Claire B. Potter: Historian with tenure wonders if we'd be better off without it





Claire B. Potter has a level of academic success many young Ph.D.’s these days can only dream about. A professor of history and chair of American studies at Wesleyan University, she has tenure at an elite college. Tenure provides her not only with job security, but with part of her identity as the blogger Tenured Radical, where she shares views on a range of topics, writing with the freedom that tenure is supposed to protect.

So why would Potter recently have approached her provost to inquire about the possibility of trading in tenure for a renewable contract? It turns out that there are lots of obstacles to doing so, Potter said, in that Wesleyan doesn’t have a model in which someone off the tenure track could fully participate in campus governance, and this isn’t a question the university is used to being asked. So she’s not sure it will happen. But why even explore it?

Potter’s question was a natural outgrowth of a blog posting she made this month that questioned the value of tenure.

Wrote Potter: “I have argued against tenure for several reasons: that it destroys mobility in the job market. That we would do better financially, and in terms of job security and freedom of speech, in unions. That it creates sinecures which are, in some cases, undeserved. That it is an endless waste of time, for the candidate and for the evaluators, that could be better spent writing and editing other people’s work. That it creates a kind of power that is responsible and accountable to no one. That it is hypocritical, in that the secrecy is designed to protect our enemies’ desire to speak freely — but in fact we know who our enemies are, and in the end, someone tells us what they said. But here is another reason that tenure is wrong: It hurts people.”...


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