Formerly when a professor was granted tenure, it meant that this individual enjoyed “a lifetime, permanent appointment to conduct research, teach, and provide service.” Tenure was intended to protect academic freedom, so that faculty could pursue the truth with impunity, wherever the facts led. Tenure did so by making it extremely difficult for administrators to remove a professor, short of personal and/or professional misconduct.
However, if the Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) at St. Louis University (SLU), Manoj Patankar, has his way, every tenured professor will undergo a sexennial review. In essence, this will require SLU’s tenured professors to demonstrate anew what they had demonstrated prior to being granted tenure.
When Patankar floated the policy proposal this past summer, the critics responded immediately. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the critics maintained the policy “would harm the university’s ability to hire and retain quality faculty.”
The critics’ response was to be expected and there’s some merit to it.
Why would a professor ever come to SLU to earn tenure and then have to undergo post-tenure reviews—and the potential for non-renewal—if her work doesn’t “measure up” to some future standard of judgment? That professor could select another university, earn tenure, and once it’s earned, that’s it. Finito. No more reviews.
Based on this criterion alone, the “best and brightest” likely wouldn’t choose SLU.
The critics eventually prevailed. VPAA Patankar withdrew his proposal in September.
That wasn’t enough for the critics, however.
The Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences and SLU’s Faculty Senate proceeded to pass two overwhelming no confidence votes, in effect demanding that SLU’s President, the Reverend Lawrence Biondi, SJ, fire Patankar.
Yet, despite those votes, Biondi backed his VPAA.
[SLU] has now become a place of tyranny. If we don’t take a vote today, this will be interpreted by the administration as a defeat and the momentum will be lost.
That sentiment smacks of radicalism, pitting the faculty against the administration rather than engaging in authentic dialogue that’s aimed at resolving differences.
There’s a more sober assessment of Patankar’s policy proposal.
Without doubt, tenure can lull a professor into lethargy. Once granted, the motive to perform at a high level would have to be intrinsic not extrinsic and, it may very well be that the overall quality of work declines after tenure. Perhaps not immediately, but over the years and decades, and inevitably for many professors.
The downside of tenure, then, is that some (and perhaps many) tenured professors will sit back, relax, enjoy life, and collect a good salary and benefits as well. Where that’s the case, students don’t receive the education they deserve and the overall quality of the faculty declines.
It could be argued that Patankar was seeking to hold tenured professors more accountable. His policy would provide a bit of extrinsic motivation for tenured faculty who aren’t intrinsically motivated to demonstrate ongoing achievement every six years.
Patankar’s proposal raised a legitimate policy point that SLU administrators and faculty should debate and resolve. However, the rhetoric of professors like Timothy Lomperis indicates that what they really desire is confrontation. They want to force administrators to knuckle under to their demands, not to engage in a robust and public debate where the merits of counter arguments are carefully weighed, assessed, and a decision is made.
If it ends up that SLU administrators backtrack and don’t engage faculty leaders in debating the issue, it is likely that the number of battles over tenure at the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges—pitting faculty against administration—will increase in a short time.
But not about the issue Patankar is attempting to resolve.
No, these battles won’t be over sexennial post-tenure evaluations to rid the faculty of non-performers. That will be the “presenting issue.” Belying the rhetoric are professors who desperately want tenure to continue insulating them from any possible intrusions on their freedom to express political, social, and moral views without rebuttal and, in particular, views at variance with Catholic teaching.
It may well be the case that these “tenured radicals” don’t want administrators implementing any policy that might silence their voices inside U.S. Catholic higher education.
To read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, click on the following link…