September 10 2013
Groves of Academe: Does Tenure Promote Laziness?
Is it time for colleges and universities to abolish tenure?
She argued that tenure promotes laziness and described the bracing intellectual atmosphere at Olin College, which does not provide tenure.
Now a new study conducted at Northwestern University by the National Bureau of Economic Research has more bad news for tenure supporters.
The title of the study is “Are Tenure-Track Professors Better Teachers?”
The answer seems to be "no." Students, according to the study, learn more from adjunct professors who aren’t on the tenure track. Indeed, the study found “strong and consistent evidence” that professors who aren’t on the tenure track perform better than those who are. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
[The study] also found that students who were relatively less qualified academically fared particularly well when they were taught by faculty members outside the tenure system, especially in courses where high grades were generally tougher to earn.
"We tried every possible thing we could to see if this result was fragile," Mr. Figlio said in an interview. "In every single specification we tried, this result came up."
Students were also more likely to take a second course in a discipline if their first one was taught by an adjunct. The sample was impressive: data from more than 15,000 Northwestern freshmen.
Tenure was designed to allow professors to think and write freely, but nowadays tenure often just makes it harder to fire people such as Ward Churchill, the former Colorado ethnic studies professor who asserted that the people killed September 11, 2001 had it coming because they were “little Eichmanns.”
There’s also the financial issue surrounding tenure. Nobody who respects learning would want to turn academia into a Dickensian sweat shop with low salaries, but it is nevertheless worth noting that adjunct professors earn a lot less than tenured professors. At a time when all too many students emerge from college saddled with crippling college loan debt, this merits serious discussion.