A New Tenure System


THE LAW School is divided, confused, and just plain unsure of what constitutes good scholarship and qualifies a faculty member for tenure. Opponents of Clare Dalton, whose tenure bid was rejected recently, argue that her scholarship is wanting. Her supporters contend that her work is first rate and that her opponents lack objectivity and allow their biases to influence their votes.

Similarly, in the History Department, some senior faculty members claim that Alan Brinkley's scholarship is inadequate. Brinkley's supporters counter that it is the conception of appropriate scholarship prevailing in the History Department that is flawed.

If these cases show anything, it's that the tenure process is riddled with subjectivity and contradiction. Worse still, the current system cannot even begin to predict how good one's scholarship will be after he or she receives a life-time position.

One wonders, then, why no one has tried the obvious--why tenure appointments aren't made according to an objective, standardized method that can predict future performance with accuracy. Standardization, after all, is a well-established substitute for subjective and otherwise difficult decisions in admissions offices at every university, and it really does make things much simpler for everyone involved. There ought to be such a fool-proof method when it comes to tenure.

AND THERE is. It's called the Tenure Scholarship Apptitude Test, or TSAT. Every person coming up for tenure will take this test and receive a score between, oh, let's say, 200 and 800. Faculty committees can then use this number as an objective indicator of the tenure candidate's scholarly ability. Even better, TSATs have a high predictive value; the better the score, the more likely one is to think great thoughts once given a permanent position.


No more politicized tenure battles in the Law School; no more angry scuffles in the History Department. Simply take the TSAT score, multiply it by 2.4364, add to the result the number of books the person has written, multiplied by 2.4567 if the reviews were favorable or by 1.3546 if they were unfavorable, and you have--Poof!--the candidate's "tenure index." A person with an index over 1800 wins, someone below 1775 loses, and anyone in between will be subject, alas, to further discussion since the test does, of course, have its limits.

And the TSAT corrects one more defect in the current tenure process. Harvard junior faculty are currently at a disadvantage when competing against senior faculty from other schools. These older outside scholars have lighter teaching loads and hence more time to make names for themselves. The TSAT would prevent such external factors from influencing tenure decisions and thereby allow more accurate comparisons across institutions.

Further, since older scholars have been able to steep themselves in their subjects longer, the current system emphasizes experience and hard work at the expense of pure ability and potential. Once again, the TSAT offers a solution. Since there will be no way to prepare for the TSAT (forget what Stanley Kaplan says), all scholars are on equal footing, regardless of the breadth of their knowledge; this standardized test assumes no prior familiarity with any specific subject, emphasizing instead innate reasoning ability, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and logical relationships.

There may be a dispute as to whether historians are too over specialized and law professors too polemical, but all can agree that every historian, law professor, physicist, and East Asian cultural scholar alike should be able to determine who eats where if seven co-workers eat lunch at one of three restraunts four days per week, subject to certain conditions, assuming that person one eats only at restaurant X on Wednesdays when he's with person four...

THE LOGIC of the TSAT is irrefutable. Why allow subjectivity to intrude on the tenure process? Sex discrimination, you claim? What were your TSAT scores?--case closed.

Why force fallible mortals to evaluate candidates' credentials when a standardized test which is believed to be both objective and predictive can do it for you? For the same inexorable logic which holds that good lawyers can be culled out by the LSAT, future business mogols by the GMAT, dexterous dcoctors by the MCAT, and brilliant scholars by the GRE also insists that the very best senior faculty can be identified by a standardized test.

The alternative, after all, is deliberation. With the TSAT, we can all hide behind our shields of objectivity and, with a willing suspension of disbelief, act as if a standardized test can make admission to the senior faculty--like admission to college, law school, business school, medical school, or graduate school--a more scientific process.

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