why would it be? Is the scholarship more meaningful? Remember the question is not whether it is meaningful, useful or influential. It is whether it is more meaningful, useful or influential because of tenure. It seems doubtful but this is not simply the fault of those writing. The truth is that, no matter what they write, not many seem to be listening.

So, who is served by tenure? Who do you think?

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