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Opinion | Attacks on Tenure, in Georgia and Beyond

To the Editor:

Re “Board’s Move Allows Firing of Professors With Tenure” (news article, Oct. 14):

Tenure protects the academic freedom of tenured faculty, providing a structure in which faculty members can research and teach new ideas without fear of political or social retaliation. The new policy in Georgia effectively eliminating tenure threatens this structure and will ultimately impede the flow of new ideas and the production of knowledge.

However, tenure-track faculty comprise less than 10 percent of all research and instructional faculty nationwide, and this trend away from hiring tenure-track faculty has been happening for decades. Therefore, even without the new Georgia policy, universities are already subverting tenure.

Non-tenure-track faculty (such as research and clinical faculty and part-time and full-time lecturers) teach, conduct research and perform service for universities. These employees will never get tenure, have short-term contracts, are paid poorly and in many cases receive no benefits. As such, they don’t have the academic freedom that tenure was intended to protect.

While we fully support protecting the academic freedom of tenured faculty in Georgia, collectively, the academy should protect academic freedom and provide fair working conditions for all faculty across the academy.

Ella August
Olivia S. Anderson
Joseph N.S. Eisenberg
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Drs. August and Anderson are clinical associate professors at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Dr. Eisenberg is a tenured professor there.

To the Editor:

In four decades of college teaching, I have witnessed the shortcomings of the tenure process, a system that can enable and reward lifetime slackers. But the Georgia Board of Regents’ new ruling permitting tenured professors in the public university system to be removed with little or no faculty input is a mistake.

In this plan, administrators would sidestep peer review to weed out those “who do not adequately contribute to a university” — ominously fuzzy terms for determining the end of a career.

Faculty members who meet the demands of teaching and departmental duties would be in a much better place to determine a colleague’s contributions. It is not in their interest to protect slackers, tenured or not.

Under Georgia’s new policy, a tenured professor’s performance would be evaluated by the additional benchmark of “student success.” But how would “success” be measured? The number of students who pass or end up with A’s in your class? Glowing student evaluations (which often correlate with high grades)?

The real measure of a teacher’s worth is how hard she works to address her students’ needs. There is no reason to think that Georgia’s new policy would be any better at assessing this than traditional ones have been. Rather than promote faculty “career development,” it would lead to an increase in grade inflation and pandering to the higher-ups, all in the name of celebrating “student success.”

Cathy Bernard
New York

To the Editor:

Re “The Next Leader of Europe Will Be No One,” by Helen Thompson (Opinion guest essay, Oct. 26):

I largely agree that the departure of Angela Merkel, Germany’s longtime chancellor, portends a period of inevitable uncertainty. To this gloomy prognosis I would hasten to add that Ms. Thompson’s concerns about Germany’s future ability to exercise firm leadership within the European Union are nevertheless overdone.

The power of today’s Germany derives as much, if not more, from its imposing industrial-technological abilities and a six-decade record of political stability as it does from Angela Merkel. And who would have guessed that such a quiet, unassuming East German student would have ended up where she is today, as Kati Marton’s masterful biography of Ms. Merkel, “The Chancellor,” reminds us?

John Starrels
Chevy Chase, Md.

To the Editor:

Re “Co-Housing Makes Parents Happier,” by Judith Shulevitz (Opinion guest essay, Sunday Review, Oct. 24):

In my opinion, the myth of the nuclear family has always been both unsustainable and detrimental for parents and children. As the saying goes, it takes a village.

Until very recent times, child-rearing was always a community affair — whether in the actual village, or with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Today’s co-housing developments are born of the sociological reality that children benefit developmentally and parents benefit emotionally when the burdens of child-rearing are diffused through a broader community-cum-village.

This truth is painfully obvious in our mobile and less family-centered culture, in which exhausted parents are raising emotionally isolated children, whose primary social contact is a video screen.

Evelyn Baran
Beverly Hills, Calif.

To the Editor:

Re “The Popularity of ‘Squid Game’ Terrifies Me,” by Frank Bruni (Opinion, Oct. 23):

I teach a “Cinema of Horror” course at Pratt Institute, about American movie audience preferences for increasingly violent content, like what worries Mr. Bruni about “Squid Game.”

I would suggest that the old conundrum of whether this form of entertainment contributes to, or merely reflects, existing social anxiety may be sidestepped for another perspective.

Horrific entertainment may also be seen, in the view of some social theorists, as prophylactically exposing audiences to, and thereby preparing them for, anticipated widespread stress, and so, ironically, beneficial.

Steven Doloff
New York

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