Should faculty have a major role in decisions about hiring and firing?

I’ve seen a couple news stories recently about professors being fired from long-term, nontenured positions.

The stories themselves were often fairly alarmist about the state of the job market for academics, and part of the concern was that the firing decisions had been made by administrators without consulting the faculty in question. The comment sections on these stories were interesting. Although some were sympathetic, most seemed to suggest (to paraphrase) that it’s about time that these elitist, ivory tower academics got a taste of indiscriminate layoffs like the rest of us. This sounds like I’m setting up a straw man, but that was the general tone.

I’m not sure what to make of most of this. It kind of felt like everyone really hates professors for some reason. There are numerous possible topics of interest here.

One point I thought was interesting was the general feeling that it was utterly ridiculous to expect that the ’employees’ (ie. the professors at the college) be given any kind of say in the decisions that the ’employers’ (ie. the college administration) make about employment. A couple articles suggested that the administration’s failure to involve the faculty in the decision was particularly treacherous, an idea that was really derided in the comments section.

To put this in context, it might help to remember how specialized research areas can be. It is probably fairly common that people in administrative positions do not fully understand much of the research being done at their institution, nor have they taken the majority of classes offered. In fact, it is pretty unreasonable to expect that of someone who probably had to learn a lot about the practicalities of management to do their jobs. As a result, administrators often may not have a good grasp on the actual quality of individual employees, and may need to involve the employees themselves, and their peers, to fill this gap.

As a result, faculty generally play an important role in decisions about who gets hired, who gets tenure, and who gets promoted, etc.. For many people, this probably does seem ridiculous, but if it’s difficult for the employing institution to distinguish among high- and low-quality researchers and teachers, then maybe a professor’s peers are the best judges. Administrators may still be the people needing to make decisions about when hiring and firing needs to be done, but when the entire faculty is kept out of the loop, some poor decision-making could result.



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