Kris an’ Murphy: Tenure? Click Here

AAUP Click LetterKris:‘One down. The rest of us to go.’ I tell you, Murphy, this Melissa Click sacking business is serious! If we university faculty members don’t rise up against it now …!”

Murphy: “Yes, yes, I got the union’s letter too.”

Kris:And…?

Murphy: “Meh.”

Kris:WhaaAAaat?!? How the hell can you …?”

Murphy: “Easily. To start with. This is different from 1970 how?

Kris: “What’s nineteen effin’ seventy got to do with it?”

Murphy: “C’mon. You weren’t exactly born yesterday. Surely you remember Angela Davis? How she got canned from UCLA for political radicalism?”

Kris: “As a matter of fact, I do. I remember she was, and is, far more radical, and Establishment-bashing, than this Melissa Click ever dreamed of being! And the AAUP still got her reinstated to her faculty position on grounds of academic freedom! Click got into trouble just one time …”

Murphy:‘She coulda been the champion of the world‘ …”

Kris: “Yeah, OK, on her academic record, maybe not. But this is still political interference in academia. If this firing sticks, they’ll be coming after us next! Tenure, schmenure!”

Murphy: “Yep. And freedom, schmeedom.”

Kris: “Dammit, Murphy …!”

Murphy: “Not without a permit, on any river in America that I know about. And good luck getting a permit. At least not until the gasoline runs out, or gets banned in a rush of climate-change blood craziness, and we suddenly need every erg of electrical power we can conjure up.

“Look. Back in Davis’s day, the universities were still at least pretending that their main mission was to prepare students for the professions. Academic freedom was a core value, because the institutions made their money on their reputations for delivering graduates who had a clue about the careers that they were going into. Now, we’re selling courses to students. Who cares what they do when they get out, so long as they pay their fees? And anything that stops the students – or their parents, or their backers – from paying their fees hurts the bottom line!

Kris: “Like when the football team got the university president fired because he didn’t dance to their tune fast enough?”

Murphy: “And would have cost the university millions in television revenue, not to mention contributors to university programs and student enrollments on the strength of the football team’s entertainment value? Exactly. Now try withdrawing your Classics Department.”

Kris: “They’ll crow over how they’ve saved money and created space for an expanded Sports Marketing degree program.”

Murphy: “Precisely. Click pissed off the backers, and keeping her was going to cost the university money. Big money. Donation money. Student numbers, hence tuition money. Ergo, she’s gone. And she doesn’t have, so far as I can tell, even as much academic substance as Davis had, to make her worth keeping.”

Kris:But that’s precisely the kind of situation that the concepts of academic freedom, and faculty tenure, are supposed to guard against!! How do we know what’s going to be worth keeping, and not, however many years down the line?”

Murphy: “We don’t. And we don’t care. Consider Socrates. Our entire philosophy of education is based on the Socratic method, correct?”

Kris: “Correct.”

Murphy: “And in order for Socrates and his colleagues and successors to develop this teaching method, he had to have students to teach, correct?”

Kris: “Correct.”

Murphy: “Who were those students?”

Kris: “God damn you, Murphy! I see where you’re going with this. They were Greek. Male. Rich. Generally the sons of the powerful.”

Murphy: “The beautiful sons of the rich and famous, whom the teachers loved.”

Kris: “Figuratively. And literally.”

Murphy: “Yeah. Go ahead and try to run a modern university on this basis today. Even if you leave out the pederasty.”

Kris: “You wouldn’t get three weeks into the semester before the protest marches and the discrimination lawsuits brought you down. Everybody not a rich male Greek with a beautiful body would be out gunning for you.”

Murphy: “Precisely. The very concept of academic freedom, as it evolved from the Socratic method of teaching, is based on its acceptance by an elite audience capable of identifying and protecting its own interests. That audience no longer exists in the modern university, in fact it’s arguably illegal now. How then can academic freedom, as classically defined, survive in the modern setting, with a million different interests competing with each other, each trying to protect its own turf and encroach on others that ‘threaten it’? And you’ll recall that even Socrates pushed the concept of academic freedom too far, and wound up in a funeral urn on the orders of an Athenian democracy that accused him of corrupting students?”

Kris: “But if academic freedom doesn’t govern university life any more, what does?”

Murphy: “You know the answer to that already. It’s the same as any other business selling products to customers.”

Kris: “Profit. And loss. Which means that my 30 years of service, and my tenure ‘protection’, will mean exactly nothing if somebody decides I’m costing the institution money. Just like any other business.”

Murphy: “No. Not ‘just’ like any other business. Because most businesses won’t tolerate a Melissa Click a week. Never mind the six months it’s taken for her university to get around to dismissing her. And now multiply that by the one-third of your Department that you know ceased making a significant contribution to teaching and scholarship in 1997. Waiter! A bottle for each of us. That might be enough for the next half hour.”

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