Georgia Reduces Certainty of Tenure for College Professors - How will this affect quality of education and rankings?

https://apicciano.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2021/10/14/georgia-regents-approve-changes-in-post-tenure-review-over-faculty-objections/
Today, the state of Georgia altered the level of protection afforded tenured professors at the state’s public universities. Though not all details have been revealed, college educators say this is the first step toward a policy to one day allow the state to fire professors as if there were no tenure at all. Even now, it appears a termination might require only a committee hearing that is expected to be a rubber-stamp procedure, if a professor receives unsatisfactory rankings on two annual reviews.

Critics of the change say this will certainly have an effect on the quality of the professors who will agree to work at Georgia universities. Schools like GA Tech and UGA will possibly see a decline in the quality of professors.

If this happens, will this affect future applicants’/families’ decisions to apply to and attend Georgia universities, especially high stats OOS students? Will this possibly negatively affect various rankings like USNWR and such?

Thoughts?

Given that there are over 100 applicants for every academic position in most fields, I don’t think this will impact the labor market much.

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except for CS and ECE … which is … what GaTech is known for

My own state U not in GA has a similar policy where two years of very bad performance (in two out of three categories) launches a faculty member into a remediation process where a faculty committee is formed to “provide a helping hand.” It’s a very slow process to move very low performers out the door. I’ve been involved in two cases that both seemed to involve mental illness. Seems like the original GA process might have been viewed as moving too slowly.

What happened in Wisconsin 5 years ago can be viewed as a greater attack on tenure. Instead of being able to terminate faculty only in cases of financial exigency, now the new policy appears to allow programs and tenured professors to be eliminated in response to changing priorities. Critics call it fake tenure at the UW. Not sure it altered rankings of the UW though although some faculty did leave.

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It will certainly affect the decisions of those professors who receive competing offers or who are in the position to look for tenured opportunities from other universities.

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I expect a not insignificant proportion of those profs are already non-tenure track or adjuncts, which is the way things are quickly moving in higher ed.

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Abolish all tenure. Everyone is replaceable, so there is no reason to have it.

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I am also interested in learning more about this, as my D22 is considering applying to Georgia Tech. How much is this driven by partisan politics (i.e., along the lines of not requiring masks or vaccination)? Or does it merely reflect changing views of university governance/accountability?

There are a couple of noteworthy mask cases in the state of GA.

One is at Georgia State University where a professor with a heart condition pushed back against the no-mask mandate by trying to continue to teach his classes virtually as was done in 2020. The university basically eliminated his teaching load and reduced his pay in what some say was an effort to force him out. You can read about that here: Georgia college professor files EEOC complaint over his request to teach remotely

I don’t know how much of this new tenure law is tied to incidents like that, but rumors (I stress “rumors” because I don’t have firsthand information) abound that GSU would have preferred to terminate the professor’s employment but tenure rules made that difficult.

Thanks for this. I’ve heard of this incident but haven’t followed it.

Many states face concerns about public funding for large departments in which there are few students and which do not generate any revenue for the school. Academia is one of the rare places not always subject to the usual laws of supply and demand.

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Seems like tenure in academia is effectively mostly a formalized form of incumbency / seniority preference or protection that is not that unusual in job markets – for many jobs, it is more difficult to get hired into the job (or earn the qualifications / credentials to be eligible to be hired into the job) than it is to keep the job that one already has.

For many jobs, people already in the job do not have to periodically reapply to their current jobs in competition with whatever applicant pool there is at the time. An exception is elected political offices, but the incumbents often have other means of tipping the job application / competition process (elections) in their favor (campaign financing advantages, gerrymandering, election rules manipulation, etc.), especially if the hiring committee (voters) is composed of poorly informed people.

Factories close when there is no longer sufficient demand for the products produced. Entire divisions get laid off when the division is no longer profitable for a company. While seniority may temporarily protect some from the early stages of such economic events, even those most senior will eventually be affected. Except in tenured teaching, where those employees hold onto positions for life, largely without regard to any other factor absent gross financial or sexual misconduct, and sometimes even then.

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Probably. The same goes for Florida, which is approving measures like allowing students to clandestinely film professors without their permission.

It’s increasingly common for administrators alone to be in charge of deciding which faculty members and departments should get the chop. One wonders who is responsible for ensuring that administrative bloat does not spin out of control. How often have we seen drastic cuts to faculty and departments while staff positions go nearly untouched aside from non-administrative positions like dining services?

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This will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the quality of faculty who choose to join Georgia’s state system, and accordingly on the level of research, teaching, and grants attained, and accordingly on the rankings and quality of the system across the board. Top faculty will have other opportunities, and they will take them in a heartbeat rather than commit to a diminished system that does not value core tenets of academic independence. In this respect, the damage is likely already done: academics everywhere see what Georgia is doing and recognize it’s a system to avoid if at all possible. The long-term effects for the state–its economy, culture, etc.–will be nothing but negative.

Wishful thinking. Where do you think the Georgia faculty will go? Not exactly a hiring boom right now. If they could have gone to Yale, they would have already.

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There are a couple of things about faculty tenure that rarely bubble up to the top of quick discussions of this issue.

  1. PhD faculty typically engage in specialization to the extent that they become the top expert in the world on their particular subfield of study. That takes 5-6 years of doctoral work, plus another 5+ years to earn tenure. As a society, we value the products of this specialized research. In order to get people to agree to do it, something like tenure is necessary. Very smart people will not choose to enter on a demanding and poorly paid course of study at age 25 that will not result in a permanent offer of employment until age 35 if they know that they could be then tossed out at age 45. The very nature of their super specialization makes them less employable in other ways.

  2. Another argument for tenure is that senior faculty, secure in their jobs, are able to hire the best of the next generation of faculty even if the new faculty are coming with new ideas and approaches that will overturn the work of the senior faculty. In an environment where everyone is worried about hanging onto their jobs, senior faculty will hire mediocrities to preserve their relative position.

As far as the arguments about the supply and demand in the job market—sure, Georgia institutions will be able to find some folk to stand in front of the classroom, but the best candidates still have their choice in this market. Take Georgia Tech. There are a lot of schools with “Institute of Technology” in their name. Jobs with tenure a places in the lower part of the hierarchy (Rochester Institute of Technology, NJ IT, etc.) will be much more attractive than a job at Georgia Tech. And anyone at Georgia Tech can easily be poached by a school offering tenure. The collapse could be swift.

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Tenure exists not just because of job security. It’s also there for the protection of academic freedom. I’m not completely sure about the motivation behind Georgia’s action, but it likely has to do with the desire to restrict that freedom, which the tenure system is meant to protect. We have similar setup in our court system for
a similar reason.

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No one should be entering a PhD course of study at 25 with an expectation of an academic job offer at 35, except a few computer scientists. The jobs are not there to begin with, so whether they hypothetically would retain those jobs at 45 is irrelevant.
Senior faculty hold onto their positions often well past any productive years to maximize their incomes and prestige. In no other industry are so many employed in their 80s. It isn’t that the research of younger academic is threat, it is old professors enjoy retaining their jobs, benefits and other perks and thus refuse to leave.

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If there is a single expert out of 8 billion people, society can’t be placing much value on that particular topic.

The biggest concern about college is paying for it. And academia would have you think that we haven’t adequately fed the monster with enough tax money. With the notions of academic freedom and lifetime employment being archaic, the tenure fat must be trimmed to control costs.

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