Dave Hoffman of Concurring Opinions asserts: "The Moneylaw movement is decidedly anti-tenure." Jeff Harrison has his own view, of course, but I come neither to praise nor to bury tenure. The institution of academic tenure is here to stay, and not even MoneyLaw's most dedicated partisans are so foolhardy as to abort their careers by touching academia's third rail. Besides, if I've learned anything in this business, it is this truth: One's ability to accomplish things and to effect genuine change is inversely related to the extent to which one speaks one's mind.
So, if you're expecting me, as an early adopter of the "MoneyLaw movement" — seriously, has anyone ever written more flattering words about this blog, especially in the course of trashing one of its premises? — to condemn tenure, you'll have to wait a long time, and in vain. I'll also decline the temptation to quarrel with Dave Hoffman on sabermetric and bibliometric matters, except to observe in passing that Role Models in Finance: Lessons from Life Cycle Productivity of Prolific Scholars focuses on the effect of tenure on highly prolific "role model" finance scholars, as distinct from "the average finance Ph.D." Jeff Harrison, effectively and consistently, has exposed deep veins of timidity in the academy. And I have already exhorted fellow professors to write boldly, on the understanding that cowardice is a profound vice. As a result, I have neither occasion nor inclination to contest the notion that tenure protects academic freedom and inspires innovative teaching and scholarship.
But bold and honest talk about tenure should focus on two drawbacks that even the most ardent defenders of the institution would be hard pressed to deny:
- Far worse than tenure's marginal propensity, if any, to encourage loafing and to shelter unproductive faculty members from real accountability is its elimination of meaningful sanctions against odiously selfish, institutionally destructive faculty members. All it takes is one rabid rodent to infect the entire horde.
For a sense of the intensity with which MoneyLaw has addressed this issue, consider this: The German word Arschloch and its plural form, Arschlöcher, have appeared no fewer than 12 times in previous MoneyLaw posts. In academia's eternal morality play, where character matters far more than talent, the negative impact of Arschlochkeit (the condition of being an Arschloch) far outweighs any adverse productivity effects attributable to tenure.
- Except perhaps at Yale and other schools where as many as one out of twelve graduates is a law professor, tenure insidiously separates professors from a realistic appreciation of their students' professional futures. At Louisville, the admittedly small base of 6,000 alumni might have a half-dozen members who work as law professors or federal judges. Literally 99.9 percent of our alumni are working without the benefit of a form of lifelong job protection that law professors rarely if ever subject to serious scrutiny. If we intend seriously as legal academics to serve our students and our graduates, it behooves us to focus on the professional conditions that they will face.