By BERRY CRAIG “Pride goeth before the fall,” the Good Book says. Hubris, or too much pride, was the greatest sin to the ancient Greeks. Read the Iliad.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System headquarters inVersailles was awash in hubris when its board of regents met and voted to end tenure for all teachers hired after July 1.
The board ignored appeals from several faculty members who came for the vote – appeals backed by pro-tenure resolutions from the KCTCS Faculty Senate and a number of community and technical college faculty assemblies.
I was proud to make the motion to approve the tenure resolution at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, where I have taught since 1989. I was even prouder when it passed unanimously. Faculty groups at Northern Kentucky University and Murray State University – my alma mater -- also endorsed resolutions in support of continuing tenure at our community and technical colleges. In addition, the Kentucky House of Representatives endorsed a non-binding pro-tenure resolution.
None of that mattered to the KCTCS board. Chair Richard Bean led the anti-tenure drive. But there was little doubt that Dr. Michael McCall, the KCTCS president, backed Bean all the way. Anyway, Bean tried to placate the teachers who turned up. “I believe in you,” he told them, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. He didn’t seem to win any hearts and minds.
The H-L also reported that tenured faculty already teaching at the 16 KCTCS schools won’t be affected by the board’s action. That might be true for now. But there is nothing to stop the board from voting to revoke tenure for teachers hired under the KCTCS system or for former University of Kentucky Community College System teachers who opted over to KCTCS. A lot of us stuck with UK when the community college and tech school systems merged into KCTCS because we didn’t trust KCTCS with our tenure. After the board vote, we’re doubly glad we stayed put.
The law that created KCTCS guarantees our tenure. Only the legislature can take it away. Based on the House vote, that’s not likely.
Nor is it likely that the KCTCS board will stop its assault on tenure. I strongly suspect the board would love to get rid of tenure system-wide. Many of my colleagues agree.Bean started the attack on tenure with the easiest marks – the new hires. I have no doubt that, sooner or later, tenured teachers under the KCTCS personnel system will be in his crosshairs. I guess he hopes by them most of the UK burrs under his saddle blanket will be retired. Time will tell. Meanwhile, we’re not giving up the fight. Leaders of my union, the American Federation of Teachers, are meeting with lawmakers in Frankfort , notably House leaders. More than a few of them are not happy with the board for blowing off their resolution. Our goal is getting the 2010 General Assembly to pass a law restoring tenure.
Many members of the Kentucky House and Senate know that tenure is the cornerstone of academic freedom. They understand that tenure is also the surest way of attracting and keeping quality faculty. So does the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Bluegrass State's largest newspaper.
In editorializing against the board vote, the C-J aptly observed that killing tenure “will discourage talented teachers from accepting positions and will drive off many of the most promising young faculty. Some will leave for other states; some likely will forsake academic life altogether.”
By stopping tenure for new hires, the KCTCS Board has sent a clear signal to job seekers: If you like to speak your mind, a KCTCS college might not be the best place for you to teach.
Bean promised the teachers at the board meeting “that…academic freedom will be preserved even without tenure,” the Herald-Leader said. His pledge was another no-sale with the teachers.
The C-J editorialist didn’t buy what Bean was selling either. “A Limbaugh-style demagogue can target a professor with unpopular views, and tenure shields teachers from fearful administrators,” the editorial pointed out.
My Murray State teachers were tenured or on tenure track. They were free to speak their minds. My favorite teachers were the ones who refused to knuckle under to the administration. They challenged my cherished beliefs, and I’m a better teacher for it.
Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, likened himself to a gadfly stinging people to think critically. Many of my college teachers were gadflies who stung me. They opened my mind and broadened my horizons. I am grateful for it.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said.
Without tenure, not much life examining goes on in classrooms. Critical thought and expression are inevitable casualties when teachers must carefully watch what they say lest they offend administration powers-that-be and risk their jobs. (Of course, some other reason is cited when they get fired.)
Socrates would have been proud of the four board members who voted to keep tenure: Vice Chair Joe Wise, Faculty Regents Paul Callan and Michael Quillen and Student Regent Randall Barnes, one of my school’s best and brightest.
The immortal Greek doubtless would be sorely disappointed with the rest.