It’s no secret that tenured professors cause problems in universities.
As the New York times puts it: “Some choose to rest on their laurels, allowing their productivity to dwindle.
Others develop tunnel vision about research, inflicting misery on students who suffer through their classes.
“Despite these costs, tenure may be a necessary evil: It offers job security and intellectual freedom in exchange for lower pay than other occupations that require advanced degrees.
“Instead of abolishing tenure, what if we restructured it? The heart of the problem is that we’ve combined two separate skill sets into a single job. We ask researchers to teach, and teachers to do research, even though these two capabilities have surprisingly little to do with each other. In a comprehensive analysis of data on more than half a million professors, the education experts John Hattie and Herbert Marsh found that “the relationship between teaching and research is zero.” In all fields and all kinds of colleges, there was little connection between research productivity and teaching ratings by students and peers.
“Currently, research universities base tenure decisions primarily on research productivity and quality. Teaching matters only after you have cleared the research bar: It is a bonus to teach well.
“In my field of organizational psychology, there is a rich body of evidence on designing jobs to promote motivation and productivity. The design of the professor job violates one of the core principles: Tasks should be grouped together based on the skill sets of the individuals who hold them.
“If we created three kinds of tenure rather than one, we might see net gains in both research and teaching. A research-only tenure track would be for professors who have the passion and talent for discovering knowledge, but lack the motivation or ability to teach well. This would allow them to do more groundbreaking studies and produce more patents, while sparing students the sorrow of shoddy courses.
“Creating more full-time research professorships could combat the decline of research productivity post-tenure, as many productive professors see their nonteaching time consumed by administrative responsibilities. If research professors didn’t teach, administrative duties wouldn’t impede their work.
“A teaching-only tenure track would be for professors who excel in communicating knowledge. Granting tenure on the basis of exemplary teaching would be a radical step for research universities but it might improve student learning. In a recent landmark study at Northwestern, students learned more from professors who weren’t on the tenure track. When students took their first course in a subject with a professor who didn’t do research, they got significantly better grades in their next class in that subject.”