Terrified Sheep

In a recent article in Aeon, the historian Alice Dreger says, “Without tenure, professors become terrified sheep.” She goes on to say:

Why should professors who receive tenure get a special kind of lifetime job security? …[Because] tenure, in fact, does something very important: it frees up researchers and adult educators to try out new, unprofitable, and challenging ideas.

…universities in which the majority of the faculty feel unsafe in terms of job security become places where no one feels safe to do anything that might risk upsetting someone… And that’s a recipe for generally useless research as well as impoverished teaching.

To which I can only reply, “Well then it’s a good thing that Susan B. Anthony and Mahatma Gandhi and Septima Clark and Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez and Frank Kameny and Lynn Conway all had tenure, because gosh, where would we be if they hadn’t felt it was safe to upset someone?”

To be clear, I’m frightened and disgusted by the corporatization of higher education and the erosion of free speech. But granting jobs for life (sort of) to a privileged minority isn’t going to stop that, or foster ties between academics and others who care about truth, culture, and education. What will do that is organizing. Instead of tenure for a few, I want unions and professional associations with real bargaining power, for everyone, because I believe that the more we have in common, the stronger we are.

In the wake of posts about Shopify's support for white nationalists and DataCamp's attempts to cover up sexual harassment
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