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Reviews | Tenure in our colleges: problems and promise



For the publisher:

Re “To Save Tenure, We Need to Change It,” by Molly Worthen (guest essay, Sunday Review, September 26):

Professor Worthen correctly identifies narrow specialization as the main obstacle to achieving the essential goals of undergraduate education. Tying the job security of teachers to publication alone devalues ​​teaching and imposes barriers to learning.

If we were to create new colleges, with current and future generations in mind, students would build meaningful research avenues to directly address pressing global issues. A college designed to achieve this result would emphasize experimentation, creativity and entrepreneurial energy. It would be guided by the challenges we seek to address, rather than by the reproduction of disciplinary boundaries.

Tenure does the opposite, prioritizing specialization so fiercely that the academy loses sight of its very purpose – fostering a citizenship capable of collaboratively solving the world’s thorniest problems.

Ed Wingenbach
Amherst, Mass.
The writer is the president of Hampshire College.

For the publisher:

Kudos to Molly Worthen for revisiting tenure, its historical origins and the different ways faculty and administrators are affected by it, as well as her call to question what she rightly calls “the university culture of” extreme risk aversion ”.

But I was extremely disappointed that in an otherwise comprehensive assessment, Dr Worthen did not address the presence or absence of color faculty. Yet the undoubted authority and stability of full professors is of the greatest consequence for the future of diversity, equity and inclusion in academia.

We must recognize that our universities have not done all they are capable of doing, either to hire a sufficient number of professors of color, or to promote the existing faculty of color to the highest ranks of incumbents.

More than ever, the diversity of the faculty matters!

Alexandre lugo
Forest Park, Illinois.
The writer has taught anthropology and ethnic and racial studies for three decades at several American universities.

Conversation of opinion
Questions around the Covid-19 vaccine and its deployment.

For the publisher:

Congratulations to Molly Worthen for her guest essay. There is, however, one aspect of the discussion that is already affecting the long-term future of tenure: the market.

While a subject’s specialization can be rewarded by publishing scientific papers in professional journals, academic presses need to acquire books that not only disseminate knowledge, but also sell enough copies to break even. and pay the bills.

With the severe collapse in library sales over the past 50 years, university presses must acquire books that sell. University presses are already refusing to publish books with poor markets, regardless of the stock market value, because they can no longer afford to do so. And so faculty members without a book contract in university departments for which the book is the key will not be tenured.

The impact of the market is real and will affect the tenure process for years to come.

George F. Thompson
Staunton, Virginia.
The writer is a book publisher.

For the publisher:

Molly Worthen’s guest essay offers some fair observations on how to modernize universities’ approach to tenure, but misses some simple structural changes institutions can make to help improve the classroom experience for everyone. .

At Barnard College, where I am president, our faculty are tenured both at Barnard, which focuses on classroom experiences, and at Columbia University, with the resources of a large research-oriented institution. Ivy League. This creates a balanced expectation for Barnard faculty members to pursue their own research while ensuring that they also serve and involve the students they teach.

More generally, honors programs at many colleges and universities tend to emphasize close mentoring relationships between undergraduates and faculty. It is possible to extend this approach where professors invest personally in the success of their students.

Higher education can and should reflect on the tenure process. However, the structural changes that more closely align the experience of students and our cherished faculty will be what allows us to truly live the life of the spirit.

Sian Lea Beilock
new York

For the publisher:

Re “States Rush to Roll Out Booster Shot Programs for Eligible Americans” (front page, September 25):

As the former chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, I am disheartened by the CDC Director’s overturning, within hours, of the committee’s recommendation that people professionally exposed to Covid-19 should not receive boosters right now.

Not only is the Director’s decision substantively flawed and unsupported by science, as the scrutiny of the data and the committee’s deliberations make clear, it undermines the independent, transparent and highly ethical process and a long-standing precious asset in developing an immunization policy. in the USA.

Finally, the director’s decision to include health workers, teachers and other front-line workers among those eligible for the booster will make the implementation of the booster doses much more complicated, risking the successful delivery of the booster. those in the recommended categories – over 65, in long-term care facilities and with underlying health conditions – who really need it.

Nancy M. Bennett
new York
The author is Professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Rochester.

For the publisher:

Re “The UnTrump Slams Into Trumpness Presidency”, by Frank Bruni (Opinion, nytimes.com, September 22):

While it might not be exactly about campaigning in poetry and ruling in prose, as President Biden doesn’t remind anyone of Barack Obama or Bill Clinton for his ability to uplift and captivate, the real lesson learned is that the act of running this country is difficult.

Mr. Biden faces a totally uncooperative Republican opposition that combines stubbornness and fiction to thwart his intentions; an Afghan government that instantly collapsed when challenged and dramatically magnified the president’s miscalculation; much of the American public who refuses to believe in the power of the vaccine; and a border that reminds us daily that much of the world is in chaos that there is little we can do about it.

This does not mean that everything was handled with dexterity, the Franco-Australian sub fiasco a black eye in diplomacy. And, yes, the optics certainly superficially invite comparison of the president and his predecessor. But Mr. Biden and Donald Trump in the same sentence? I do not think so.

Mr. Trump’s animosities, coupled with his incompetence, invited disaster at every turn. Mr. Biden’s morality and his long-standing faith in the founding of government at least give us reason to hope for a better future.

And there is poetry in not having Mr. Trump there to remind us how easy it is to squander the riches of a democracy.

Robert S. Nussbaum
Great Barrington, Mass.

For the publisher:

Re “It’s not really a $ 3.5 trillion bill,” by Peter Coy (Opinion, nytimes.com, September 22):

Americans have a hard time spending anything because they only see big numbers, not the per capita cost divided between 330 million people over 10 years. This extremely low bill amounts to an average of $ 3 per day, which is the cost of a cup of coffee or a McDonald’s Happy Meal. And that’s an average. The rich pay more and the middle class and the poor pay less. For millions, that money would be their salary in a job of the future.

And what do we get? Roads, bridges that don’t fall, charging stations for electric cars, the cleanest air for generations, a universal preschool, expanded childcare benefits and for those who care, a habitable world for their grandchildren.

Seems like a good deal to me.

Deborah Moran