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Does Teacher Tenure Devalue Teaching?

Does Teacher Tenure Devalue Teaching?

Nikhil Swaminathan / GOOD

In the rarified world of academia, the mantra is “publish or perish.” Young professors need to get their work out to the extended community of researchers or the general public via scientific journals, academic presses, and other means—hopefully garnering grants and attention for the university they work for.

Bust your hump proving your academic bona fides for several years, litter publications with your work, and then you get tenure—a lifetime faculty appointment designed to let you air controversial ideas without threat of retribution.

Claiming the tenure system—which was adopted in the 1940s—is flawed is not a new position in academics. But, yesterday, Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, questioned the protocol’s methods, saying to the Associated Press that it undervalued teaching.

Poll: Are you looking for a new job for the next school year?

Poll: Are you looking for a new job for the next school year?

Gee said a new approach to tenure is needed to ensure the university stays relevant to students and the outside world. The recession has helped highlight the importance of higher education to the economy, he said, so now is the right time to make big changes.

‘The universities of the 21st century are going to be the smokestacks of the century,’ Gee said, referring to the heavy industry that once dominated the American economy. ‘The notion of the large, massive public university that can exist in isolated splendor is dead.’

The question is: How would we evaluate a professor’s teaching skills? Would those evaluations that students mindlessly fill out at the end of a class suddenly become a faculty member’s ticket to tenure? Would the encourage pandering and an atmosphere of student-coddling?

At least those type-A Princeton kids would get their precious grade inflation back.

Nikhil Swaminathan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He was a reporter at Scientific American and an associate editor at SEED magazine. His work has appeared in both of those publications, as well as Newsweek, Mother Jones, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today and GOOD. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia.

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