Some Hazards of the Proposed Changes to Policies and Procedures

 

 

The proposed revisions to Polices and Procedures have been portrayed as a simple extension of existing non-tenure track hiring practices to afford increased flexibility in faculty appointments.  An alternative assessment, however, suggests that the central effect of the measures will be to seriously dilute the protections of tenure and pose a substantive threat to the hard won gains of academic freedom at the College. 

 

The creation of parallel tracks of non-tenured faculty hired on contingent contracts weakens the freedom of inquiry essential to preserving a vital climate for intellectual production and could provoke divisive schisms within the faculty.   The proposed implementation further weakens the faculty role and responsibility for curricular and personnel decisions that are central to determining the quality and direction of academic production on campus.   

 

Motions 1 & 2 ñ Redundant Categories of Non-Tenure Track Hire and the Threat to Academic Freedom

 

Current provision for non-tenure track hire at Babson is restricted to faculty lacking terminal degrees.  This has been justified by the need to allow for the hire of a limited number of faculty who offer exceptional practical or business experience to service more vocationally oriented arenas of college instruction, where one is less likely to find candidates holding terminal degrees.  The proposed creation of two new categories of non-tenure track faculty (Motions 1 and 2) affords no such benefit.  The proposed categories are redundant as they draw from the same pool of candidates with terminal degrees as tenure track hires, while failing to provide access to any additional talent that would otherwise be precluded by existing hiring practices. 

 

Those who call for increased hiring flexibility argue that the College is unable to attract highly reputable faculty because candidates find it undesirable to prepare for tenure review.   We must question whether lowering standards is the best way to attract quality faculty to the College, particularly given the geographic desirability of a teaching post in the Boston area.  If Babson is as attractive as we think it to be, and the candidates as desirable as they are reputed to be, it hardly seems plausible that that the requirements of tenure review could be the chief obstacle to recruiting candidates, particularly if they are to be held to the same academic standards on non-tenure track appointments. Perhaps a more appropriate remedy could be found in improved modifications to faculty compensation.   

 

Motion 2 suggests that Babson must create a separate non-tenure track for candidates with terminal degrees in order to make joint appointments with Olin College -- to comply  with Olinís declared ìno tenureî hiring policy.   This must certainly be the case of the tail wagging the dog.  Are we to believe that Wellesley College and Brandeis, other likely Olin partners, are working to dismantle tenure to accommodate Olinís appointments criteria?   At such an embryonic state, has Olin College really had the opportunity to assess the impact of a ìno tenureî rule on the quality of its faculty recruitment?  Alternatively, if Olinís academic performance standards are no less robust than those exacted in Babsonís tenure review (which should be a precondition for any joint appointments with them), why should Babsonís review process pose an obstacle to joint hire of quality faculty? 

 

What then is gained by the creation of a non-tenure track designed to attract faculty who otherwise meet the baseline criteria for tenure track appointment?  If hiring flexibility is achieved by the convenience of reduced standards, we degrade Babsonís intellectual capital.   If the new categories of non-tenure track hires are not subject to the same standards as the tenure/tenure-track faculty, a schism will be created in the faculty that would most likely increase the burdens for teaching existing programs on the backs of the tenure/tenure track faculty.  Such inequities can serve no useful purpose to further collegiality among a community of scholars.  Finally,  if it is the case that non-tenure track appointments are held to the same standards as those of the tenure track,  nothing is gained except the elimination of tenure.  This, it appears, is the upshot of the proposed measures. 

 

Tenure ñ The Most Effective Support for Academic Freedom

Any measures to reduce the protections of tenure, no matter how seemingly innocuous, constitute a dangerous proposition for an educational institution by debilitating the protections of academic freedom.  It is a grave mistake to think that academic freedom is somehow not a concern at Babson because it is a business school or that tenure is an unnecessary protection that should be jettisoned to better emulate the market efficiencies of private corporations.  Babson faculty worked hard to ensure that the explicit right of academic freedom be guaranteed in Policies and Procedures ñ amendments that were not approved until the late 1970s.[1] 

 

Tenure continues to be justified as the most effective way to support academic freedom and to guarantee the quality of the faculty and curriculum.  The conclusions of the 1973 Commission on Academic Tenure in Higher Education, cited in an earlier round of debate at Babson, are no less true today,

ìAcademic tenure, rightly understood and properly administered, provides the most reliable means of assuring faculty quality and educational excellence, as well as the best guarantee of academic freedom.   So central is academic freedom to the integrity of our educational institutions ñ and to their effectiveness in the discovery of new knowledge, in conservation of the values and wisdom of the past, and in the promotion of critical inquiry essential to self-renewal ñ that academic tenure should be retained as our most tested and reliable instrument for incorporating academic freedom into the heart of our institutions.î

 

Some have argued that the infrequency of formal claims to violations of academic freedom at the College constitute the best evidence that academic freedom is not an issue and that the protections of tenure are unnecessary.  One could similarly cite the nearly non-existent incidence fire in any of our classrooms, but it is unlikely we would venture to lobby for the removal of costly sprinkler and alarm systems.  In the enterprise of creating intellectual capital, the protection of academic freedom must be non-negotiable.  There is no price at which you trade in such protection.  Like the fire sprinklers, the institutional commitments to defend academic freedom must be in place, with the hope that there will never be need to formally invoke its protections.

 

Motion 3:  Whatís Capped and Not Capped ñ Do the Numbers

 

If the faculty is unable to reconsider and reject Motion 1 to hold the line on redundant non-tenure track hires (a preferred solution), then it must vote no on Motion 3 to contain such hires to 10 percent by division.  The proposal to increase the number of division members on non-tenure contracts to 20 percent is certain to have an enormous impact on the culture and cohesion of the faculty, who will be responding to different incentives and performance standards.  If it were stock ownership, 20 percent would be a controlling interest.  Under such conditions, the culture of tenure and the protections it offers for academic freedom would be cast in doubt.  Even more alarming is the fact that nowhere in the proposed revisions to Policies and Procedures is there a cap specified for the number of non-tenure track hires at Babson that originate from joint appointments with Olin.  While it is somewhat of a stretch to speculate, in this day and age of mergers, a Babson-Olin combination of this sort could produce the wholesale elimination of tenure within a generation.  Far-fetched, perhaps, but the facultyís loss of control over who is on the faculty and the design of its curriculum is quite real.

 

This loss of control is reinforced by other troublesome language in the proposed changes.  There is a quote that "the decision to hire a non-tenure track person still rests with the divisions."  Yet Policies and Procedures II A 4 states the "President and/or Vice President with the concurrence of the Division Chairperson" will decide on multi-year contracts.  This puts us back years to the time when there was a 2-person decision-making body.  In Motion 4, it appears the 2-person committee makes the decision as to the length of contract.   These small turns of phrase make for big differences in the position of the faculty within the institution, and the ability of the faculty to determine the composition of its membership and the design of its core product, the curriculum.

 

In sum, the proposed changes to Policies and Procedures (especially Motions 1, 2, 3, and 4) pose an unacceptable cost in the erosion of academic freedom in exchange for little gain in the Collegeís flexibility to attract new talent.  The only apparent change in the creation of non-tenure track categories for faculty who otherwise meet the criteria for tenure track hire, is the elimination of tenure itself.  We urge faculty to consider seriously rejecting these motions in defense of the hard won protections of tenure and the support for academic freedom it provides. 

 

Joe Ricciardi   

September 25, 2001



[1] See Casey and McKeon, ìAcademic Freedom,î a white paper written during an earlier debate at Babson, available from Bill Casey on request.