More tenured faculty needed

By Genevieve Diesing

When University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s job was put into jeopardy last year due to his widely controversial remarks regarding the Sept. 11 attacks, one reason why his teaching position remained intact was because he held tenure. Many people have said professors such as Churchill, tenured or not, should not be excused from making inflammatory comments. Others say a circumstance such as this is a great example of why our society must continue to condone free speech.

This freedom is one of the reasons why tenure exists, but tenure is sometimes still looked at as more of an opportunity for an agenda than anything else. Popular conservative Web site calls the tenure process “a big part of a more far reaching problem.”

“Tenure has been under attack for a long time. It’s become an issue even in liberal states,” said Arthur Doederlein, a tenured communication associate professor and director of undergraduate studies.

Regardless of a person’s political status, tenure remains because it is an important part of our educational system. It promotes the exchange of free speech both for the professor and for the student. Tenure is achievable only for those who are very accomplished in their field. It gives professors the grounds to take risks, and attracts teachers with the experience and initiative to truly enrich them. However, educators who attain this status do not come cheaply.

Because of their expense, combined with the $40 million state budget cut NIU has endured, the amount of tenured professionals at NIU has decreased by 17 percent in the last 10 years, according to an article in the May 9 issue of the Northern Star. Although the amount of overall faculty has increased by 36 percent in this same time period, our enrollment has also increased at record speed. Our faculty/student ratio is out of proportion, and because of that, so is the amount of tenured professors on staff. Now, many students must deal with unavailable classes and enormous class sizes, and a lack of teachers who are tenured or on the tenured track. This does not make for a good education for students.

Doederlein believes the state deserves a large part of the blame for this predicament. “Illinois doesn’t want to spend money on education,” he said. “The political powers that be want to have speech in legislative favor – not to ask questions or cause trouble.”

That very questioning and “troublemaking” in the classroom are symptoms of what any good professor would consider intellectual liberation – a quickly vanishing ideal in the public university experience.

“If tenure were to come under attack more,” said Doederlein, “then you as a student are no longer part of the marketplace of ideas; where you’re in an argument that leads to something like the truth. That process of open freedom to discuss anything leads to the richest kind of environment.”

Because NIU’s faculty is too small to deal with its large influx of students, professors with the security to be controversial in the classroom are decreasing. Both our university officials and our government are doing little to change this. Just as tenure is becoming less heeded in our society, our freedom within our own university is becoming less substantial. In order to promote a better education for everybody, tenure needs to become more prevalent.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.