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.