Lincoln U: Redefining words to kill tenure



“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

–I’m quoting Lewis Carroll, but insiders into higher education could be forgiven for thinking I’m quoting an administrator. I’ve met quite a few that have said the above, more or less.

“Tenure” is one of those words, like “unions” and “fascism,” that we’re trained as children to instantly hate. We’re told that tenure means job-for-life, but the reality is tenure just offers a (thin) layer of protection against administrative abuse. My blog has recounted many occasions where a tenured professor has suddenly found himself out of a job, simply because he’s done something in particular to enrage a higher education administrator.

Losing a tenured job due to administrative snit usually leads to lawsuits, of course, but there’s one way to lose a tenured job that generally doesn’t lead to a court case, because it’s written into the tenure contract: “financial exigency.” Bottom line, if there’s no money, there’s no job, and I reckon we can all agree that’s a fair reason to end a tenured faculty’s career at an institution.

Whenever Donald Trump says he’s for something, the mainstream media immediately launches into paroxysms of incandescent rage about how wrong he is…if he’s for it, they’re against it. My condemnation of the media for such behavior is somewhat reserved, for that is how I feel about administrative goals. If they want it, I have to be against it. The administrative track record of failure in higher education has such purity that this must be the case.

Administration is against tenure, and constantly seeks ways to end those contracts, to thereby end the last thing keeping any level of integrity in higher education. Trouble is, those contracts are written well, it’s not an easy thing to end tenure on a wholesale level.

Unless, of course, you change the meaning of “financial exigency.” First, let’s look at the established meaning:

“Financial exigency — defined by the American Association of University Professors as a dire, institutionwide crisis…”

This seems fair enough; if the whole institution is going down, then absolutely you want to toss the chattel, especially if that’s what it takes to protect those huge billowing golden parachutes for the administration.

But, as Humpty Dumpty pointed out, the AAUP’s definition is irrelevant. What is relevant is who is master, and that’s the administration. Behold the new definition of financial exigency:

Lincoln has changed its rules to specify that financial exigency may be declared not only at the university level, but also “for specific colleges, schools, departments or programs.” Faculty members with the shortest term of service now also “will generally,” not definitively, be terminated before those with longer periods of service.

Wait. Keep in mind, gentle reader, that the letter of the law, not any assumption of fairness, is all you can hope will be followed. So seniority will count for nothing, admin can just fire all the faculty and replace them with sub-minimum wage adjuncts, using the food banks to keep them fed because they’re paid so little.

This isn’t just cynicism, I’ve seen the like enough times, but let me go over in detail how this will work. First, since exigency isn’t institution-wide, it can now apply to just a specific department. Trouble is, administration sets the funding for the departments, so the university can be swimming in money, and just budget nothing for a department with tenured faculty.

*ding* We now have a financial exigency emergency, as per the new definition.

The adjuncts hired for peanuts the month before will be kept, and their course loads doubled, while the tenured faculty who’ve devoted their lives to the institution are shown the door. Meanwhile, administration will award themselves 20% pay raises as a reward for how well they handled the budget crisis they themselves caused. This pay raise will eliminate the savings entirely, but admin will get a year-end bonus as well as further reward for handling the crisis. The next year, tuition will need to be raised to cover the bonuses and guaranteed administrative pay raises.

I totally understand that most people won’t have much pity for “dead wood” professors losing their “job for life,” but I want to reinforce the extra meaning to this queer redefinition: higher education is run by an administrative caste that treats their employees as abusively as possible, forever seeking to break any contract that gives anything at all to the faculty.

If they treat the faculty this way, why should anyone suspect that these guys will treat the kids coming onto campus fresh out of high school any better? If lifelong contracts can be switched around with no recourse, why would anyone suspect that the degree programs won’t change from “4 years” to “10 years” if admin so desires?  I’ve seen many students cheated due to administrative policy shenanigans already, and changing tenure will only give them  more power. Can admin be stopped from doing this, or anything else?

Probably not, as it certainly hasn’t happened in the past, and stunts like this merely reinforce that the looting of our next generation will continue unabated.