Given OCC’s removal of tenure lines and this week’s California ruling where Judge Rolf M. Treu found the state’s tenure laws unconstitutional, I thought it might be time to think about tenure’s purpose.
Tenure is generally considered a free speech issue, but it serves many other functions including one that is seldom discussed: staffing.
One of the main purposes of tenure – to ensure a pool of engaged, talented, committed, and independent faculty – has been lost in rancor of the erosion of income in the private sphere (leading to pension envy). But this rancor ignores geographic realities. Here in Ocean County, we have a very limited pool of possible faculty. Far from major population centers and their attendant ring of universities, there are only so many people within commuting distance who possess the requisite skills and qualifications to provide a quality education. The usual solution of colleges in similar situations is to build a roster of reliable teachers with the promise of tenure. OCC’s response has been to lower the bar: witness the recent move by the board to change the requirement for full time faculty (tenure, of course, is verboten) from a master’s degree in the discipline, to a master’s in teaching arts. The typical dividing line between an institution of higher education and high school is the educational qualifications of its teaching staff. The usual baseline for full time employment in a college is a master’s in the discipline. That baseline has been removed at OCC.
President Larson believes that the solution lies in hiring adjuncts, but, as noted above, geography interferes. How many people with a Masters in Chemistry are there within driving distance of OCC? How many want to teach here? How many are effective teachers?
The solution is obvious: open tenure lines to attract quality people. And given current student levels, it’s clear that more tenured faculty are needed.
This need for more tenured faculty is made clear in a parting gift from George Perabo, who assembled the following table.
|Tenured English Faculty
Early 21st Century
|Tenured English Faculty
This tally shows the change that has come over OCC. Enrollment levels have remained largely constant (and actually may have increased) since 2000. Instead of focusing on building a cohesive faculty to teach these students, the college has hired consultants – and paid them the equivalent of several years of faculty salary – to advise the college on change (Oddly, these same consultants praise the academic success of the college, a success fostered by the tenured faculty). The administration might counter that the new lecturer positions fill the gap, but even that falls quite short: right now the English department will open the Fall 2014 semester with one lecturer. I’m no math whiz, but I know that 1 does not equal 20.
Who suffers? Students. Without the security of tenure, students lose faculty with the experience and knowledge needed to guide students to success. Judy Angona was the Northeast Representative for the Two Year College English Association: in that role she brought the voices and expertise of CC faculty across the country into OCC. Bill McGreevy, with Sandra Brown, published a development reading textbook. Under Karen Bosley’s mentoring, the Viking News won national awards. While many adjuncts do a fine job of teaching, many (most?) are retired teachers who do not have the time or inclination to pursue such endeavors. Lecturers are hampered by onerous workloads leaving them little time for this kind of professional development.
It’s clear that tenure secures a strong faculty base – a base that can be supplemented, but not replaced, by qualified adjuncts and lecturers.
This is just one benefit of tenure: securing a pool of stable, motivated, knowledgeable faculty.
What do you see as the benefits of tenure? Please post your answers below.