I don't know how many of you have read this piece on the Chronicle website this week. In it, the author highlights problems with the tenure system in American colleges and universities and suggests some sort of fixed-term contract (he argues for 30 years) to make sure that aging professors eventually retire and open up spots for new faculty. I'm not going to respond to his idea (mainly because my school has no tenure system and offers only one-year contracts to faculty), but I will respond to one example he cites. One of the problems with tenure, the author claims, is that departments often get "tenured in"; that is, they reach a point when all members of the department are tenured and likely to stick around for many years. The result is that departments find themselves not flexible enough to cover all of the areas they need to. Then he says:
"Does, for example, an English department with 30 members really need three medievalists?"
[pause for laughter]
I just want to know where these schools are. Where are these English departments that are terribly overstaffed in the area of medieval literature?
I also love the way he pulls "medievalists" out of the air as an appropriate example of obsolescence. Would he ask whether the same department "really needs" three Americanists? Three people covering the twentieth century? Probably not. But three medievalists? The absurdity! The waste of taxpayer dollars!
Okay, I feel better now. Back to grading papers.