From where I sit (Canada): Tenure - nirvana for the lazy

March 18, 2010

In my 40 years as an academic, I have never met anyone who is not envious of scholars because of the long holidays we enjoy.

As I am primarily a researcher, my teaching load is just four courses per academic year.

With each course entailing two and a half hours of teaching a week for 13 weeks, I spend a total of 130 hours in the classroom every year. If I am honest, on average I may not spend more than two to three hours a day on my teaching activities.

Of course, I spend a lot of time on research, for which I get remission on teaching two courses per year (equal to one-third of the workload of a tenured faculty member).

However, I sincerely believe that research is something that is self-motivated.

You either have the ability and the willpower to do it or you do not, and I am sure that even if I were not given time off from teaching, I would still do research.

The global recession is affecting every sector of the economy, but those of us in publicly funded universities are, to a certain extent, insulated from the harshest realities.

When times are tough, people who have been laid off often turn to higher education for retraining, and unlike others I am in a job that is largely recession-proof.

As a practising Hindu, I have a goal to achieve a state known as "nirvana", in which one is no longer subject to the painful cycle of life, death and rebirth.

A similar state exists in universities: it is known as "tenure".

Once tenure is granted, it cannot be taken back unless the holder does something really disgraceful. A person granted tenure has a job for life.

But is it logical to grant a job for life on the basis of a few years of performance that is very often of barely acceptable quality? This is exactly what is happening in some countries.

The tenure system is outdated. It is no longer required as a means of protecting academic freedom, so one has to ask, why does anyone require tenure?

Yet, with hundreds of thousands of tenured faculty all over the world, it is rare to encounter criticism of a system that protects lazy and incompetent academics.

Universities need a stronger focus on the productivity of their workforce.

Whenever I look at my payslip, I am reminded that I am paid to work for 35 hours per week.

Some weeks, when I am toiling on a research paper, I work more than my allotted hours, but such weeks are few and far between.

I cannot honestly claim to work an average of 35 hours per week, and believe me I am one of the hard workers.

So if tenure is designed to protect academic freedom, we do not need it.

And if tenure is designed to guarantee jobs, why should academics be among the very few to be granted jobs for life? Is the system meant to protect underperformers?

I am convinced that our universities must modernise and become productivity-oriented.

Funding is likely to be reduced even further in the coming years, so now is the time to haul our universities out of their outdated practices, learn from business and abolish the tenure system once and for all.

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