March 1, 2011
Tenure is being debated off, and on, campus
(Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune) — The University of Utah spent a lot of money to lure organic chemist Ryan Looper to Salt Lake City in 2007, setting him up with a lab to explore the potential of natural compounds for combatting cancer.
He figures he should repay the state flagship by bringing in research grants and publishing in scientific journals. But U. administrators have an incentive to ensure that Looper holds up his end of the bargain.
It’s called tenure, and for junior faculty members like Looper, the stakes are huge. If he performs, he gets lifetime employment; if not he’s looking for another job in a few years.
“It’s an incredibly tough and daunting process. At the same time it encourages very rigorous performance,” says Looper, an assistant professor of chemistry who came to the U. from Harvard where he had been a postdoctoral research fellow. “It lets you know where the bar is, what level you need to perform at for the rest of your career. There aren’t a lot who have taken the ‘free lunch.’ ”
But tenure, a dominant feature of the U.S. academic landscape since WWII, has come under legislative attack in Utah. Conservative lawmakers say it rewards sloth in the classroom, promotes “political correctness” on campus, and eliminates competition in the academic work force.
Rep. Christopher Herrod’s bill to eliminate tenure died in committee last week after his colleagues concluded it would blunt Utah’s competitive edge on faculty recruitment. But the proposal opened a discussion that is sure to resurface in a Legislature that reveres free market principles and is wary of liberal academics.
To read the rest of this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, click here.Posted by: psilberman