By: Richard L. Nochimson  | 

Letter to the Editor Regarding "Tenure and Adjuncts at YU"

To the Editor:

I read with interest Yitzchak Schultz's well-intentioned January 28th article, “Tenure and Adjuncts at YU.” I found it thoughtful, stimulating, and—with regard to the system of tenure for college and university faculty—seriously misguided.

The author believes that tenured professors are likely to become lazy and ineffective teachers: “It's incredulous that almost every other career is based on merit: if you perform your duties, then you keep your job. If you don't, then you run the risk of being fired. Since professors who have tenure can only be fired in extenuating circumstances, then what motivates them to get up in the morning and teach? The potential to be moved to a less roomy office? Their own academic integrity?”

Despite the seeming logic of Yitzchak Schultz's rhetorical questions, it is overwhelmingly the case that tenured professors do not become lazy about their teaching. Because of my desire to be circumspect about referring to my colleagues, I will offer as evidence in support of my conclusion not professors at Yeshiva University but the professors at Columbia University who were my teachers when I was studying for M. A. and Ph. D. degrees.

During my years as a graduate student, I took 29 courses taught by 12 different professors. Ten of them were tenured, one was a junior member of the faculty who became tenured several years later, one was a visiting professor who was retired from the faculty of another university. Partly to honor the memory of my teachers (only two of whom are still alive), partly to demonstrate the clarity of my own memory (I'm now using that word in another sense), I will record the names of my teachers here: I was taught by Professors Eric Bentley, James L. Clifford, Elliot V. K. Dobbie, F. W. Dupee, Allan H. Gilbert, Moses Hadas, S. F. Johnson, Joseph A. Mazzeo, William Nelson, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Edward W. Tayler, and William York Tindall.

The point that I want to emphasize is that, although they were not all great teachers (some of them were), every single one of them was a highly responsible teacher. To the best of my memory, not one of those twelve teachers was ever absent or even late to class. I am 100% certain that not one of my teachers ever arrived in class less than fully prepared to teach. It is true that their professional advancement—especially in those days and at that particular university—depended far more on their published scholarship than on their teaching. Nevertheless, every single one of them found the inner motivation “to get up in the morning and teach.”

In my long experience in the academic world, I have found that tenured professors continue to take their work as teachers very seriously. I leave it to the Yeshiva College students who are my readers to judge whether their professors who have tenure are “indolent,” as Yitzchak Schultz expects them to be, or highly motivated and generally highly effective as I believe they truly are.

I wish to draw attention to one other false assumption in the article. Yitzchak Schultz makes the following assertion: “Unfortunately, universities don't place an emphasis on good teaching as a prerequisite for getting tenure, as much as they do on research and peer-reviewed articles.” The implication here is that universities are willing to grant tenure to professors with significant research accomplishments who are not effective teachers.

That statement may have some validity in certain universities. In my considered judgment, based on long-term experience, it is not at all accurate in describing the system followed in decisions about tenure at Yeshiva University. It is absolutely the case that the various people involved in judging the work of a candidate for tenure on the faculty of Yeshiva University are intent upon granting tenure only to professors who are highly effective teachers. And there is definitely an expectation that those professors will continue to be highly effective after they become tenured.

Tenure decisions at Yeshiva University are definitely based on judgment of merit—in teaching as well as in scholarship—and I see no reason to doubt that my colleagues on the faculty continue to take their jobs as teachers seriously once they have achieved tenure, just as my own professors did.


Richard L. Nochimson

Professor of English

Yeshiva College