The Problem Is the Entrenchment
NYU history and education professor Jonathan Zimmerman strives mightily to square the liberal circle with the rigid hierarchical structure of higher education:
Some of these people are great teachers, and others aren’t. But all of them are getting ripped off, driving from campus to campus and waiting — always waiting — for the full-time job that never comes.
And that’s because the full-time faculty — especially the ones with tenure — have consumed most of the university’s resources themselves. At the University of Pennsylvania, 76 percent of the faculty have permanent appointments; at the University of California at Berkeley, long a hotbed of left-wing activism, 77 percent do. So there’s little money left over for the untenured faculty or — most of all — for the contingent ones. Power to the people? I think not.
For a culprit, Zimmerman looks not to the system of tenure that makes a university community an insular order of inducted aristocrats — and ties them to their particular institution — but to the ability of big-name and otherwise professionally attractive professors to negotiate higher salaries, especially when jumping ship to other institutions. By Zimmerman’s own argument, however, the great majority of faculty members are, indeed, full time.
The problem, I’d suggest, is the tenure system itself. If there weren’t a distinct threshold to cross for inclusion in the benefits of the professorial profession, then talented young teachers could negotiate higher salaries, and older teachers would have to carry their weight or acknowledge that they’re consuming too much of the university’s resources.