Why Tenure Exists: to Take Away Freedom

People think the protection of professors is why tenure exists. Here is an example of how wrong they are.


The reason tenure exists is to censor speech. It is simple to see why. In order to control speech you need a way to give rewards and punishments. In a society that is supposed to honor and allow free speech, you have to be somewhat clever (even if your ruse is obvious) about how you go about setting up this system. Tenure supposedly protects academics. It is a bad system that shouldn’t exist for economic reasons, but it has successfully inculcated dependence in the vast majority of college teachers.

So the remaining step is obvious. Instead of protecting speech, you make tenure only apply to acceptable speech. Unacceptable speech means you lose tenure.

But if you don’t have the freedom to speak unacceptable speech, then you don’t have freedom of speech at all.

Thus the outrage in the Atlantic: “Stripping a Professor of Tenure Over a Blog Post.”

Professor John McAdams is being stripped of tenure by Marquette University for writing a blog post that administrators characterize as inaccurate and irresponsible.

Academics all over the United States ought to denounce the firing of the 69-year-old, a Harvard Ph.D. who taught courses on American politics and public policy. If tenure can be taken away based upon one controversial blog post, what protection does it offer? How many tenured professors will censor themselves from participating in public conversation to avoid a similar fate? Marquette has violated core academic values, regardless of what one thinks of McAdams’ commentary or the shabby treatment of the graduate instructor he was criticizing (who deserves sympathy for the horrifying torrent of misogyny others directed at her).

You probably already know what issue McAdams was blogging about that has landed him in such hot water. Just guess. That’s right. He was defending a student who was opposed to homosexual marriage.

Megan McArdle describes the University reaction:

Marquette immediately suspended McAdams and barred him from campus, as if he’d committed a violent felony rather than written a personal blog post. Its letter notifying McAdams of its intention to revoke tenure is long on irrelevant complaints (it seems to assign McAdams personal responsibility for the fact that third parties wrote mean notes to Abbate, in which case I want every left-wing blogger who has ever linked me fired). It is, however, short on specific policies that he violated […]

The argument between the teaching assistant and the student seems like an Onion satire. The teaching assistant, in the middle of what was supposed to be a value-neutral discussion of John Rawls’ theory of justice, allowed one student to argue that homosexual marriage fit in with the Rawlsian ethical theory. Another student disagreed but wasn’t permitted to speak. Then, after class, the teacher said that such arguments must not be permitted because they were offensive to homosexuals. This same teacher had argued that animal experimentation should be outlawed and that human prisoners should be used for experiments instead. I don’t know if she seriously believes that, but it shows that there was nothing but political correctness behind the teaching assistant’s governance of the class (if that is not already obvious).

[See also, “Rationalizing Campus Censorship: Young Adults’ Brains Too Immature for Freedom.”]

And now that same political correctness is being applied with much more dire force against a professor.

Again, what is happening to this professor is not opposed to tenure, but is the purpose of tenure. Without tenure, professors would have to find ways to save for the future. That would be difficult, but it would be their money and their future, which no one could take away from them because of a blog post. Tenure induces reliance on the system, and now Marquette University has publicly sacrificed a professor so that all the rest can learn how they must behave if they want to keep their jobs.

Make no mistake, this University system is how our Liberal elites want this nation to be run. With Obamacare and Social Security and other “entitlements”—you just wait. Sooner or later people are going to find out they can lose what they are “entitled to” for a politically incorrect blog post.