“Academic freedom” used to be one of the major issues that the radical left paid close attention to. The modern institution of tenure, and the presumption that academic professors would keep their jobs in good behavior, dates back to the intense competition for professors after World War II. So while political pressures were considered, tenure was primarily used as a bargaining chip.
During the Cold War it became a political issue as Communist professors were investigated and loyalty oaths were required, and during the Vietnam war it became a political cause, when pro-Communist professors sought to use their soapboxes to preach against American victory in Vietnam. Of course, unions love it. But now, the “#ConcernedStudent1950” movement making headlines in Missouri could undermine the whole system. I favor this.
Note that Demand V of the movement’s manifesto includes politically motivated staffing:
We demand that by the academic year 2017-2018, the University of Missouri increases the percentage of black faculty and staff campus-wide to 10%.
I don’t know what that percentage is currently, nor do I know what metric they will use to determine who counts as black (Genetic screening? Grandfather clause? Self-identification? “Looking black enough?”). But I do know this is precisely the kind of political pressure that, back in the 60s and 70s, the far left told us tenure was supposed to prevent.
Make no mistake: this is without question a demand for politics to control hiring and firing. You see, there’s certainly no budget to bring on a bunch of new permanent, tenured faculty on board. So in order to meet this demand, the university would have to do one of two things, both of which undermine tenure in the university.
One option would be to reconstitute the base of non-tenured faculty, by laying off and not giving tenure to faculty of the wrong skin color, and by hiring new faculty of the preferred complexion. This undermines tenure because it shatters the whole concept of the ‘tenure track.’ If you fail to give tenure to people you’ve had in position to get it, then you’re putting up a wall around the tenured elite. You’re reducing the protections of tenure, by making it easier to deny tenure in the future.
The other option is even worse for tenure. If you’re going to reconstitute the base of tenured faculty by hiring new people of the privileged skin color, then you need new money budgeted from the legislature. Good luck getting that through the 25 R-9 D Senate and the 118 R-45 D House. So to get more black tenured faculty you fire a few tenured white guys to hire some professors of color. That of course would shatter tenure completely.
We can only conclude that tenure, like freedom of speech itself, was only supported by the far left when they felt they were in a position of weakness, and could use it as a means to an end. But now, in the Internet era, they feel they are in a position of strength, as their Twitter and Tumblr circles seem vast, and constantly reassure each other of their correctness. And now that they are strong, they wish to end the tools of the weak: tenure, and freedom of speech.
As it turns out, I’m fine with this. Tenure is an anti-republican institution. It seeks to protect government funding from being influenced by elected officials. If tenure is weakened by the current student movements, then conservatives can and should join in, with an aim of defunding everything we don’t like in academia today.