Why tenure is worse than Pepsi

Just in case you missed the full-page ad in the Record last week, Herbert Allen ’62 has initiated an essay contest on the question of tenure. The prize money for first place is $5,000, with the essays judged by former Senator Bill Bradley, Doug Daft, the chairman of the board of Coca-Cola and actress Candice Bergen. This contest is certainly a wonderful opportunity for me to make some money, and voice my opinion on the tension – I mean tenure – controversy.

At first, I was unaware that Williams even had a tenor. At which point, my editor explained to me that the essay was supposed to be about tenure, not a tenor. Accordingly, no one will ever see my pro-Pavarotti essay. However, I would like to use my space in the Record this week to write an essay for Mr. Allen’s contest. The essay cannot be more than 750 words, which is perfect, seeing as how the Record tries to keep my babbling to fewer than 800 words.

For your consideration, Mr. Allen:

Today, as I sat down to write this essay with a cool Coca-Cola, it occurred to me that tenure is not a positive element at Williams. “Professors awarded tenure are ensured employment for life at Williams. . .tenure is supposed to promote intellectual liberty for faculty who can express their opinions without fear of losing their positions,” according to an article on tenure in the last issue of the Record.

Herb (may I call you Herb?), tenure is as silly as the Democrats’ decision not to nominate Bill Bradley for president in 2000. Professors with tenure should be able to “express opinions without fear.” If I hear one more tenured professor tell me we never landed on the moon, I am going to be sick. Essentially, tenure allows professors to generate crazy ideas and opinions and ingrain them into our young, impressionable minds.

Here is a small list of just a few crackpot theories I have heard from tenured professors at Williams: “the earth is flat;” “Pepsi is better than Coke;” “Rothman’s articles are funny;” “Elvis is living in Pittsfield” and my personal favorite, “You should brush your teeth twice a day.” This madness must stop! Next thing you know, tenured professors will begin telling students that they are pro-war.

Tenure offers “employment for life at Williams.” Right now, as I look out my window at two feet of snow and a temperature of negative 15 degrees Celsius, I am beginning to think the professors are getting the short end of the stick. If we value their services so much, maybe we should offer them a beach house in Malibu.

At bottom, it seems tenure is just a means of trying to keep outstanding faculty in a small, frigid town lacking a turf field. Don’t get me wrong, professors are entitled to some form of job security, just as Candice Bergen was entitled to those five consecutive Emmys for her outstanding work on the hit sitcom Murphy Brown. However, even in the NBA, no player receives a lifetime contract from a ball club. A perfect example is Bill Bradley, a Knick great, who won two national championships. Yet not even he got a lifetime contract (despite the fact he deserved it and possibly a few league MVPs). I feel obligated to step up – much like Bradley did in the ’70 and ’73 NBA finals as a Knicks player – and take charge. I don’t believe tenure should serve as a means of guaranteeing faculty an indefinite career at any given institution.

I have spent all week trying to come up with a perfect example of tenure gone awry. The classic example comes from the greatest sitcom of the last 20 years, namely, the Emmy-award winning Murphy Brown. I have always been able to relate to Murphy Brown, as we are both single mothers in the field of journalism.

Murphy employed a painter, Eldin, who, in ten seasons, barely finished his painting job. He had a lifetime contract to work for Murphy, which severely limited his incentive to work efficiently. I do not want my professors to leave their houses unpainted. I have been granted (at least) four years at Williams: I do not want them left unfinished, like Murphy’s house, as a result of lifetime contracts.

Herb, if my essay is chosen, I will devote my winnings to beer and a rigorous anti-tenure campaign. It is a goal of mine to destroy the tenure network. Speaking of networks, you mentioned maybe televising a debate on the subject.

I would be more than happy to appear on the anti-tenure side of the debate, being that I have a perfect face for television. What a great idea for a show: televising students in their late teens to early twenties competing for money and being evaluated by a panel of judges: sounds like Fox’s new hit of the season. If only you could get Simon Cowell to judge.

Anyhow, I digress; let me crack open another can of Coke and concentrate. Tenure has hurt the academic mission of Williams College. Professors awarded tenure are less demanding of their students, teach less and are generally easier graders. Wait. . .why am I arguing against tenure again?

In the end, tenure gives faculty a sense of security that eventually leads to laziness. Tenure at Williams is similar to the drinking age in Massachusetts: The policy must be changed in order to maximize student welfare.

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