Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Galbraith on Tenure

“I’m going to be an economist, but I want to make my small contribution to the liberal agenda.  Peace, a better break for the poor and the inner cities, greater equality in income distribution, government assuming its proper responsibilities.  I haven’t got it fully worked out yet.”
“Most unwise,” said McCrimmon, adding with some emphasis, “most unwise.  And certainly impractical.”
“Why, sir?”
“You simply won’t get tenure.  Tenure was originally invented to protect radical professors, those who challenged the accepted order.  But we don’t have such people anymore at the universities, and the reason is tenure.  When the time comes to grant it nowadays, the radicals get screened out.  That’s its principal function.  It’s a very good system, really—keeps academic life at a decent level of tranquillity.”
“Suppose one waits until one has tenure to show one’s liberal tendencies?”  Marvin felt obliged to make some response.”
“The only sensible course,” said McCrimmon.  “But by then conformity will be a habit.  You’ll no longer be a threat to the peace and comfort of our ivied walls.  The system really works.”
—John Kenneth Galbraith in A Tenured Professor (1990), pages 38-39.

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