Tenure (cont of discuss)

Richard Gordon gordonr at cc.UManitoba.CA
Fri Jul 21 07:44:58 EST 1995


On 17 Jul 1995, Alexander Berezin wrote:
> Jim: thanks for comments & constructive dialogue,
> especially in view of the (apparently) very little
> interest of the UNIVERSITY community in this 
> discussion (!).

This is because, as with teaching, we are not taught the purpose and value
of tenure when we are training to be professors. The purpose of tenure in
a university is first and foremost to give a professor the opportunity for
independence of thought. The idea is that such independence will, in the
long run, be of great benefit to society.

> On 16 Jul 1995, Jim Astwood wrote:
> 
> > Professor Berezin's defence of tenure misses the main point that tenure and
> > hieiarchial stability prevent Universities from evolving.  Permanency of
> > the institution and its mission should not be confused with permanency of
> > personnel.  

University administrations and Jim Astwood (of Monsanto) confuse the
evolution of a university with the purpose of tenure, as do many
professors. The structure of a university is indeed that of many small
feifdoms. This is an administrative structure often crying for
reorganization, which weak kneed administrations are loath to do. Thus, in
the face of budget cuts, they cut almost uniformly, degrading the whole
institution in all aspects, especially teaching and unfunded research
infrastructure. In the face of new opportunities, they often leave it to
the professors to find the money, rather than pitch in themselves. They
also increase the number of administrators continuously.  Take any set of
university phone books over the past decade, and plot the number of
administrators/student and the number of faculty/student versus year. The
former is likely to rise, while the latter will be steady or declining. I
would suggest that it is the tenure of the administration, not of the
professors, that is the central problem of university organization. This
phenomenon occurs in business too, and I'm sure Jim could provide some
juicy examples. 

> BEREZIN: Again, transfer of business model to (university) research
> is highly questionable (many recent articles on this). Criteria of
> "excellence" as well as "competition vs cooperation" issue are
> also (almost) the opposite.

The overt purpose of a business is to make money, though the motivations 
of the individuals involved are much more varied. I would guess that most 
people in business would also admit it helps give meaning to their lives, 
and is not just a source of money.

The overt purpose of a university is to understand life and our universe. 
Understanding has no dollar value, in many cases, which is why a 
materialistic, money oriented society is so ambivalent towards its 
universities, where people seem to be paid to just sit around and think. 
Well, at bottom that is our job, and some of us take the wonderful 
opportunity of tenure to put in time an a half thinking (and writing and 
teaching) about what we and our colleagues come up with.

> > De-tenurization only ensures accountability. 

Nonsense. De-tenurization will ensure that society will lose the long 
range thinking that university tenure makes possible.

> > There is another arguement that tenure somehow ensures academic freedom. 
> > Academic freedom of an instituion does not depend on the freedom of
> > individual faculty or insular academic departments. Universities more
> > generally (ie. adminstrations, dean's councils, academic senates) should
> > really set academic priorities, not individuals, and thus ensure the
> > academic freedom of the institution.  Otherwise, governments will set the
> > priorities; and I doubt anyone wants this.

This shows a total misunderstanding of the purpose of a university and
tenure and academic freedom. Institutions cannot have or make use of
academic freedom. That is a freedom granted to and utilized by an
individual to think deeply about life and our universe. All those layers
of administration are exactly what keeps a university from responding to
the outside pressures to provide, say, new and different subjects in
teaching. For example, our senate takes 2 years to approve a new course or
course change. You can be prevented from teaching a subject you are an
expert in, because some other department got it on the books first (and
excludes you from participating). In research matters, most university
administrations award $ brought in, not excellence of new ideas. Even
tenure decisions are often effectively foisted off on granting councils,
since success in getting grants is one of the major criteria for granting
tenure, as if we were running a business. We are already top heavy in
incompetent administration, and your proposals would only worsen it. 

> > I am worried that Alex (and like-minded old-school academics) has buried
> > his head in the sand.  The fact that he is willing to engage in dialogue
> > gives me hope that he has not buried it too far, and with some coaxing, he
> > will soon see some daylight.

This insult comes from someone who is likely to believe first and foremost
in the profit motive, from a company that is one of the major sources of
pollutants of our small planet (Monsanto). Of course, we enjoy their
products, but at great cost to our environment. I'm sure Monsanto is
improving under public pressure, much of it spearheaded by old-school
(tenured) professors, but think how much more convenient it would be for
Monsanto if there weren't a bunch of paid gadflies out there (protected
from Monsanto by tenure, and little else). 

> > Jim Astwood
> > 
> > 
> > > > James D. Astwood, Ph.D.          
> > > > Monsanto Company
> > > > St. Louis. MO
> > > > E-Mail: jdastw at ccmail.monsanto.com
> > > > phone: 314-537-6356
> > 
Dr. Alexander A. Berezin
Executive Secretary, CARRF, Dept. Of Engineering Physics, McMaster University
Can.Ass.For Responsible Research Funding
Hamilton, ON L8S 4L7 Canada
Phone: (905) 525-9140 ext24546,  Fax: (905) 880-1997,  E-mail: 
Berezin at McMaster.ca

response to both by:

Dr. Richard Gordon, Ph.D. (Chemical Physics), Professor of Radiology
Adjunct Professor of Physics and Electrical & Computer Engineering
President, Canadian Society for Theoretical Biology (CSTB)
Editorial Board, Journal of Biological Systems
Vice-President, Canadian Association for Responsible Research Funding
University of Manitoba, Room ON104, Health Sciences Centre
820 Sherbrook Street, Winnipeg, MB R3A 1R9 Canada
Phone: (204) 787-1076,  Fax: (204) 783-8565,  E-mail: GordonR at cc.UManitoba.ca

I have brought this dialog over to bioforum, since it is perhaps of wider 
interest than just in Canada.



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