Generational Conflict and the Tenure Crisis
To the Editor:
Lynn Hunt reminds us of how difficult it is for young scholars to obtain tenure-track positions. She then links this difficulty to the decision of many tenured colleagues not to retire. The two issues are somewhat related but cannot be resolved in the suggested manner Universities and colleges have been turning to adjunct faculty because there is a surplus of young PhDs and they are willing to be exploited in this manner. From having been a way of gaining experience and a teaching resume, "temporary" instruction has become an administrative tactic to reduce teaching costs. The AHA and other professional associations should have fought this tactic when it became commonplace in the late 1980s. Now, it may be too late, although I hope the AHA will lobby accrediting institutions to stop providing faculties with large numbers of adjuncts a respectable accreditation. We should insist that any department that has more than 20 percent of its teaching done by nontenured personnel should lose its accreditation as a professional program. The major danger is not that tenured colleagues will not retire but that their universities will replace their tenured positions with adjunct faculty.
The decision of a tenured colleague to retire is up to him or her. Hunt asks, "Why should our right to work be guaranteed for life rather than 35 or 40 years?" The answer is, because of a change in the law. Our federal laws correctly ended discrimination in hiring and dismissal based on age. I do not agree that tenure has "fostered a kind of anarchic individualism that has sapped any collective ethos of responsibility." Colleagues who fail to participate in department business and who are irresponsible teachers should lose their jobs at any agetenure is not a guarantee against being dismissed for any reason. But the law now says, as it should, that no one can be dismissed because of age or treated differently on the job because of age. To propose denying or ending tenure because of age is discrimination and illegal; I am appalled that the president of our Association would advocate such a policy.
University of California at San Diego
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