“A Professor’s Life”
For the last several months the University of Denver’s Strategic Issues Program has been convening a panel of trustees, administrators, faculty, and community business leaders to consider the “Future of Higher Education” in light of the great technological, and other, disruptions that are currently affecting the industry. Invited to speak before the panel have been a number of distinguished guests, including Colorado Conference co-president Jonathan Rees (links to his testimony are here) and former national AAUP president Cary Nelson. University of Denver AAUP chapter president Dean Saitta also submitted an uninvited letter to the Strategic Issues Panel chair. It discusses some issues around shared governance, tenure, and academic freedom, specifically referencing the Ward Churchill and Arthur Gilbert cases, as well as the important US Supreme Court case Garcetti v. Ceballos. The opening salvo:
I’m writing because I’m troubled by the substance and tone of the Panel’s conversation around shared governance, tenure, and other subjects related to faculty work. Every stereotype by which the public knows tenured professors has found its way into the discussion or been casually overheard in the meeting room. We’re not productive. We’re not accountable. We’re politically correct. We’re invested in esoterica. We’re slaves to both tradition and trend. We’re arrogant. We think we’re special because we have lifetime job security. We ignore the Big Picture and sweat the small stuff. We’re chronic complainers. We’re obstructionists. Tenure itself has been characterized as a “sacred cow.” It’s been described as the “elephant in the room.” It’s been referred to as the “900 pound gorilla at the table.” Since mammalian and specifically primate analogies seem to be the order of the day, I keep waiting for someone to identify tenure as the “monkey on our back.” At the last meeting a few panelists admitted to being unimpressed by the presenters who spoke up for shared governance and tenure. I assume they’re referring to my AAUP colleagues Jonathan Rees and Cary Nelson. Because my loyalties to AAUP run deep, and because advocates for faculty are too few and far between, I’d like to give you my own perspective on faculty work, shared governance, and tenure as shaped by 25 years of experience at DU. I’m speaking for myself, but I suspect a large number of DU faculty would support what I’m about to say.