Every academic lucky enough to get an exceedingly rare tenure-track position arrives at their first "real" job with one hope: to get tenure. For a scholar, getting tenure is that happy moment when you can finally start saying what you really want, teaching what you really love, and writing what you really think. At least, that's how the mythology goes. Tenure requirements are usually extremely convoluted, complex and designed to make your life as miserable as possible. The amount of paperwork you have to fill out all the time is daunting. The necessity to please every senior faculty member and ever administrator is painful.
Obviously, the institution of tenure serves important goals of preserving academic freedom and protecting established scholars from the anti-intellectual practices of the university administrators. The 6 years a young academic suffers through on her way to tenure also have a purpose. I believe that this purpose is to alienate tenure-track academics from the rest of the teaching community, defeat any inclination towards independence they might have, and ingrain in them a habit of subservience towards the administrators and senior faculty. On the tenure-track, you spend 6 years in the position of a deer in the headlights, constantly searching for opportunities to please everybody and show just how compliant you are. Tenure becomes this Holy Grail that we struggle to deserve with a single-mindedness that borders on the obsessive.
Tenure-track faculty are often groomed to despise the part-time teaching faculty. At the same time, senior faculty often take out the frustrations of their own endless years on the tenure-track on the junior faculty members who are beginning the same journey. As a result, tenure-track academics bolster the sense of their own importance by bossing around the part-timers, adjuncts and graduate students. This creates a sense of resentment between all groups of academics and it would be naive to expect this resentment to disappear suddenly the second tenure is awarded.
Another aspect of the tenure-track process is fear. We are terrifed that we might antagonize anybody who will later on turn out to be crucial for the process of tenure review. So we learn to self-censor, shut up, not question and comply with everything. We turn ourselves into willing tools used by the coroporate-minded administrators to destroy academia. Often, we even anticipate the quantification and standardization measures that will end up of robbing our profession of any meaning.
Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate giving up tenure. It's one thing that protects us from being tossed out of academia because of our political convictions, our ideological stances, or our inclination to practice freedom of thought. What I suggest is that we lose the single-minded obsession with improving our chances for tenure to the exclusion of everything else. Getting tenure in a university gutted of true intellect, freedom of thought and creativity will not be worth much anyways.
While recognizing the importance of tenure, I believe we need to learn to value our academic solidarity with our colleagues. Instead of marginalizing the part-timers by letting them know how much more important we are, we need to realize that the only difference between us is sheer luck. Instead of exploiting grad students, we need to remember how difficult grad school was for us and lend them a helping hand. Instead of complying with every ridiculous demand of the administration, we need to analyze its ramifications and present a united front in our resistance to these practices of casualization and corporatization.
For now, we, the academics, are losing this battle everywhere. Gradually, universities are turning into the worst kinds of corporations. While we are sitting there locked in our offices frantically trying to bolster our tenure dossier, the academia is being overtaken by managers eager to bring their corporate practices into our world. We need to wake up and realize that by the time we feel ready for our tenure review, there might be nothing but ruins all around us. We might even lose the very institution of tenure.