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Editorial: Questions of tenure are crucial to academic life

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012

Updated: Friday, March 23, 2012 16:03

Here we are already: scouring the fall 2012 course selection for the right classes. We all know it’s about more than courses, however; it’s about professors. We want to enroll with the best, with those professors who change us.

Loyola works hard to identify and retain such stand-outs. This is where tenure comes in. The goal of tenure is to offer job security to those most deserving. Once given tenure, a professor can focus more on teaching and less on holding down a job. This is especially important at a time when employment in any field — including academia — is a constant uncertainty.

Our economy may be floundering, but academia is still a business, and business in the United States means competition. This may sound selfish, but when we meet superstar professors, we want them all to ourselves. Sure, we love it when our professors share their knowledge abroad at conferences and guest lectures, but at the end of the day, we want our professors to know where home is. Thanks to tenure, we can keep our superstars all to ourselves, right here at Loyola where they belong.

So what makes a superstar professor? A tenured professor should be one who is as committed to serving the community abroad as he or she is to educating the Loyola community. Such a professor embodies a holistic education, one founded upon the virtues of true learning, learning for the sake of learning, an education that strives for more than career opportunities and financial gain.

We seek professors whose curiosity is unbounded and whose ability to incite curiosity in others is a most singular gift, a gift passed from generations of past educators and finally passed to us, the students. Our tenured professors publish, research, teach us, correct us when we’re wrong and yet still have time for a chat over coffee at CC’s when — by the grace of God — we might have a few worthwhile things to say.

Tenure certainly has its pitfalls. This comes with the territory, with the very definition of tenure. First of all, there is the economic incentive. Obviously, some professors may take certain deliberate actions to make themselves attractive to tenure selecting committees.

Tenure at Loyola therefore comes with a particularly ironic twist. We want to offer higher pay to our best and most loyal professors, but we don’t want money to be the reason they stick around longer. How does an institution pay someone for his or her selfless work? This is a moral dilemma we must grapple with as we grow and change as a university.

Further, once untethered by the fear of layoffs, a professor may become lazy or offensive simply because he or she can get away with it. Thus, students who have worked with such professors may complain of feeling powerless because of tenure.

Ideally, however, job security would work to the students’ and university’s benefit, allowing professors to exercise creative leeway in the classroom. Tenure offers professors the sovereignty to explore the full capacity of that space between classroom walls — a space far more infinite than we often give it credit.

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