Uncommon Sense

May 18, 2023

The War on Tenure Wages On

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:15 am
Tags: , ,

This attack upon the concept of tenure for university professors is not new, but the Republicans, with their lock on numerous governors and state houses have raised it to new levels.

Of course, they are waging their efforts based upon lies. One common one is that university professors “get summers off.” Well, if you mean as in “laid off” you are correct. Can you imagine getting laid of for two months out of every year with no salary? My last college district was so kind as to work out a plan whereby they distributed your pay over 12 months instead of 10, but that was something we could have done for ourselves, by setting aside twenty percent of each paycheck but it was a convenience to not have to do that. And what about your health insurance premiums not being paid over those two months? Good thing we had a union to negotiate 12 month coverage.

Then there’s the “can’t be fired” lie. The Repubs claim professors can’t be fired for any reason, which is hardly the case. Tenure means that you can’t be fired without cause. If you are incompetent, abuse students, violate college rules, violate laws, etc. you can be fired in a trice. You can be fired for not teaching the content described for the courses you teach. How many professors have you heard of who lost their jobs for some reason or another? It is not just a few. And as to tenured people getting fired, the due process takes quite some time and if it looks bad for the professor, they are encouraged to retire or change professions before being “fired for cause” goes on their record. (For every one who does get fired, my estimate is that there are nine or more who quit, retire, etc. rather than get fired. This is the classical “You can’t fire me; I quit!) The setting aside of being fired solely for political reasons is to curb assholes like Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who thinks that all state officials can be fired, by him, at will. Elected, non-elected state officials . . . doesn’t matter to DeSantis. He fires ‘em! for reasons personal to Ron DeSantis, and often enough fictitious.

University professors have tenure for a reason, so that they can say things that are politically uncomfortable to current leaders. This has a catchphrase common amongst people of this persuasion: speaking truth to power. What university professor would want a job in a state in which you say something that offends a politically powerful person (or a friend of a politically powerful person) and Boom! you just lost your job.

Now there are some people who argue that, hey, I can be fired “at will” why can’t they? In your case, the owner of the business, or his/her designee, can fire you at any time for any reason . . . well, for any legal reason. That is because that person owns the business. The politicians or school boards do not own those businesses. They are merely trustees for the public. They are called public colleges and universities for a reason . . . they are owned by the public. The college president, state superintendent of public instruction, governor, or whatever, do not own those businesses, so they cannot fire people in them “at will.”

Now, this doesn’t stop those Republican gubernatorial machines from passing laws eliminating tenure and quite a few are in the process. Those states are going to find out quickly what they are finding out right now that they have criminalized abortion procedures. Doctors are fleeing those states because they can no longer do what is best for their patients. Those who are staying are dropping OB-GYN as a concentration from their practices. Soon, when professors get fired for political reasons, you will see a profound exodus of professorial talent from those state universities. (I have reports that applications for positions of university professor in Florida, Texas, and other states have dwindled.)

Now, you could say, so what? Who needs a bunch of useless eggheads? Quite some time ago, my home state, California, did an in-depth study to see whether the monies being vested in the state university system was worth the cost. Many thought there should be a great belt tightening and the funds provided the state universities and colleges significantly reduced. The study found that for every $1 spent on that system the state got $11 in return. The returns on investment (ROI) for state universities is immense. Graduates pay higher taxes (on greater earnings). Businesses flock to states with well-educated workforces, paying corporate taxes. If you have ever seen a competition for a new state college/university, they are fierce. Communities fight very hard to get such an institution in their region. Then, you will see businesses sprouting up and not just pizzerias to feed those ravenous students, but businesses that want to tap into the competence of the university staffs. Housing sprouts up, raising property tax revenue for the community.

So, Texas, and Florida, etc. are sinking their future economic prospects in a tide of ideology, ideology that is steeped in bullshit, too. Can you name a current element of Republican ideology? Let’s see, there are anti-immigrant stances, anti-woke efforts, anti-Disney efforts (I know, WTF Florida), anti-gay rhetoric (the liberal bias of the news has slacked off somewhat since it was found that Fox News lies like a rug). Anything come to mind that has to do with things affecting the quality of your life? Are you a software engineer fearful of a Guatemalan refugee crossing the border and taking your job? Are you afraid that the Drag Queen story hour that occurs in your local library every few months will turn your kids into Democrats?

How about healthcare? (The Repubs are against it in their states, even when the federal government is footing the bill.) What about job security? (The Republicans don’t want your jobs to be secure (their paymasters don’t like that) and they certainly don’t want some private party, like a labor union, fighting for it on your behalf.) What about solid public health efforts? (Florida passed a law making masks or vaccinations required during the epidemic against the law.) What about Social Security and Medicare, etc.? (The Repubs have adopted policy statements endorsing the elimination or the privatization of these services because, well, someone should be making a profit off of all those old and sick people.) What about freedom of religion? The Repubs do not want freedom from religion, they have endorsed the U.S. being made into a “Christian Nation.” And the Christianity they mean is not yours.)

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the university professors, and I did not speak out—because I was not a university professor.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
(Adapted from the famous quote by Martin Niemöller)

Postscript I have had people saying to me “I can be fired for any reason, so why should “they” only be fired for cause? My response is “Would you like your job to include the provision that you could only be fired for cause? And they think about it and then say “yes.” And I respond, “You want it and because you don’t have it, you think nobody else should either? Have I got that right?”

BTW A cause even university professors can be fired for is “we don’t have the money to pay you.” In universities, this comes down to “we don’t have enough students wanting your classes.”


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