Stuart Kaufman: The Trouble of Tenure

For years we have seen innumerable articles, news stories, columns, blogs and opinion pieces expounding upon the problems in the American educational system and how these problems should be addressed and remedied. Every “expert” has an opinion and as society debates the various “solutions,” American students are falling further behind in their ability to defend and build American civilization. I am no “expert” in the field of education. All that I have is an education from religious elementary school, secular high school, college, law school and a post-graduate law degree.

In other words, I was a consumer of education, not a “professional” purveyor thereof. My educational experience in an academic environment ended in 1969. The intervening years between then and now have been taken up in using my education and increasing it through experience and independent study. So, “expert” or not, I do speak with some objective authority on the subject.

It is my considered opinion that of all the many ills afflicting the American educational system, the system of academic tenure has contributed much to the continuing decline of American education.

After all, it is the teacher who determines much of what is fed into the juvenile brain. It is the quality and the objectivity of teachers that will primarily determine the quality and the objectivity of the students whom they turn out. It stands to reason then that if “good” teachers are not doing the educating, then those who are the objects of that education will be less than beneficial to America’s future. By “good” teachers, I mean those who can provide information that will encourage, stimulate and enable students to form their own opinions based upon facts that are presented in as objective a way as possible. It is here that we, the American people, have failed miserably in our educational system. I am speaking here primarily of our system of higher education, although what I say here can be applied to the lower grades as well.

Today’s university professors are to a significant degree the “refugees” of the 1960s and their disciples. Those 1960s “refugees” who chose to teach were ultimately able to create a petri dish of anti-American infection within the vast majority of American institutions of higher learning. Their preconceptions were molded in the heady days of youthful revolt and unchecked by subsequent practical experience outside the insulated world of academe. The result has come out the other end.

The disciples of these 1960s “refugees” who chose the ivy-covered walls of higher education faithfully followed in their blinkered path. A 2016 study published in Econ Journal Watch found that of 7,243 professors, 3,623 were registered Democrats and 314 were registered Republicans. That means that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans was 11.5:1. Furthermore, the field that was friendliest to conservative scholars is economics, where there are only 4.5 liberal professors for every conservative. The field of history has the least conservative-friendly ratio: 33.5-to-1. As my legal colleagues would say, res ipsa loquitur.

According to an article in the Washington Times, “the rapidly growing disparity is due in part to the rise of academic subcategories, such as the histories of gender, race and class, where a liberal orientation is the foundation for subsequent research … ascendance of multiculturalism in the humanities makes it difficult for conservatives to find work teaching. If you’re going to have a Gender Studies Department, or something like that, the progressive assumptions are built into the very idea of the department, so you’re not going to hire any conservative professors.”

The bias is built-in. Creating more of these “tribal” courses and departments creates a demand for more of those who will teach them. And those who teach them will, by definition, be on the left.

So, that is how we have ended up with these liberals who fill up the skulls of our young people with a one-sided view of America’s position among the rest of the nations. Instead of viewing the United States as that which she is:  a paragon of decency, that with just a few exceptions, is an unparalleled example of the heights to which humankind can arise when acting in concert within the framework of a moral ethic that has never before existed. However, most teachers and their students view America as the leader in selfishness and callous self-interest. To be sure, many, if not most, of the students who matriculate into the actual world can soon identify the emptiness and fraud that was sold to them by too many of their teachers. However, a significant number continue their lives in acceptance of the nonsense that was stuffed into their heads.

It is the system of tenure that enables this increasing pollution of young minds. The fact is that even if university administrators wanted to rid themselves of the propagandists who infest their institutions, their hands are tied. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines tenure as “a status granted after a trial period to a teacher that gives protection from summary dismissal.” If you subscribe to the idea that no one should be fired without some due process then that definition is not so awful, on its face. However the definition of the word “summary” is the crux of the difficulty. As a result, a cumbersome set of procedures have made it virtually impossible to fire a teacher with tenure.

The Greek philosopher Plato set down the definition that we have accepted as the basis of higher education. A university should be “a community of thinkers drawn together in the logical quest for truth” and “dedicated to the art of critical debate.” So far, so good.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, new universities were established by titans such as the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Stanfords. The faculties at those institutions thought that they needed a shield to ensure the integrity of their teaching and research and they saw tenure as the ultimate guarantor to “prevent the university administration from establishing official orthodoxies that it might use, directly or indirectly, to inhibit professors from expressing unsettling ideas and unpopular opinions.”

The modern doctrine of tenure originated with the American Association of University Professors 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. This statement holds that “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition” and stresses that “academic freedom is essential in teaching and research in this regard.”

Sounds great, but couple this with the proliferation of politically correct dogma and the tribalism that has fostered the establishment of dodgy academic “disciplines” and you bring into the classrooms of America’s colleges and universities, “teachers” whose viewpoints add nothing to the preparation of young people for anything other than whining about how empty their lives are. Add to this the Schools of Mideast Studies that have been established on the campuses of America’s most prestigious universities and funded by Saudi Islamist fundamentalists, whose faculties consist of those whose primary purpose is to foment hatred against the state of Israel and the planting of Islamist propaganda and you end up with a witches brew whose result is the poisoning of young American minds.

The issue of tenure came dramatically to the forefront in the case of Prof. Ward Churchill. A professor of “Ethnic Studies” at the University of Colorado, Ward Churchill announced in 2007 that 9/11 victims deserved what they got because of U.S. foreign policy. The University of Colorado tried to fire him. After years of appeals and perhaps millions of dollars, his dismissal was upheld. The good guys won, but at what cost? Today, “86 percent of school administrators surveyed do not even attempt to terminate teachers they know to be underperforming or acting improperly because of the time and money required to override the tenure laws. Lawyers cost money.”

The issue of tenure in our colleges and universities is exacerbated by the infantilization of the current generation of college student. We permit (require?) that our children be coddled and cosseted and catered-to by these institutions. That is a real problem. “Safe spaces” for snowflakes have become the rule because, if truth be told, too many of America’s young people are immature. The four years that used to provide young adults with the means to gain independence and become responsible, functioning adults are now treated as four additional years of indulgence and irresponsibility, fostering continued dependence on others to take care of them and resulting in a huge percentage of these college graduates, ill-educated and unemployable, simply moving back home to continue their extended childhood.

The state of Israel has an entirely different system. When a boy or girl graduates from high school, they don’t immediately go to university. They go into the Israeli army, where they learn how to deal with life and what it brings. They enroll in university AFTER they are released from the army. They have had three years to mature; three years to perceive that which is important and that which is not. The result is that you won’t find many students on Israeli college campuses who need “safe spaces” (other than bomb shelters), or who engage in statue toppling, or who enroll in courses such as “Gender Studies,” or “The Beatles 101.”

I do not advocate for the Israeli system of universal service in the army here in the United States. But, absent a system that builds in maturity and insulates students from the garbage that is spewed at them, it is up to us to prevent the spewing of that garbage in the classroom. Nor do I advocate for faculty censorship, but I DO advocate for a system in which persistent propagandists can be thrown out on their ears. And this should be demanded by those actually paying for this:  the parents of the students.

Tenure has morphed into a guaranteed job for life, a benefit no longer enjoyed by any other segment of the workforce and this guarantee is offered to those who delight in undercutting all for which America stands. Nowadays it is the university faculties themselves that establish official orthodoxies that form the gospel of political correctness and which are enforced by willing dupes among the student bodies and university administrations. And because of tenure, these faculty members are insulated from the discipline that could and should be enforced by university boards of trustees working for the best interests of the students not for the best interests of teachers who have no business molding the minds of America’s next generation.

This article was originally published in the Charleston Mercury. 

Stuart Kaufman

Stuart Kaufman is a retired lawyer, investment banker and businessman. He relocated from New York to Mount Pleasant in 2012. A friend recently told him that he has been a South Carolinian all of his life ... but he just didn’t know it.

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