Opinion | Tenure in Our Colleges: Problems and Promise

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To the Editor:

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

Professor Worthen correctly identifies narrow specialization as the main impediment to achieving the essential goals of undergraduate education. Linking the job security of professors to publishing alone devalues teaching and imposes barriers to learning.

If we were to create colleges anew, with current and future generations in mind, students would build meaningful paths of inquiry to confront pressing global problems directly. A college designed to achieve that result would emphasize experimentation, creativity and entrepreneurial energy. It would be guided by the challenges we seek to meet, rather than the reproduction of disciplinary boundaries.

Tenure does the opposite, prioritizing specialization so ferociously that the academy loses sight of its very purpose — to foster a citizenry able to collaboratively solve the world’s most bedeviling problems.

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

To the Editor:

Kudos to Molly Worthen for revisiting tenure, its historical origins and the different ways faculty and administrators are affected by it, as well as for her call to challenge what she properly calls “academia’s 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 faculty of color. Yet, the indisputable authority and stability of tenured professors are of the greatest consequence for the future of diversity, equity and inclusion in academia.

We need to recognize that our universities have not done all they are capable of doing either to hire adequate numbers of faculty of color or to promote the existing faculty of color to the highest ranks of the tenured.

Now more than ever, faculty diversity matters!

Alejandro Lugo
Park Forest, Ill.
The writer has taught anthropology and ethnic and racial studies for three decades at several American universities.

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