Friday, April 3, 2009


In a country with the most excessive amount of democracy, our education system has been tragically hijacked by the “Life-Tenure System” –a contractual entitlement between a faculty member and its administrators to hold a life-time academic position which cannot be terminated without due cause. The tenure system was originally intended as a faculty reward to guarantee the rights to academic freedom, to protect them when they dissented from prevailing opinions, to avoid retaliation from disagreeing authorities of any sort, or to warrant time dedicated to unfashionable research topics. However, in our current predicament, it is not used for the sake of sustainability, freedom and the common good but as an opportunity to exercise a primitive governmental system where oppression, revenge, and unbridled punishment are its most common attributes.

In a sustainable system the elders tend to be respected, become wiser, and gain sacred attributes that bring about harmony and balance to their own communities; in the extraordinary primitiveness of the current university system, senior faculty tend to become disruptive, unproductive, sloppy, substandard, and even irrelevant. Therefore, universities exercise great care in offering tenured positions to faculty who may prove less pious or unworthy in the long run. The process of candidacy approval is lengthy and may include the review of extensive portfolios of “original” published work, the capacity of the candidate to bring research funds into the institution, confidential assessment letters from scholars in the same field, and ruthless teaching evaluations. If the candidate is judged to be a scholar whose relevancy as a productive individual is guaranteed for a lifetime, he/she will be awarded life-tenure.

Under these conditions, obvious philosophical questions arise: What would be the attributes of the most pious candidates? Who would these people be? What are the ultimate scholarly virtues guaranteeing a life-time award? Is tenure a matter of process or a matter of mindfulness? Is tenure granted on the basis of an examined life or, is it a result of political maneuvers, war tactics, and unethical demeanors?

Answers to these philosophical questions would only ascertain the greater degree of confusion and lack of attentive inquiry in which we currently operate. Most probably, within this system, the greatest minds of the western intellectual tradition would have been set aside for their lack of contribution to society at large. For instance, within the current system of evaluation, Cicero would have been denied as a potential tenure candidate for his lack of originality -after all, he was an eclectic mind whose world views were based on a controlled potpourri of philosophical Greek precedents. Socrates would have been dismissed for his lack of published scholarly material and his criminal record –trialed, convicted, and poison to death. Plato would have been perceived as a parasite of the ideological successes of his former master. And, most importantly, Aristotle would have been rejected as a lunatic.

Can the university system survive without an examined life of its own? Is the universality of our current educational structure threatened by the life-tenure system? Are American universities becoming smaller and less productive? Can we deepen our understanding of concrete and abstract values when dealing with the future of faculty at large? Is the university a true universal system with a complex axiology? Or, are we entering a new period of development in which the teaching of tradition, spiritual values, anthropometric-based aesthetics, or ultimate truth is punished as a nuance to our current cluster of values?

Answers to these questions ought to make the factual picture of a world yet to come!