Wednesday, October 12, 2005

This is no country for old men

What I don't quite understand about the Chronicle piece "Rigid Tenure System Hurts Young Professors and Women, University Officials Say" (besides it being so obvious as to not be news)is the claim that the tenure system isn't working because it discriminates against women and young professors because, as the Havard investigator puts it, "We have structured an academic workplace for men of a bygone era."

Just exactly when was this bygone era, and who are these men who are supposed to have labored and struggled in it? They're certainly not the men who got tenure in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. They're not even the men and women who got tenure during the 70s and at least the early 80s, when the expectation was that the first book would be written after tenure.

If tenure is supposed to shrink the herd, and cast out those unable to meet the increasingly impossible requirements of their department/college/university, (impossible because they are tied into the financial binds of the academic publishing industry) then it's doing that in spades and we, as well as many of our mentors, and certainly our grad students are indeed those men and this is indeed that workplace. This standard didn't exist in a "bygone era." It's new and it's ours and, not coincidentally, it's working to hurt women and queers and people of color and those who are from the working class. You know, the ones who were never supposed to be in the academy in the first place.

Isn't this what Stephen Greenblatt's ineffectual letter to the MLA a couple of years ago tried to point out? That a whole generation of scholars will be lost unless departments stop relying on an already financially strained university press system to make their de facto tenure decisions for them?