Research Ethics and Academic Tenure
How does tenure affect the ethics of researchers? What does it imply for professors who are members of the ethics boards charged with overseeing research?
There’s been a flurry of published discussion about academic tenure, this week.
See, for example:
- An NYT forum on the topic, “What if College Tenure Dies?”
- This piece by in The Atlantic, “Tenure: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone”
- This blog entry at the Marginal Revolution blog, by economist Tyler Cowen, “What if universities get rid of tenure?”
All of the above is worthwhile reading. I think there are justified worries about the tenure system (or systems), though my view (not unbiased, as I am a tenured professor) is that the system still plays a role. But I also think the important question is not “whether” we should have a system of tenure, but rather just what that system should look like.
I only have this to add. When I got my first full-time, tenure-track job (but was not yet tenured), my Dean asked me what committee work I might want to take on. I told her there were 2 committees I refused to sit on before tenure. One was the Tenure and Promotion Committee. The other was the Research Ethics Board. I argued that no un-tenured professor should have to sit on such contentious committees. How could I exercise oversight over Professor Whomever’s research (or adjudicate his promotion to Full Professor) knowing that he or she could be sitting on the Tenure & Review Committee when I eventually came up for tenure myself? The Dean thought that was reasonable.
Tenure (along with other goodies handed out by university committees) is surely sometimes the subject of some old-fashioned academic mutual backscratching. But tenure is also at least sometimes a safeguard against such mutual backscratching, too.