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May 18, 2004


Matthew Rossi

The most vocal and conscientious critics of my university's policies are tenured professors. Without the protection of tenure, such gadflies will fade away - or be forced out - and university faculties will come more and more to resemble the many junior professors on my campus who routinely line up in support of corrupt administrators and a comic-opera faculty senate.

This seems to my jaded eye to be one of the main reasons tenure is under attack: obviously Winsboro himself isn't opposed to tenure or particularly worried about abuses of it. Instead, it appears as though the problematic academic job market is being used to make a fundamental change in the way academia works. It doesn't matter how many of those vocal and conscientious tenured professors speak out if they can be safely neutralized and no future tenured positions created. That way, any future critics will be muzzled quite neatly in a relatively short time... possibly within a decade.

Dominic Guglieme

Tenure being less common is not just economic though. It is political. Look at it this way, name any field where an employer signs an employee on with the guarantee of absolute employee freedom?


Even in a good economy, tenured jobs would be hard to get for the simple fact that any potential instructor (or even full fledged prof) in their right mind is going to try to get tenure.

All said and done, teaching ain't a bad gig. Assuming one gets full time work, at the college level or under) then the benefits are good. Even in a good economy, that type of job is hard to get. That is one of the reasons I argue that humanities majors have to be willing to apply their majors to other real job fields.

And, no, English majors working in bookstores does not count as a real job. Honestly, it is retail. I will work retail. But, I do not in any way consider it to be a real job, especially when compared to teaching, or say publishing.

If schools (colleges or other) think (not unreasonably) that all they are competing with is book retailers, they have no incentive to offer much to prospective employees.


A couple of things worth clarifying - first of all, every tenured job is by definition hard to get - scholars only go up for tenure after six or seven years at an institution, if they're in a tenure-track line, and they face a rigorous year-long review. Nobody is guaranteed tenure, and nobody expects to be; it's the disappearance of tenure-track jobs that's causing problems.

Humanities Ph.Ds aren't suffering from a job crunch because everybody wants tenure. Academia fashions itself as operating on a guild model, in which the rigorous entrance requirements (Ph.D, tenure review, etc.) limit and control the number of applicants for any position.

But the guild model is now a myth; the entrance standard of a Ph.D becomes meaningless when graduate student and adjunct labor are the norm. (See Invisible Adjunct for more on this.) Moreover, because that labor is significantly cheaper, it's pricing out all the positions that are supposedly awaiting the "apprentices" upon their graduation.

ALso, universities aren't competing with book retailers for landing professors; those are jobs undergrads take after they graduate, but universities are hiring people who are at least seven to ten years past that stage - often many more.

Universities aren't competing with anybody, just drawing from their own self-produced labor pool. In theory, if the guild model held true, that wouldn't be a problem as they generated graduates in line with the demand for new teachers, but Ph.D overproduction has spiralled out of control (for all the reasons we've mentioned before).

A Singer junta would bring austerity measures to graduate admissions and academic hiring that would make Margaret Thatcher herself shudder with guilty schoolmarmish ecstasy.

Matthew Rossi

There you go again, making Maggie the Thatch shudder in ecstasy. I told you when you turned the Mad Mod's ecstasy ray on her that no good would come of it.

Dominic Guglieme

Well, I did specify not just college level jobs. Teaching in general is a rough field.

What I was trying (and failing terribly) to say (in my very fatigued state, being tired as that was typed), was that schools should have more competition, as the humanities students (in theory at least) more options. Along those lines, one would think schools would have to offer more. But, the prestige of offering teaching jobs......


Jess Nevins

My only real objection to anything you've said, Marc, springs from this, in the original essay:

"A number of candidates who applied for the position seemed reluctant to accept an MYA line during our telephone interviews, and an equal number communicated to me in private discussions and in e-mail exchanges that they would only consider an appointment for a "temporary" job at FGCU as a last resort."

When I'm on interviewing committees (which, thank god, are all for tenure-track positions), and I had two equally qualified candidates, I'd choose the one who didn't express reluctance about the position, or tell me that they were taking the position as a 'last resort.' I don't want to hire a colleague who is going to have a bad attitude about the position before they even work with me.

For that matter, I don't want to hire a colleague who doesn't do his/her research before the interview itself and so doesn't know whether the position is tenure track or not. Admittedly, many ads don't list that, but that's what an advance call to the H.R. department is for.

Basically, candidates for academic positions should know that if you can't be positive, or you can't spin a negative into a positive ("No tenure? Great! If I don't have to publish, I'll have more time to spend with my wife/children/grading papers!"), then you just don't say anything. Interview committees don't want to hire negative people. So if candidates have bad feelings about one aspect of the job, they should be quiet about it. The interview committee has no control over whether the job is MYA or tenure-track, so telling us that you're reluctant to take an MYA job isn't going to change matters and is only going to make us think poorly of you.

Of course, Winsboro (sounds like the villainous butler in a bad c.1920 English murder mystery) might think that candidates "seemed reluctant" simply because they were insufficiently positive about it.

Otherwise, I'm in full agreement about how fuxx0red academia is, and I'm more grateful than ever that I scored a tenure-track position.


Jess - I agree with everything you say, hence my wry advice to these rather too earnest job seekers. (A digression - it is funny, now that I think about it, that Winsboro says more graduates should be turning to the MYA as a last resort and then scoffs at the ones who say as much to him.) These candidates should know what sort of job they're applying for and be prepared to accept it. (Our placement director's expert advice was to never apply for a job you wouldn't want to take.)

However, Winsboro is so disingenuous about so much else in his column (I haven't yet mentioned that he says his committee didn't place ads in the major clearinghouse for history jobs; how many applicants did he think he'd get?) that I'm not certain how accurately he's representing all of those communications. Some of them may have been from applicants who genuinely hadn't done their homework, but I can just as easily see some of them coming from cannier applicants who are trying to see if they can negotiate for tenure-track.

Admittedly, if they're negotiating before they've even been offered the job, that says something about their professionalism too. Hmm - Irvin, maybe you should have run that ad in Perspectives after all.

Jess Nevins

Didn't place ads in the major clearinghouse...?


Sheesh. You're right. That's disingenuous and makes it even clearer that he's not telling all of the story or representing the applicants' side of the story with any honesty.


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