Tenure as an economic proposition

Over at the Atlantic, Megan Mcardle writes about tenure in starkly economic terms. You can read the blog entry here.

Money quote:

Imagine I offered you one cell phone contract for two years at $100 a year, and another for 50 years at $90 + inflation.  Would you really consider the second contract “cheaper”?

The decline of tenure track

A very interesting piece that my wife caught from the NY Times on the decline of the number of tenure track professors in the United States. I am concerned that the article misses the somewhat subtle distinction (at least in my mind) between “restricted” or “contract” full time professors and adjuncts.

Here’s the quote from the piece that gets at that classification question:

At some departments the proportion of faculty who are tenured is startlingly low. The psychology department at Florida International University in Miami has 2,400 undergraduate majors but only 19 tenured or tenure-track professors who teach, according to a department self-assessment. It is possible for a psychology major to graduate without taking a course with a full-time faculty member.

“We’re at a point where it is extreme,” said Suzanna Rose, a psychology professor who said she stepped down as department head in August, primarily because she could not hire as many tenure-track professors as she thought the department needed. “I’m just very concerned about the quality.”

Ronald Berkman, the provost at Florida International, disputed her numbers, saying the psychology department has 23 professors who are tenured or tenure track and 5 full-time teachers on contracts. The department is conducting a search for three more tenure-track professors, Dr. Berkman said.

Berkman, the provost, has a point: contract professors (who are full time) are getting added to the adjunct number which is then compared to the tenure-line number. In fact, the proper comparison should be between the number of adjuncts and the number of full-time professors (i.e. contract professors plus tenure-line).

Jim