An article earlier this month (“Part-time Yale faculty numbers buck trend,” 11/1) reported that the number of part-time faculty at Yale has remained low in the midst of an explosion in part-time hiring at other American universities. To wit, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that the number of part-time faculty members increased by 79 percent between 1981 and 1999. A recent strike by lecturers in the University of California system highlighted the growing problem. Cut to Yale, where 90 percent of teaching is done by full-time faculty.
If only it were comforting to know that Yale has circumvented mediocrity. Obscuring the real issue, both the Chronicle and the Yale Daily News article neglect the fact that aspiring academics covet not just full-time work but the legitimacy and job security of a long-term contract — tenure or anything but the uncertainty of being thrust into the annual meat market where teaching faculty are recruited. The UC strike was carried out largely by full-time faculty — fed up with the lack of loyalty their employer had consistently shown, in some cases over two decades or more, by withholding a long-term contract.
It is not about money. Job security consistently ranks at the top of a list of employee concerns, and the unpleasant truth is that Yale’s up-or-out track means a full-time faculty member may actually have less job security than a part-time lecturer. If the ladder-track was truly a meritocracy, it could easily deflect the barbs of detractors. But the tenure system holds out great rewards that are achieved as much by successful networking, timing and luck as unadulterated merit. The only distinction between the increasingly lonely cadre of tenured faculty and the privileged glass-bead game manipulators of Hermann Hesse’s Castalia is that the faculty were selected more arbitrarily.
The Yale faculty is the best in the world, and its members deserve not only full-time positions, but full benefits, including the job security a $10 billion corporation should be able to provide. The ranks of tenured faculty need to be loosened so that qualified teachers and researchers don’t give up on academia before they’ve even begun trying.
Tenure can be made at once a more open and more accountable system. Liberalizing the system does not mean lowering standards for achieving tenure so much as raising standards once tenure reserved for the few with post-tenure reviews.
Public universities like the University of Maryland, University of Kentucky, University of Hawaii, and University of California, have all begun to employ effective post-tenure review, issuing in a more inclusive and flexible system for faculty management, with teaching and research on an equal footing, and the future needs of shrinking or expanding departments adequately accounted for.
The silver lining of tenure reform is that a lot of wind would be taken out of GESO’s sails if graduate students saw a more friendly and accommodating academia awaiting them. They would be willing to sacrifice short term security of TA unionization for the long-term security of an assured position on the tenured faculty rolls. If that’s not a goal the administration should be fighting for, I don’t know what is.
Aaron Goode is a junior in Calhoun College.