Hat tip to Gratton for drawing attention to Mark Taylor’s New York Times piece on abolishing tenure. Apparently Taylor, a philosopher of religion, believes that universities and colleges should be run like corporations and that we should fire older professors because they’ve been around too long and are therefore too expensive. As Taylor writes:
Tenure is financially unsustainable and intellectually indefensible. The fundamental problem is liquidity – both financial and intellectual.
If you take the current average salary of an associate professor and assume this tenured faculty member remains an associate professor for five years and then becomes a full professor for 30 years, the total cost of salary and benefits alone is $12,198,578 at a private institution and $9,992,888 at a public institution. To fund these expenses would require a current endowment of $3,959,743 and $3,524,426 respectively and $28,721,197 and $23,583,423 at the end of the person’s career. Tenure decisions render illiquid a significant percentage of endowments at the precise moment more flexibility is required.
If I’m following Taylor’s calculations correctly, he’s saying that professors at private schools receive a yearly average salary and set of benefits of $406,619 and that public school professors annually receive salaries and benefits amounting to $333,096. Who knew academia was so lucrative!
I really have no dog in this fight as I neither have tenure nor the opportunity to get tenure. I work on contract and can have my position terminated at any time without any reason even having to be provided. I work in what is known as a “Right to Work State“, which is basically Orwell speak for a set of laws that cede all power to employers and that prevent employees, under threat of law, from organizing or going on strike. This is what some conservatives call “freedom”. After all, it’s the employers money right? Therefore the employer should be able to fire you at any time and for any reason. And, after all, the employee can always find work elsewhere so she’s free. Ah how I love the American concept of freedom. Never mind that the employers enjoy disproportionate power, access, and representation within our government due to their money and that they also benefit disproportionately from the various services our government provides in the form of infrastructure, law enforcement, and military. Remember, those employers are self-made Randian super-heroes that have never relied on anyone else to get where they are. Like the moment of creation when God brought the universe into existence from the void, these self-made capitalists did not benefit in any way from family connections, excellent school, stable and flourishing living environments, or greater governmental access.
Nope, they’re self-made damn it! Therefore they are entitled to everything they’ve made and are having their freedom violated by having limitations placed on when and how they can terminate positions, whether they should pay more in taxes, whether they should provide benefits, stable pensions, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and let’s not forget that for every five dollars that employer pays out to any employee they get a return with profit. The capitalist might argue that they put up the money for the implements used to produce their goods and so therefore they’re justified in skimming surplus-value off the top of the workers production of value. However, isn’t there a point at which the worker creates enough surplus-value or profit to pay for that equipment? And didn’t Locke– a hero of liberal conservative economists –say something about property being formed or coming into existence as a result of human labor giving form to matter? Hmmmm? Hmmmm? I sense an inconsistency here.
But I digress. The outcome of Taylor’s proposal is pretty predictable. As in all other cases where the business model is adopted, you get declining wages, unreliable pensions, and tremendous job insecurity. Indeed, if we follow Taylor’s proposals we can look forward to a future where the halls of institutions of higher learning are populated with adjunct professors living in terror of whether or not they’ll be called back the next semester and trying to make due on a pittance of a wage. Nice.