Sunday, May 8, 2011

The end of tenure

There's an article in "The Nation" about the inexorable dwindling, and perhaps eventual near-disappearance, of tenured jobs in academia.

A friend of mine, who teaches music in high school in Providence, has been waiting for a couple of months to hear whether she is fired for good or being rehired. Every year the Providence school district sends teachers dismissals notices and then hires them back a few months later once the budget is figured out, she told me. She is in her late twenties and takes it philosophically, not having known a society with secure jobs. (Incidentally, next year, if she is rehired, she will be working longer hours: the schoolday will end at 4pm instead of 2:50pm.)

To me, that is mind-boggling. All the people in my extended family who were not farmers worked their whole lives in secure jobs. Those who, starting in the late 19th century, were teachers or professors, saw it primarily as a vocation. But how does one nurture a vocation in an environment in which every year your employment might be terminated for budget reasons? The workplace model that is fast emerging does not seem to give any value to loyalty. What then is the point of being salaried? Better be a self-entrepreneur. If that is how they are going to be treated, maybe my friend should get together with a few like-minded teachers, and they should just create their own school.

I found a few articles about it in the news:

Shortly after Mayor Angel Taveras took office, amid what he described as a budget catastrophe, 1,934 public school teachers in Providence were fired.
The mayor and school board said they sent the dismissal notices on Feb. 25 to meet the March 1 deadline imposed by the state's Teacher Tenure Act, which sets legal conditions for the dismissal of teachers based upon economic exigency. Taveras and co-plaintiff Thomas Brady, the school superintendent, say that though they fired the teachers they intended to hire most of them back after studying the city's financial situation.

Friday, 25 Feb 2011, 1:23 PM EST
When asked Friday morning about the four-to-three vote, Taveras said the move was necessary as the city and school district look to close a multi-million dollar budget gap. "What we tried to do was create the maximum amount of flexibility, so we could make informed decisions and do it right," Taveras said. "We have to balance our budget. We have to educate our kids. We're going to do both." It's not unusual each spring for a number of teachers to receive layoff notices, only to be recalled a few months later once the budget is set. This difference this time is all of the teachers have been fired, not laid off. With layoffs, teachers are asked back based on seniority. However with terminations, the school district has more power to decide who will stay and who will go.

Tuesday, 03 May 2011, 10:26 PM EDT, PROVIDENCE, R.I.
The Providence school board has voted to immediately rehire 1,445 public school teachers. More than 1,900 were terminated in February to help balance the budget. Under the rehire plan, teacher seniority is no more. School principals will decide the teachers' duties inside the school.


  1. Thanks for the link to the article in The Nation — it's a great article. With apology for plugging my own work, here is a blog post I did on the same topic, which has a few links to other relevant articles.

  2. > What then is the point of being salaried?
    > Better be a self-entrepreneur.

    I think that's part of the problem: people with English PhDs don't tend to do very well as self-entrepreneurs, at least not if they stick to trying to apply their English degrees. Of course, if they are willing to become lawyers then there is nothing stopping them from doing so.

    On the other hand, the situation is much better in fields like computer science where universities now have to fight to keep people from fleeing to industry.

  3. Paul, thanks for the pointer to your blog post. Very informative...

    My friend got rehired, so she's all set, at least for one year.


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