Heidenescher: Tenure protects lousy professors

Joe Heidenescher, Associate Community Editor

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This column is paired with a counterargument called “Tenure is worth protecting” by Colleen Anderson.

The University of Toledo is a mixed handbag of professors. I have had wonderful and insightful professors, but I have also had professors that should have retired years, or even decades ago.

This coming year a wave of retirements is finally shaking up UT. The administration has begun a faculty hiring plan to replace a considerable amount of retiring professors next year.

This exodus of senior professors is long overdue. Over time it is very easy for senior, tenured professors to become complacent, stagnant and outdated. A serious problem begins to arise — tenure policy protects bad professors.

In Ohio state law, tenure does not exist, but at UT professors are granted tenure after a review and probation period usually lasting six years.

Tenure provides professors with a colossal amount of job security; they cannot be fired except for “just cause” or “due process.”

Therefore, if a professor does a good job after six years, they are granted with the ability to not be fired without “good cause.”

In tenure policy, being an unsatisfactory or atrocious professor is not “just cause.”

In order to terminate tenure, one must have broken the law, violated their contract, become ill or become unprofessionally insubordinate.

When professors violate their terms, they face a tenure termination hearing — where they have the chance to prove their innocence. Even if they did something awful, they are still entitled to due process, whereas untenured teachers are not.

In Ohio, tenure termination battles surface in courts every so many years. The problem is always the same. A professor acted unprofessionally, but tenure continues to protect his or her job.

According to an NPR story published in 2012, a professor at Bowling Green State University told his students that he was going to shoot them in 2005. After months of legal battles, BGSU was unable to fire the professor due to his tenure contract, and BGSU ended up paying thousands of dollars to the professor for being “wrongly” suspended.

What is the result for universities that try to fire professors and can’t?

Tenure becomes outrageously costly for universities.

When a tenured professor is accused of a wrongdoing justified by termination, the university has to fight with unions, lawyers and courts to fire a professor. Whether the university succeeds or fails, it still costs thousands of dollars in court.

This process might save some professors from being “wrongly” fired, but if the professor did their job correctly and efficiently, then there is no reason they need protection.

Instead, tenure ends up protecting the lousy professors, while the good professors don’t need it.

In addition to the cost to universities, tenure tends to favor professors with higher seniority. Professors with tenure are usually able to escape sweeping cuts to faculty because they have more seniority.

In many cases, the professors who were last hired end up being the first fired. This layoff system ignores the effectiveness of the professors and their skill levels.

Let’s face it, there are many brand new professors that are much better at teaching than some of the senior professors. Tenure ignores actual professorial merit and considers length of employment the only variable worth measuring.

This is disturbingly unfair to low seniority professors, but it is also wildly unfair to students who value their education.

As a student at UT, I would much rather take a class with a newly graduated professor who knows how to teach well than a professor who has taught for 30 years whose teaching has turned stale.

The tenure system harbors dozens of professors guilty of being dreadful, and it’s not fair.

What happens when a lawyer gets rusty? They fall out of courts. What happens when doctors get rusty? They stop practicing.

There is no tenure for them. They have to constantly perform, and perform well.

There should be no difference between doctors, lawyers and professors. Each one is tasked with being skilled in their field; the welfare of other people depends on their level of skill.

Tenure fosters a sense of complacency in professors. At a postsecondary institution innovation should be constantly cultivated to promote higher education; it’s the only way to learn and advance.

Professors retiring this year means UT could attract some new and intelligent professors to a school that is always going to be changing.

My hope for the future is that tenure is eliminated for good so UT can constantly attract innovative thinkers to teach our generation competently. Nothing would make me happier than to see outstanding professors replacing the archaic ones.

There will be some genuinely good professors that retire and they will be sorely missed, but I will not be sad to see how many wonderful teachers UT could attract for next year.

And if they end up not being superb teachers — don’t give them tenure.

Joe Heidenescher is a second-year majoring in English, and is the associate Community editor at The Independent Collegian.

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Heidenescher: Tenure protects lousy professors