September 14, 2004

tenure as defense

I learned something interesting today - A reasonable interpretation of the history of the development of tenure in the US is that is was a defensive reaction to a percieved threat during the time that disciplines and departments were evolving. During that time a layer of administration was developing beween faculty and the president of the university. And it was during this period of rapid evolution and growth that the American Association of University Professors (f. 1915) was formed.

These comments are reactions to reading Chapter 1 of Geiger's To Advance Knowledge and looking at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) website; especially the Committee A page.

The percieved threat was that as universities grew and departments evolved, the legitimate sphere of faculty authority no longer encompassed the entire academic enterprise but became limited to a specific and restricted subset of that enterprise. On top of this, the primary concern of the leadership became the business of running the university rather than the intellectual affairs of its faculty and students.

My interpretation of tenure as defense then is that, in the US at least, it was invented to insulate faculty from the increasingly foriegn, and hence unpredictable (irrational?), actions of the administration. This is plainly an interpretation on my part. The AAUP, which is clearly the professional body at the center of the discussion and adjudication with respect to tenure, has as its mission the advancement of academic freedom. While state positively there is something adversarial to the tone of the AAUP's rhetoric that suggests that academic freedom needs to be protected.

This may indeed be the case; one of our founding folks (Jefferson probably) noted that, "Eternal vigalence is the price of freedom" None the less, I find it fascinating that one of the cornerstones of academia could have its roots in an adversarial move on the part of faculty and that, if this interpretation holds, tenure codifies the traditional tension between faculty and administrators in the research university.