LeiLani Dowell

December 15, 2014

The articles assigned from The Imperial University really got me thinking about the contradictory nature of the tenure process in regards to academic freedom. Apparently this is not a new debate; in 1940 the American Association of University Professors felt the need to publish a Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. In it, they state that:

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.

Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.

The AAUP’s definition of tenure asserts that “tenure, briefly stated, is an arrangement whereby faculty members, after successful completion of a period of probationary service, can be dismissed only for adequate cause.”

Obviously, I am all for academic freedom and tenure and, like many of us, I am hoping and praying and putting in work (not necessarily in that order) in order to secure a tenure-track job down the road. However, it’s the “successful completion of a period of probationary service” in the AAUP’s definition that gives me pause. The articles by Salaita, De Genova and Pulido attest to how tenuous that probationary period can be for dissenters and/or people of color (and incidentally, I love Moten and Harvey’s definition of the “undercommons of enlightenment” as the place “where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong”).

The assigned articles have helped clarify the importance of tenure (on grounds other than the purely economic) and strengthen my resolve to fight against the corporatization and adjunctification of academia. But my question is, in this fight, how do we also fight for academic freedom that begins before one receives tenure? Perhaps this sounds far-fetched, but it seems absolutely absurd to me that academic freedom is something one must earn, and moreover that it must be earned by subjecting oneself to its very opposite. If, as the AAUP declares, academic freedom “is fundamental for the protection of … the student to freedom in learning”, and if more and more students are being taught by adjuncts, then denying academic freedom to nontenured faculty also amounts to a clear attack on students’ rights.

I almost wonder if we, as a whole, need to question the very nature of tenure itself, which, as is apparent by the experiences of the three authors, is also a punitive measure that actually ends up silencing dissent – or placing a chill, a hesitation, on those (myself included) who would challenge the imperial university and the state structures it upholds. De Genova’s article in particular reminds of Foucault’s analysis of the “panoptic modality of power” in Discipline and Punish: “The general juridicial form that guaranteed a system of rights that were egalitarian in principle were supported by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian and asymmetrical that we call the disciplines” (565). The fact that De Genova was isolated by his peers for engaging in discourse on the war in Iraq screams of spectacle and surveillance, reinforced when he was denied tenure. I guess I’m wondering how we all participate in the processes of micro-power when we don’t question the disciplinary nature of the tenure process.

I would love to hear what you all think of this. Happy last day of class – we made it (most of us) through our first semester!

Works Cited:
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.  Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004. 549-565. Print.