Monday, November 07, 2005

Dan Drezner on Academic Tenure

Via Pharyngula: Dan Drezner, an acadmic who also has an A-list blog, is joining Tufts next year.

Well, what is so great about it? Earlier, he was at Chicago in a tenure track position, where he was denied tenure about a month ago. The 'denial-of-tenure' caused much heartburn among academics with blogs, and there was quite a bit of discussion. If you can read only one of them, I would suggest the last one, by Sean Carroll, a physicist who was denied tenure at (the same) Chicago several months ago; Sean is in Physics, and Dan Drezner is in Political Science.

In a recent post Drezner talks about his move to Tufts; more importantly, towards the end of his post, he also demolishes a few myths about the tenure system. After conceding the point that tenure equals lifetime employment, he goes on to provide some sobering facts of academic life in the US. He makes the following points:

1) Compared to other professions that require equivalent education, academics earn lower wages. This is clearly a choice for many of economic security and a more flexible work schedule over increased income. But it is a choice with real economic costs.

2) It's not like getting a tenured position at a top-drawer school is the easiest thing to do in the world. You have to get accepted into a good Ph.D. program, write an excellent dissertation, demonstrate an ability to generate research of high quality and quantity, and trust your luck that these skills will be recognized by your senior colleagues inside and outside your university.

3) I can't stress this enough -- a professor's wage is almost entirely determined by the market. Yearly raises in our profession range from infinitessimal to nonexistent. The only way to earn big raises is to demonstrate our value to the outside market by getting a competing job offer. That's about as real as you can get in terms of the wage structure.