‘Never Waste a Good Pandemic’

Historians in the News
tags: University of Colorado, tenure, academic labor, colleges and universities

The University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences dean said this week that he hopes to replace 50 tenured and tenure-track faculty members with 25 instructors who will teach more and earn less. His goal is to build more flexibility into the college’s post-COVID-19 budget.

The faculty positions are hypothetical and the numbers are just examples, James White, interim dean, said in an interview Thursday. About 60 professors are taking incentivized retirement as part of an effort to cut the college’s budget by 8 percent. No one is getting laid off. But going forward, White believes that employing relatively more non-tenure-track instructors means the college can provide midcareer and other support to the tenured professors it retains.

“Cutting is hard but growing back intelligently can be even harder,” White said. “Never waste a good pandemic.”

To many, White’s proposal read as an attack on tenure, shared governance and the notion of higher education as a public good.

Rob Rupert, professor of philosophy and chair of Boulder’s Arts and Sciences Council, said the plan -- if it happens -- is part of a years-long trend away from tenure-track hiring that would “rob UC-Boulder of its legitimacy as a research university.”

In the research university tradition, institutions gain the “intellectual and moral authority” to offer courses and confer degrees by employing faculty members who are “active practitioners” in their disciplinary areas of expertise, Rupert said. So purposely denying swaths of the faculty time and resources to do active research puts Boulder on the path to becoming a “middle-of-the-road regional school,” leaving Colorado without its flagship university.

"So far as I can tell, the faculty has not been consulted about this in any meaningful way," Rupert said of shared governance.

Robert J. Ferry, associate professor of history and chair of Boulder’s Faculty Assembly, said that he hadn’t been involved in any discussions about the proposal thus far but that future consideration “needs to have full involvement of the faculty.”


L. D. Burnett, a professor of history at Collin College, said that Boulder's move sends students the message that “their education doesn't really matter.”

It's not that non-tenure-track instructors aren't good teachers, of course, Burnett said, rather that “getting rid of tenured professors means getting rid of a teaching faculty who have stability, time and resources to devote to students … It basically says that an education in the arts and humanities isn't worth much.”

That kind of thinking, in Burnett’s view, is the “result of a deliberate, long-running propaganda campaign to try to persuade the public that using tax dollars to support the study of history or sociology or political science is a waste of money. But history, sociology and political science, and other disciplines like them, are the very areas of knowledge that our citizenry desperately needs right now.”

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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