Just Wait Until I Get Tenure

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Photo by poeloq | CC BY 2.0

Photo by poeloq | CC BY 2.0


A Facebook friend, Steven Salaita, recently wrote a post about academe arguing that tenure-track professors are kidding themselves if they say they will become more radical once they get tenure. Given Steven’s vicious treatment by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, whatever he writes about higher education is worth reading. I agreed with his post, and I made a long reply. Here, I incorporate what I said into a more coherent commentary.

The first thing to understand about colleges and universities is that they are workplaces. And like all workplaces in capitalist societies, they are organized as hierarchies, with power radiating downward. From the Board of Trustees, to the top administrators, to the tenured faculty, to the tenure-stream faculty, to the vast mass of adjuncts and short-term contract faculty, to the administrative staff, clerical workers, custodians, groundskeepers, and cafeteria employees. Those at the top have as their central objective control over the enterprise, so that their power can be maintained, that revenues from tuition, grants, money from various levels of government, and the like keep flowing in, that the prestige of the college or university grows. And, of great importance, that those below them do not and cannot make trouble by challenging their authority.

To hide the harsh reality, schools will spend considerable sums to maintain the fiction that their primary goal is to ensure that they are places…

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