The legacy of history is a powerful factor in the development of Australia’s university system. Originally incorporated in 1850 under the University of Sydney Act* “for the better advancement of religion and morality, and the promotion of useful [my emphasis] knowledge” (section I of the Act), the University of Sydney primarily functioned to educate the Colony’s future leaders in the professions Law, Medicine and Arts.  In 1954 an Act of Parliament incorporated Sydney Grammar School as a pre-vocational feeder school for the University of Sydney.

What is so interesting about this history is the sheer persistence of this original culture; the feel of the University of Sydney as an extension of the private school system in New South Wales, aimed at supplying training for the merchant class, is palpable.

So it is perhaps no surprise that the University of Sydney has become the first Australian institution to try to effectively remove any semblance of tenure for its academic staff. The current Vice Chancellor––The Reverend Doctor Michael Spence, returning from Oxford to non-colonial Australia––has, in an outpouring of ‘tough love’**, sent notices to some 100 academics, informing them that their services will not be required after July this year. Allegedly, this was based on the application of a publication quota applied without reference to publication quality, and one applied retrospectively: an existing system of academic staff evaluation on which faculty had relied, was seemingly ignored in this process.**

Before I examine the likely economic effect on of this new sacking policy, should it be deemed legal, it is worth looking more closely at the history of academic tenure and why academic tenure is important.

When the University of Sydney was first incorporated its Academics could be hired and removed by a majority vote of the University Senate (sections VIII and IX of the Act). Service at the pleasure of a university board was also the rule at US institutions around the same time as the University of Sydney was formed. However, debate about tenure escalated over the ensuing decades. In the late 19th century when a ‘Ron Paulian’ view of money prevailed, President Benjamin Andrews of Brown University advocated  ‘free coinage of silver’ in order to reverse debilitating effects of deflation on the US economy. This attracted the ire of members of Brown University’s board, many of whom were benefited from deflation due to their holding of money. They ordered President Andrews to cease his support for free coinage. A national debate raged.*** The view of monetary policy which Andrews espoused has been proven correct and is widely agreed upon today, with the notable exception of, I think, Ron Paul and perhaps some tea-party advocates.

In the late 19th century the case for tenure and academic freedom was made by supporters of  Benjamin Andrews and their views prevailed.  For the bulk of the twentieth century almost all US universities have maintained a strong notion of tenure. Importantly, this has included the expectation that all academics must also teach. As a result, the US has for the past century produced the best research output per-capita in the world: The US has the most Nobel Laureates, the most patents and the most and best graduate schools. There are four key principles underlying why academic tenure has been so successful in the US:

(1) Academic tenure promotes research quality: Tenure in the US is pretty damn hard to get. And getting it is the dream of all ambitious young academics. Such fierce competition leads to high quality output rather than high quantity, because the high quantity simply cannot filter people out: every ambitious young academic can produce volume, but fewer can produce truly excellent work. Teaching, particularly in an academic’s preferred area, and to bright students, is complementary to research and therefore improves it. Second, academic tenure, once given, allows an academic to take risks. Whereas it could be argued that the competition to get tenure might encourage conservatism a ‘following of the mainstream’, the same cannot be said of post-tenure incentives. Tenure is a system in which young academics are ‘trained up’ in the tenure process and then presented with a post-tenure environment that encourages originality and risk taking.

One concern is that academics with tenure will become idle afterwards. There are two countervailing factors. First, the tenure process is sufficiently rigorous that there is positive selection of people who enjoy research and will keep doing it throughout their career. Second, the tenure system which works best has academics teach as well as do research. These days in the US, the problem of persistently poor research performance by a tenured academic is met by an increase in teaching (and administrative) responsibilities, (a response which is not possible in a research-only environment). Further, a preannounced policy of easing up the teaching load allows for a dignified process of bowing out of research, as it removes the pressure to publish, and replaces it with another greatly valued activity.

(2) Academic tenure induces commitment and promotes investment by senior academics in the quality of the academic department: Being a long-term member, the academic has a stake in her department and will invest her personal resources in it. Academic tenure is a low-cost way of achieving such administrative, teaching and research investments. Senior academics will not see being fired as a risk should they hire talented juniors who might outperform them in the future. They are therefore more motivated to invest in quality human capital by hiring the best people for their department. Academics enjoy working with talented colleagues, but not at the expense of their own jobs!

(3) Academic tenure actually decreases salary costs: Conditional on a given level of ability, academic salaries are quite low. A university attracts talented people, not by paying high salaries, but by paying them in terms of job security and by allowing them to do things they love to do—teach and research. Contrary to what the man on the street might think, this actually reduces total salary costs. Aside from adverse effects on incentives to do deep research of ‘at will’ contracts, it would cost a fortune to maintain high quality academic staff if private-sector level salaries had to be paid. The first university to introduce real tenure in Australia is likely to be able to reduce its salary bill while retaining good academics. But it will have to be much more picky about who is hired: the tenure process needs to be more rigorous.

(4) Academic tenure promotes academic freedom: This encourages the free exploration of ideas (like Andrew’s opinion on free coinage) since retribution and removal as a punishment for such expression is not possible. With the benefit of hindsight, it turns out that Andrew’s position on deflation was the correct one: the suppression of his views was bad for the wider society.

With these points in mind, let us return to Sydney and its anti-tenure scheme, and ask whether this policy can achieve the University’s current stated goals:

We aim to create and sustain a university in which, for the benefit of both Australia and the wider world, the brightest researchers and the most promising students, whatever their social or cultural background, can thrive and realise their full potential.

We continually drive ourselves to find new ways to be accountable to the public good – to produce ideas and people that lead to smarter solutions and richer lives. ****

As there was no reference to the quality of research required to meet the quota, the first likely response of a Sydney academic is to meet the future risk of sacking with high volume and low quality output: book chapters, in-house journals and the like. Concurrently, an academic concerned about future sackings based on retrospective criteria will start to look around for a job elsewhere. Why would the brightest researchers want to take the risk of staying at Sydney? Given that jobs are easier to get for better performers, this will start to clear the best academics from the place. A longer-term response will be for senior academics only to hire juniors who will not outperform them. Why set up your own downfall? Or worse, seniors might only hire juniors who will work for them as glorified research assistants, writing their papers and keeping them safe from being laid off. Not a recipe to produce smarter solutions to our problems but an invitation for low quality toadyism. To hire an academic of a given quality will now cost Sydney more, as it will have to pay a risk-premium. Further, academic standards at Sydney will likely decline: Who will take a job without additional compensation, unless it is someone less well qualified? And is the public good served by academics who may well now be afraid of speaking out? Unlikely.

It is time for Australia to ditch continuing contracts and introduce a real academic tenure system like that of the USA. Make it very tough to get a job in the first place, and very tough to lose it. The effect of the Sydney scheme is the opposite of what is needed to promote excellence research and teaching in academia. Given the very real risk of a contagion effect of the sackings at the University of Sydney, it is time for a National debate on the issue of academic tenure.

Footnotes:
*       The University of Sydney Act, 1850.
** http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3436144.htm: Dr Michael Spence says staff should be pleased that the university’s being managed responsibly.
***    John E. Savage, http://www.cs.brown.edu/~jes/papers/tenure.html.
****  http://sydney.edu.au/about/profile/values.shtml.

39 Responses to Spence’s “Sydney Sackings” Signal Time for Tenure Nigh

  1. rabee says:

    I don’t know of any senior scholar who would be willing to move to Sydney. 

     

  2. Rohan Pitchford says:

    Yes, and I think its a great time to hire from there.

  3. Alan Fekete (from Sydney Uni) says:

    This article seems uninformed in suggesting that the current difficulties at Sydney University are a change of the practice of tenure as it has been in Australia for years. What is happening at Sydney is unpleasant, and I would say it is distracting from the work that ought to be done, but it is in line with existing Australian procedures.
    Unlike in the USA, Australian tenure has for a long time meant only “you can’t be replaced merely because they don’t like the topics you work on” (covering the situation in the American Andrews case mentioned in the article). Under the framework of Australian Industrial Relations, a budget shortfall has already been a legitimate reason to remove tenured staff. This is the way the Sydney University cuts have been justified too.
    In my own field of computing, almost every Australian university has in the last decade made tenured academics redundant for budget reasons (examples I know include Monash, UQ – three times-, UWA). Typically, a department was told, in essence, your budget can only afford x% of the current staff; management will choose which x% to keep based on some combination of research output (and income), teaching performance, and amount of service done. The other (100-x)% became redundant. Typical cases in computing have seen x around 60-70. The only differences I see in the current case at Sydney are (1) that the university here faced a global budget issue, rather than one local to a Faculty or department, and (2) that it has decided on redundancies that have are neither evenly spread across fields, nor targeted at strategically determined fields, but rather they are located in fields based on the haphazard case-by-case pattern of the individuals involved.
    In this instance, University of Sydney has claimed that it followed a process to chose which people to make redundant to meet its budget shortfall, in which panels considered all of the quite large number of cases where the publication quota was not met, and then selected the much smaller number needed to achieve the required cost savings by considering issues such as personal situation, teaching or admin load, and/or having few but major publications or work in progress. It did not simply declare everyone redundant who had a low number of recent research outputs.
    In a few years, when Sydney University can afford to hire again, I see no reason why good people would be discouraged from coming by this history of budget-based redundancies, unless they come to believe that Sydney is more likely than other places to experience another budget shortfall in future.

  4. Colm Harmon says:

    @rabee
    I do…!

    In general I think Rohan’s concluding point is going to hold – the announcement from ANU today looks very similar in tone to Sydney – http://about.anu.edu.au/strategy-reviews/financial.  Interestingly ANU seem to want to push for ‘whole of unit’ approaches as opposed to across the board cuts. 

    The debate on tenure is clearly an important one.   Equally important are the debates on the system as a whole (including the models proposed on this blog by Stephen King).   These actions – Sydney, now ANU – seem to be a realignment of cost bases.   The experiences of many European institutions including UK unis are prolonged periods of cost cutting of all forms with no projection of growth into the future.   Australia seems in a quite different debate and yes some of the issues raised by Rohan & Stephen can at least take place in that context. 

  5. Rabee Tourky says:

    @ Colm

    I’m glad to hear that. I hope to see you around the tracks.

    Are you the incoming head? Will you be making these sacking decisions. Will tenured academics’ contracts pass over your table for the axing. 

    BTW, who drew up the list of people to be axed? was is the heads of school?
     

  6. Colm Harmon says:

    Thanks Rabee..look forward to being around.

    I do not know the full process – it seems @Alan’s comment is better informed.   

    Returning to the key point about tenure etc, given the Sydney events and now the ANU announcement, the structural debates around how Unis are organized and academic contracts managed seems timely, but should be seen as from a system that is fundamentally in better shape than many others despite problems being faced.   As someone coming in from outside as a HoS or otherwise, this is one of the things that attracts me.  I have to say that I was personally never too bothered by the distinction between ‘continuing’ and ‘tenured’.

     

  7. Rohan Pitchford says:

    Alan,
    The purpose of my post is to advocate *for* proper academic tenure, not for the old public-service-style system where nobody left, or for the current system (whatever it is).
    It is beside the point that something similar may have happened elsewhere. What I am doing, is advocating a system that is more efficient at producing the outputs that we want: excellent research and teaching.
    As a former professor in economics at Sydney, I can say unequivocally that the people targeted for sacking include some of the best teachers, a top young researcher, someone who has done a lot of selfless admin for the department and who is a solid publisher. In my opinion, the choices look completely random. And in any case, economics at Sydney is dreadfully under-staffed and cannot afford cuts, which is one reason why I left.
    If I were still at Sydney, I would not want to be an administrator nor invest in any way in things other than publishing volume, due to the risk of sacking.
     
     

  8. Rohan Pitchford says:

    Colm,
    I think you ought to be worried about the distinction between tenure and continuing now. In the US, tenure means until you retire, or until your whole department gets abolished. If Sydney is legally successful in removing academics based on retrospective performance criteria, what criteria will they come up with next? This is where risk comes in.
    Perhaps you are not personally worried, having strong outside options as an academic entrepreneur. But for people who have invested in other less marketable academic areas (which we also value), the situation is different.

  9. Rohan Pitchford says:

    I’d like to make an additional point here. How do we discipline University administrators to make fiscally responsible decisions about constructing buildings? If they faced a university with tenured faculty, they would not only have the efficiency benefits I’ve outlined, but could only engage in new construction if such was financially viable.
    I’m not talking about replacing buildings that are falling apart here: The rumor is that Sydney has committed a fortune on a medical building (100m) and an obesity center (360m?), and this added significant flab to the deficit and leading to the budget problems it now faces. ANU similarly had a building spree under its former VC .
    I think the main point here is that VCs are not real-estate developers, and should focus more on building *human* capital, something which is much more important, much harder to do, and which is made extremely difficult without proper academic tenure.
     
     
     

  10. James Haughton says:

    cf How The University Works: “Is your university’s fiscal crisis real?”

    http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/222

  11. Jonny Newton says:

    Given that there is a necessity for any institution to have some flexibility in responding to shifting external demand (for courses and even research), the question is how that flexibility is provided for. 
    In the US there are a minority of ‘made men’ whose tenure makes them much more difficult to fire than untenured faculty or non-tenure track faculty. Therefore when savings are to be made, the axe will fall where it encounters least resistance. In the US as a whole I think over 2/3 of college  staff engaged in teaching are untenured. Naturally, wealthier more prestigious institutions can afford a higher percentage of tenured staff.  It isn’t impossible to fire people for budgetary reasons, but if it’s easier to fire others, why take the trouble? Tenure works as a formalization of the political power that shows itself whenever firings are made in an organization.
    I’m unconvinced that tenure is the reason for the academic success of US institutions. $$$ also help.  Furthermore, if you forgive my being parochial and talking about economics, there are a couple of departments with good claims to being top ten (LSE, Oxford) that operate under English labour law which gives you de facto tenure after 1 or 2 years.
    As I understand, Aussie labour law has some similarities to English law.  The problem then is that, to paraphrase a line from ‘The Incredibles': if everyone is tenured, then no one is. There simply aren’t the hordes of non-tenure track and untenured faculty that could be laid off instead of the tenured staff.
    Finally, I’d add that I regard Rohan’s point (4) as the most important one he makes.  To me it seems particularly important in the US academic system right now, especially when we consider the recent controversies featuring the Presidents of U. of Rochester and Duke U. making public attacks on the reasoned opinions and academic output of some of their professors.
     

  12. Rohan Pitchford says:

    Johnny,
    At LSE, Cambridge and Oxford tenure is sacrosanct: this reenforces my point. In fact the greater the university, the more serious they are about tenure.
    It is not about $$$$ in the USA, since lots of universities around the world have $$$$ but have crappy research output. Tenure gives academic freedom (the key principle in the USA) as you say, and along with it comes quality research.
     
     

  13. DavidN says:

    Jonny,

    With respect, if you are referring to the President of U of Rochester’s response to this, I hardly think it qualifies as ‘reasoned opinions and academic output’.

    The bottom half of this post here links to some commentary with what’s wrong with Landsburg’s ‘analysis’. 

  14. Alan Fekete (from Sydney Uni) says:

    @Rohan, @Colm: Just to be clear, I have no knowledge at all of how the decisions were made at Sydney. My comment above described how the Uni said they would be made. Just based on other decision-making processes here, I expect that the Deans had the major influence (that’s how the VC seems to expect the Uni to be run, with decisions made by Deans, either as individuals, or more often, collectively). Given Colm’s comments, it seems clear that the Professors were not asked for input!
    @Rohan: I am not arguing against your main claim – I see the power of the USA approach to tenure, though I am disturbed by what I hear of their recent shift to having large numbers of exploited adjuncts, rather than a majority of staff who are tenured or tenuretrack, and though I have seen plenty of cases there where disfunctional processes failed to support junior staff adequately so they could realistically hope to get tenure.

  15. Andreas Ortmann says:

    It will be interesting to watch how this development unfolds: 
    http://m.smh.com.au/nsw/uni-staff-cuts-frozen-20120323-1vnvy.html  

  16. rabee says:

    Andreas, This is an industrial dispute as important and as consequential as the  battles of a generation or two ago. 

    I think the workers will prevail. We have a long tradition of fairness in the workplace, we have laws that protect us, and we have a well informed and sympathetic judicial branch.

    The Sydney economists deserve our full support!

    That; in my opinion; is the only moral stand.  Scholarly debate regarding academic tenure is helpful, but more is needed.

     

  17. rabee says:

    BTW Andreas, the article you link to seems to imply  that deans and heads will now have an ability to stop the sackings.

    I’ll paraphrase Bob Hawke’s line of 1983, which was literally the first legible sentence I heard on Darwin’s ABC channel.    

    I tell you what, any head of department who helps sack anyone in this dispute is a bum

     

  18. Rohan Pitchford says:

    @ Alan
    Tenure will bring with it people who miss out, disputes about missing out, etc, just as in the USA. But this is no different to other tournaments — being selected for the Olympics, etc. People going into the process will know that it is tough, so there will be (a) self-selection of those who have a higher chance and (b) the opportunity to formulate a plan B. People who are going for tenure are not expected to invest as heavily in the department through admin or grand plans to reform courses, etc. 
    As for casuals and adjuncts, how is it that they are exploited if they enter into a short term contract voluntarily?

  19. Rodney says:

     
    RMIT management are struggling with the frustrating and perennial problem of academics feeling unhappy because they are undervalued, unconsulted and unrespected. It seems they have decided to follow the example of Shirley Hastings from ‘Strictly Ballroom’ and just tell everyone to put on their ‘Happy faces’. This reminds me of a very old Wizard of Id cartoon in which a visitor to the kingdom asks a peasant how they are doing and the peasant replies: “Oh, I cannot complain”. Surprised, the visitor asked why they say that, to which the peasant replies “It’s forbidden!”. That the ludicrous has become practice indicates just unimaginative are the RMIT management solutions. With a strong body of tenured academics informing the process we would at least see better directed efforts.
     
    I tried to think of a cartoon to match the situation in USydney but it seems the situation there does not lend itself to humour.
     

  20. Jonny Newton says:

    Rohan,
    Perhaps, but also the greater/wealthier the university, the more serious they are able to be about tenure. The departments you mention aren’t under pressure (from whatever source) to make large cuts. If they were, they could make staff redundant (at least anyone employed from the 90s onwards).  As to whether there is a greater correlation between wealth and research or tenure and research I don’t know.
    DavidN,
    Yes, that was Prof. Landsburg’s reasoned opinion, whether or not you agree with it.  I would now expect pre-tenure U. of R. academics to now be wary of expressing opposition to government mandated and/or funded provision of contraception.

  21. DavidN says:

    Jonny,

    If Prof. Landsburg was just expressing his opposition to mandatory provision of contraception by insurance companies that would’ve been alright.

    He instead decided to call Fluke a ‘whore’ and ‘extortionist’. That’s not to say anything of the problems with his reasoning which have already extensively been commented on (link in my comment above).

    I don’t think the moral out of this is that academics shouldn’t express their opinions, rather, academics (or for that matter anyone) should be wary of calling people names.

  22. DavidN says:

    *Corrections: Prof. Landsburg didn’t call Fluke a ‘whore’.

  23. DavidN says:

    The link I posted above was wrong. Correct link to commentary on Landsburg post is here.

  24. David Marks says:

    This has an interesting tie-in with Stephen’s structural separation model (on which the moderation or network gods ate my post).
    Regardless of the particular structure, if a goal in Australia is to substantially increase the number of undergraduates and we want them to have quality teaching then we need viable career paths for university teachers.
    Stephen asked where we expect to get 25000 extra world class researchers. I would ask where we will get that many quality teachers, when for most non-research staff the only jobs are casual. This does not provide much incentive to attract quality teachers.
    Compared to this, current academic tenure/continuing status seems pretty generous. Note that I don’t per say have an issue with using a casual workforce, I’ve had both excellent and terrible teachers who were tenured and excellent and terrible teachers who were casual. However if quality teaching across the board is a goal you will need to provide incentives to provide it, and the current system does only in a very limited fashion.

  25. Andreas Ortmann says:

    @ rabee: I agree.
     

  26. rod says:

    Maybe I suffer being out here in the real world where my academic background led to running a business that employs people. 

    However it seems to me that if have less money, it becomes very hard to continue to employ everyone you would like to. Can anyone explain how it is supposed to be done?

    PS My own uni (very much in the Australian “ivy league”) hasn’t asked me for donations or done anything useful for me which would lead me to financially support them in the twenty years since I finished study. Surely it would be possible for millions more to be raised from alumni.

  27. Uncle Milton says:

    For the US tenure model to work, there would have to be a large enough supply of high quality newly minted PhDs so that by the time x% get tenure, where x is preferably a number much less than 100, in order for tenure to be a scarce and valuable prize worth fighting for.
    Is that realistic?
    Because if it isn’t, either so-so quality people are going to be tenured, which defeats the purpose, or Australian universities are going to be populated almost entirely a revolving door of junior academics.
     
     
     
     

  28. Uncle Milton says:

    Sorry, that was incoherent. Try again: 
    For the US tenure model to work, there would have to be a large enough supply of high quality newly minted PhDs so that by the time x% get tenure, where x is preferably a number much less than 100, in order for tenure to be a scarce and valuable prize worth fighting for, there’s a critical mass of senior academics.
    Is there really going to be that supply? 
    Because if there isn’t, either so-so quality people are going to be tenured, which defeats the purpose, or Australian universities are going to be populated almost entirely a revolving door of junior academics.
     
     

  29. Rohan Pitchford says:

    @Rod
    Great to get feedback from outside the academy! 
    Your point that if there is less money, then something must ‘give’ is a reality that all enterprises must face, universities included. If we can accept for the moment that tenure is desirable, then the business of the academy will require more careful planning, i.e. be conservative about hiring because of the long term commitment of funds this entails. If cuts are needed, forgo some capital works, hire less and let natural attrition take care of things, or shed some administrative staff.
    As for whether tenure is a good idea, as well as my arguments above, I think academia is very different to many other enterprises, in that it is supposed to be a repository of knowledge, and it produces research much of which is not patentable–i.e. which anyone can use–thus which cannot be charged for. No revenue can be captured for this activity. Further, the people who produce these things are often called on to build human capital in areas which do not offer much in the way of outside private or public sector opportunities. Who else is going to hire a string theorist with 20 years experience?
    How to get people do do these things? The best way so far devised is long-term job security (of which US style tenure is the strongest form), because this attracts people who enjoy these activities. Without the long term commitment, why would our string theorist invest in this area when e.g. medicine pays better.
    So we pay the academic with the currency of time to do what she wants to do. This correlates well with teaching, as students are kept up with the latest thinking, and, hopefully taught by people who love their fields.
     

  30. Rohan Pitchford says:

    @Uncle Milton
    Your point about how to transition to this is a good one. But I have to say that wherever I have been, we typically get hundreds of applications for a single job. When I graduated from the US, the system produced some one thousand PhD economists per year. I don’t think there would be a shortage of takers even if the contest were tougher, as long as the rewards were commensurately greater–that’s where tenure comes in.

  31. Mike says:

    Tenure simply has nothing to do with the current situation at Sydney.  The academics in question have had every opportunity to demonstrate their general value to the University – through teaching, administrative responsibility, and yes, research output.    There was even explicit consideration given to major works with high impact when the publication number target was not met. 
    Those who remain on the pink-slip list have been deemed to contribute minimally across all three categories.  These academics are dead wood, and based on the extremely loose standards for dismissal laid out, deserve to go.
     

  32. Rohan Pitchford says:

    @Mike,
    I just don’t see how you or Sydney management can have detailed enough knowledge of each individual chosen to make the statement that they are all “dead wood”. My understanding is that the head of School had no input, the Dean had no input and all was decided by so-called indicators.
    I know each of the people on the economics list personally, having been a Professor in the department. Not one is deadwood at the level at which they are employed. One is a junior star who has a publication gap for personal reasons. One is the best teacher and best PhD supervisor in the department, and who has a modest pay and position. Another did an enormous amount of admin and then was put on the list without recognition that his/her admin duties prevented him/her from publishing…
    Basically, the Sydney sackings are an exercise in mismanagement. I bet that they end up causing all this mayhem and don’t even succeed in sacking even one person! Very destructive to morale and pointlessly nasty, not to mention having the effects I mention above on people’s investment in the place.
     
     
     
     

  33. Mike says:

    -Deans and Heads of School were supposed to have been involved in the process, evaluating “problem” cases.
     
    -Junior personnel were explicitly given consideration of their status (it’s even in the change management plan). 
     
    -Admin can’t prevent you from publishing – you just need to work enough to make up the effort when you have a high admin load.  Before mentioning the EBA, let’s remember how absurd it is for any serious academic to even consider working 37.5h/week. Further, why would that colleague accept an admin-heavy position that prevented publishing?  Isn’t that against the nature of being an academic? 
     
    -And although your colleague may be the best teacher in the department, Sydney is a research-intensive university, not a secondary school.  Good teaching is not enough – high-level research output is required to remain an academic in good standing.

    All that said, there may well have been were cases where the process was mismanaged.  But that doesn’t mean the desired outcome is itself flawed.

  34. Rohan Pitchford says:

    @Mike,
    Sorry, but anyone who says “Admin can’t prevent you from publishing” needs to be put back in their academic nappies!
    If you are you a frustrated junior who sees deadwood blocking their way to the top, just remember when you get there, not to hire anybody who has a chance of out-publishing you; not to do any departmental admin because it sucks time from publishing; not to take publishing risks or specialize in a field that might become obsolete. And don’t forget hire underlings to do the real work so you can put your name on their work. Not my idea of a healthy department, that.
     
     

  35. Mike says:

    @Rohan,

    Your response makes little sense.  I’m advocating that people at all levels should do significant and important admin to support the mission of the University AND do research.  And that any position that *actually prevents* research is fundamentally inappropriate for any practicing academic.  Note how different that sentiment is from describing a position that simply requires a lot of work.  The rest of your response is based on your imagination, not my comment.

    If an academic hasn’t done significant research over the past three years, has been deemed not to have been working towards a significant long-term project, has been deemed not to be making large-scale and significant contributions to the university’s teaching program, and is not in a management-intensive role (e.g. Dean), then what precisely are they doing in academia?  

  36. Bob Slonim says:

    I fully agree with Rohan’s assessment of the merits of the US tenure system based on two features: (1) tenure is HARD to get and (2) tenure once gotten is HARD to be fired from.  My personal experience at three US universities supports all the virtues articulated for this system.  I think the recent discussions of the current academic situation in Australia (and especially at Sydney) seems focused on feature (2), while it seems to me that unless both (1) and (2) exist, then having just (2) alone seems a non-viable model.  Do those writing in these discussions implicitly assume that (1) is already in good shape?  I do not have the experience in Australia for any generalities on the difficulty of obtaining tenure in disciplines other than economics – do the top departments in Australia have similar levels of criteria as top 10 schools in the world, top 50 schools, top 100?

  37. Rohan says:

    Bob,
    Getting a continuing contract at the Lecturer level in Australia is certainly easier than getting tenure in the US (at least it is in economics). However, there are more ‘ranks’ to progress through here. Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor, Professor. I’m not sure how to compare them because of this across institutions of equivalent quality…

  38. [...] Spence’s “Sydney Sackings” Signal Time for Tenure Nigh (Rohan Pitchford) [...]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: