Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Denying Tenure

Over at The Corner, Stanley Kurtz wants to get rid of tenure. He predicts paroxysms of rage from the academy, which (as an aspiring academic) I would be happy to dish out, if only he were to provide a serious argument in his own favor. Instead, he just makes a weird, unwarranted assertion that tenure is responsible for the "siege" on conservatives.

He doesn't spend any time showing why this might be so (that would take up valuable space better used to rail about the unstoppable left-wing stranglehold on American colleges and universities), but I presume the argument is that tenure is granted selectively to perpetuate institutional biases. There's really no proof this is happening, and while there are anecdotal instances where a department has operated as an ideological gatekeeper, they cut both ways. By and large, my impression of conservative complaints about the prevailing liberal orthodoxy of the academy is that a) they're upset that an influential segment of American society hasn't bought into their ideology hook, line, and sinker, and b) they'd rather use the "liberal" bogey-man and pull out a few fringe figures than engage in the substance of the arguments coming out of contemporary mainstream academia. I'm someone who's been sympathetic to the claim that there is a structural bias in favor of liberalism in academia, but this is ridiculous.

Anyway, Kurtz recommends starting with a conservative state legislature "reforming" the state university system. Matt Yglesias asks, why not Texas? UT-Austin certainly is a stronghold of liberalism in otherwise the blood-red Lone Star State. And Texas is currently one of the most highly regarded public universities in the country (highly regarded, of course, by the very left-wing pinkos we're trying to undermine). If UT got rid of tenure, what would happen? Yglesias predicts an exodus of top faculty, along with extreme difficulty recruiting top-level talent to take their place. The school would most likely plummet in reputation and academic output, compared to its peers that preserved tenure (who would poach the up-and-comers who might otherwise have considered Texas). And the state will suffer for it.

But it will strike a blow against the phantasmal liberal demon. So it must be done.

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