Not much, according to Bill Reader, a professor at the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. In a recent essay for The Chronicle that details his experience trying to get tenure, Reader says that the process can be both a “nightmare” and a “wonderful and affirming process.” But judging by his account, what happens after a professor gets tenure should make us wary of the institution as well.
A lot of academics I know like to compare their profession to journalism. Speaking truth to power, yadda, yadda, yadda. But Reader’s account makes the two sound awfully different:
I have to try to balance gloves-off journalism with kid-gloves academe. I must try to be less bold in expressing unpopular opinions about campus policies, curriculum goals, or the use of increasingly limited resources.
Academic politics are much more about personal turf and fragile egos than I had imagined. So I also have to learn to not always jump so eagerly into debates started by others. Instead of standing up and wading in, I must try to rise above and move beyond. Against instinct and training, I must try to avoid rocking the boat in a workplace that is hostile toward dissent.
So even though he has job-for-life protection, he’s unwilling to “rock the boat.” I’m not sure whether to conclude that Reader is a coward for being unwilling to stand up to other professors he disagrees with despite his job protections. Or that the university is so broken and nasty and dysfunctional that no reasonable person can expect to be treated with a modicum of respect if he or she dares to dissent from the party line. Either way, it’s not a pretty picture.