Although this article is more than a year old (not sure when the Record will get around to its first edition), it raises a variety of interesting points. In this go around, W. Anthony Sheppard of the music department got tenure. The key quote is:

“The possibility of tenure is essential for attracting the best students to a career that requires more education and offers far less pay than other professions,” Sheppard remarked.


1) Sheppard is simply wrong. There are hundreds, even thousands, of highly qualified Ph.D.’s who would love to teach at Williams, even if there were no possibility of tenure. Indeed, the college could, tomorrow, abolish tenure (for all new hires) and go to a series of 5 year contracts (or even, perish the thought, treat the faculty in the same way that they treat all its other employees) without significantly affecting the quality of its applicant pool. Of course, there might be problems on the margin. Potential professors would rather have tenure than not have tenure. But the supply and demand of applicants is in such disequilibrium that Williams would still be able to hire more than enough Ph.D.’s from fancy universities with excellent teaching skills.

2) Sheppard might make the claim that his remark is directed not so much at what Williams needs to do today but at the structure of higher education in general. That is, the only way we — meaning American society — can entice enough talented individuals to go into teaching is by including the “possibility” of tenure as one of the rewards. Perhaps. I doubt that this is true. And, thankfully, the focus of this blog is not how American society is or should be structured. Instead, we care about how Williams is and should be structured.

It is not clear to me that Williams is better off for granting professors tenure. But that is a post for another day . . .

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