Does Tenure Provide us with Caring Experienced Teachers, or the Opposite?

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Tenure’s impact on students

Genna Apfel

When you get home from a long day of classes, does it usually result in the question, “What did you learn today?” The typical response students would give is “nothing.” While your family thought you did learn something and probably assumed you just didn’t feel like talking about it, little do they know, you may be telling the truth.

Student performance and success in and outside of the classrooms depends on what they put in…right? People have been channeling a national anxiety for students to earn a degree, and hopefully take their next steps in the “big” world by obtaining a well-paid job, or carrying on with their studies in an attempt to gain more knowledge through graduate school. Let’s face it; finding jobs now-a days and the pressure it puts on students has become overbearing. Well, what would happened if you knew it was the professor’s teaching habits that were causing students to do poorly in the classroom and not reach their full potential.

Over the years, tenure has become a very controversial issue. New Jersey passed the first tenure laws in 1909, specifically to protect teachers from losing their jobs over subjects such as race, sex and political views. However, tenure seems to pose two sides and both have reasons to protect academic freedom. A positive aspect of tenure is the right of an academic professor to not have his or her position terminated without just cause. The majority of universities and colleges in the United States have adopted the tenure systems, which have associate senior job titles, such as Professor or an Associate Professor. Although tenure was originated to guarantee academic freedom by protecting professors from being fired, its primary purpose is to allow ideas and opinions to be freely expressed to students in the classroom, as well as to the public. Professors have independence to investigate problems they have a burning passion for.

Of course, there are always two sides to everything. Tenure is becoming more of an underlying problem that has drawn national attention. Many governors are attempting to remove ineffective teachers and want to eliminate tenure for numerous reasons. One reason given is that the performance of students should be evaluated and the end result should completely reflect off of the professors’ responsibilities to provide a fully rich education. Chances of passing anti-tenure bills have increased, due to the crushing state budget deficits. With that said, President Barack Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” grant contest last year had eleven states pass laws, which would link student success to teacher evaluations. Obama is taking drastic measures on this topic as he “measured and rewarded effective teaching” in his State of the Union address.

The tenure procedure has been always challenging. For example, Governor Brian Sandobal of Nevada said, “It’s practically impossible to remove an underperforming teacher under the system we have now.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also working competitively to “end last in, first out protection for teachers.”

Why are people taking drastic measures to eliminate tenure? Many agree if professors are not doing a good job and causing their students to suffer intellectually, they should not be protected. Professors who do have it want to see that they are there for the right reasons and taking their duties seriously and being professional.

Professors with tenure may become lethargic and unproductive. This is seen as a risk to many universities and colleges because professors may prove to be unworthy just because the thought of lifetime employment rests quietly in the back of their minds. Tenure has become a very difficult process that everyone wants. However, it must be done with careful consideration and an intensive review of the candidates’ records to decide if they qualify.

Professor Barbara Fowles, who has been a full time professor for over 20 years, is Chair of the Media Arts Department, and has had tenure for quite awhile now. Fowles said, “I don’t think my views are extreme or odd enough that would cause an issue. Therefore, I don’t think about it.” Fowles explained that untenured teachers might give off a different response, but she sees tenure as an obligation to keep her teaching up to a high level because it is a matter of trust for the university to award someone. Fowles has taught a wide variety of classes in the Media Arts Department, but focuses her teaching on a Media Ethics class, as well as an Honors course in Media. Fowles added, sadly, tenured professors, not by the majority by any means, can become lazy about keeping up with their field of study, spending time with students, and preparing their classes carefully. I feel quite strongly that this is unethical and it is definitely the dark side of tenure.” Fowles understands getting tenure is not an easy process. As she says, “One has to jump through quite a number of hoops to get there.”

Marissa Santomaso, junior public relations major, has experienced bad luck in the classroom with a tenure professor. Santomaso said, “In the past, I had to drop one of my classes that was mandatory to be taken as a requirement in my major because the professor was not teaching the material in an effective way so students could understand what was going on. It wasn’t fair to me.”

Tenure will remain a complicated and sensitive subject. However, we need to look closely at this issue and decide, “Is it fair for students to be enrolled in a class with a professor who takes it less seriously than they do?” Most people can readily agree no is the answer. It should be taken into consideration that students are a paying great deal of money for their tuition and are hungry for an enjoyable, satisfying, and thorough education in return.

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