Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tenure for Sale?

The other day, a lot of faculty folks around here got a questionnaire from a professor at a pretty fancy university in a nearby state.  The information said it was for research, and had the usual IRB letter.

And then rumor went around here that the research was being funded by a political policy organization which has been advocating for getting rid of tenure in the Northwoods state system.  And even though the letter promised that the information would be confidential, it asked questions about where one had done one's last degree, and elsewhere said that information might be connected with information from public sources.  (And in our state, lots of information is public, so I'm not counting on the confidentiality at all.)

Much discussion ensued.  (That's how I take notes for heated discussions in committee meetings.)

Anyway, stupid me, I answered the questionnaire when I got it, thinking that it was for something real, and not wanting to be uncooperative with another college instructor somewhere.

There were a number of questions, but the most interesting ones basically tried to get at how much the respondent would sell tenure for.  The question asked to give a percentage number of how much additional salary you'd need before you'd willingly give up tenure.  There was not "I wouldn't" option, nor was there any place on the questionnaire for open-ended responses.

The question of the day, then:  How much is tenure worth?

Would you give it up for 25% more salary?  200% more?

The questionnaire also asked about the effects of post-tenure review.  I don't think it has much effect here because pretty much everyone post-tenure is working hard, and the potential for post-tenure review raises isn't anywhere near in line with how hard people work post-tenure.  But, of course, that wasn't part of the question, and there was no open-ended space for comments at all.

Conclusion:  bad questionnaire designed to make interpreting answers easy to come into line with the funding organization.

Conclusion 2: I'll probably never be willing to answer a research questionnaire again.  A big EFF U to the fancy pants faculty member who sent this out.  May the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits (and elsewhere).  May he grow like an onion with his head in hell.  (Feel free to add your own.)


  1. A political push poll for academics! This is wrong on so many levels, and I think you're right that it'll be used for try to get rid of tenure.

  2. Here in Arkansas, we have been pushed to answer a survey for on-line courses that seems suspiciously push-poll-ish. That is, *all* that questions have as their unspoken (and occasionally open) claim that on-line teaching / online classes are superior to seat classes.

    The questions ask things like how open are you to teaching online; and how many students would you be willing to have in your online classes; and what technology would you use in your online classes.

    Again, there is no option, no way to answer, I would not teach this as an online class, because online classes would not be effective / online classes have been shown by research not to work / online classes are a SCAM.

    I started to answer the survey and quit halfway through, when I figured out its game.

  3. Anonymous8:10 AM

    I guess we're at the same place; I too stupidly filled out some of the questionnaire, but have since written to him to opt out.

    I was really appalled by the survey and as I went through it ended up leaving more and more questions unanswered, such as those how much my salary would have to be to give up tenure. And I certainly didn't care for the questions of the number and age of children.By the end of the survey I was thoroughly irritated. And when I found it it was linked to ALEC (conservative think tank) I withdrew my participation -- I want nothing to do with them.

    Like you, I will never answer another survey again, that's for sure. The researcher should be ashamed of himself.

  4. Have your considered publicly naming the researcher or the university? I'd certainly like to know whose research to ignore when it comes out with a splash of publicity and no obvious way to know that it was based on a terrible survey.

  5. Bardiac, if you could somehow do this, I think this should be reported to IHE or somewhere so that others could be warned.

  6. And to the MLA, which ought to do something about such things. Okay, I will stop now.

    1. I'm not adverse to writing IHE or MLA or the AAUP about this (and I'm guessing some folks are on it already), but I don't think the research is breaking any real rules, though it's slimy.

    2. It is slimy--and apparently IHE is ON it:

  7. Anonymous11:16 AM

    ok, I'm game.... Is it Princeton and Rosen?

  8. It is William Howell of U of Chicago. The survey did not let me put the very high $ numbers I would accept in lieu of tenure, so it forced me to put in lower ones. It's a scam from the getgo.

  9. Tenure means nothing at my university, since tenured professors have recently been fired without cause and without financial crisis. So I'd be willing to give it up if I could make $250K a year with guaranteed annual raises. Of course, neither would ever happen. We'll probably lose tenure altogether eventually and still get paid less than our peer institutions.

    This survey is really awful. What a scam.

  10. Anonymous5:24 PM

    How much would I give up tenure for? I'd give up tenure in order to quit your crappy job at your crappy school, move to a different state, and start a career that's all research and no teaching. That's how much I DID give up tenure for. Hah.