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JENKINS: In defense of tenured professors, Part II

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

In last week’s column, I explained that the concept of “permanent employment” doesn’t just apply to tenured college professors. Workers in other knowledge-based professions that likewise require a great deal of education, such as law and accounting, often have the opportunity to attain something remarkably similar to tenure, known as partnership.

So why all the anger directed at professors? I believe it’s a simple matter of class envy.

Wait a minute, you’re saying. Isn’t stirring up class envy a favorite tactic of the left, one they use to whip the masses into a frenzy so they can then tax the bejeebers out of “the rich”? Why, yes. It is a favorite tactic of the left — now co-opted by the far right to stir up the masses against “intellectual elites.”

In both cases, the mantra is the same: “It’s not fair.” As in, “It’s not fair that so-and-so is rich and I’m not,” and “It’s not fair that so-and-so has guaranteed employment and I don’t.” In neither case do the “have-nots” stop to think about how the “haves” got what they have.

And just as when the left does it, playing the class-envy card in this case is politically motivated. The far right despises college professors as a group because they see them as a voting block for the Democrat Party. Which is pretty much true. However, the popular depiction of professors a bunch of left-wing radicals is mostly false.

I’ve been a college professor for 26 years, taught at six different institutions in five different states, and visited dozens more. I know a lot of college professors — more, I dare say, than most of you. And my observation based on that experience is that the vast majority are decent folks who actually live pretty conservatively but happen to lean center-left politically.

Sure, we have our fair share of kooks. But to judge an entire profession by those individuals makes no more sense than it does to judge all actors by Charlie Sheen’s shenanigans.

OK, bad example. But you get the point.

Even if you believe most professors are wrong in their political views, why go after their jobs? Taking away or denying them tenure is merely a way of preventing them from voicing what the rest of us may regard as unpopular views. The end result would be a system in which professors become, essentially, political appointees, afraid to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy for fear of losing their jobs.

Is that really what we want in our institutions of higher learning? Or should we encourage pursuit of the truth, wherever that might lead? If ideas are wrong, then let us challenge the ideas themselves, and not use the bully pulpit of majority politics to silence those who express them.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand on its own.”

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.