Sunday, July 25, 2010

Leiter against Mark C. Taylor

I actually think Leiter is 100% right-on here (for a change) in his attack on Taylor. Leiter's characterization of Taylor's artless attack on tenure as evincing a "characteristic lack of insight and knowledge" is apt. As I've argued elsewhere on this blog, Taylor is (at the end of the day) a cheerleader for the neoliberalization of the academy. He is for allowing the forces of capitalism (decreasing benefits to employees, increasing work-hours, moving from full-time to adjunct employment, breaking unions, dissolving tenure, making curricula more "useful" to the needs of business, etc. etc.) to work their "magic" in the contemporary academy.

Wherever it is that he thinks he's coming from aside, Taylor's interventions are inept and evince a deep naiveté about how contemporary societies work. Perhaps this is what happens when you spend all of your time with religion and Derrida: you end up forgetting that capitalism and oppression even exist at all! Hasn't Taylor heard of Middlesex?

Leiter's response to Taylor about tenure is spot-on here (the last point is particularly poignant these days... how Taylor can be so completely politically tone-deaf is beyond me. He is obviously either deeply confused or latently right-wing). I reproduce Leiter's it below:
1. Tenure does not mean "lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal," it means only dismissal for cause, with associated procedural safeguards;

2. Dismissal only for cause is a less common employment arrangement in the United States than it used to be (though is still enjoyed by significant numbers of school teachers, police, firemen, and by many civil service employees, among others), but is far more common in other Western industrialized nations with stronger labor movements and established civil service systems; that it is not the norm in the U.S. is one of the pathologies of American society, to be lamented, not lauded;

3. Tenure is an important part of the non-economic compensation for academics, and its abolition would raise the costs of hiring faculty astronomically;

4. At the best research universities, the percentage of senior faculty who remain research-active 30 years after tenure is extremely high, which puts the lie to Taylor's absurd claim that "it is impossible to know whether a person's research is going to be relevant in five years let alone 35 years";

5. Taylor's claim that "in almost 40 years of teaching, I have not known a single pereson who has been more willing to speak out after tenure than before" is such obvious bullshit, it's hard to believe he had the audacity to say this in public; in 17 years of teaching, I can think of at least a half-dozen cases of faculty who, after tenure, became markedly more outspoken and undertook more controversial research. And bear in mind that the biggest threats to academic freedom are likely to come not from, e.g., state legislators pissed off by dumb or controversial reilgion professors (though without tenure there will certainly be more cases like that, as we have noted previously), but from powerful economic interests adversely affected by work on health and safety issues by scientists. (One might also think that the recent experience in the U.K. without out-of-control administrative bureaucrats would give even Taylor some pause.)

No comments: