The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Wayne State Takes the Lead in Attacking Professors’ Tenure

Apr 3, 2017

The heads of Wayne State University in Detroit and their friends in the corporate media are mounting a concerted attack on tenure for college professors. University President M. Roy Wilson and Medical School Dean Jack Sobel have started proceedings to revoke the tenure of five medical school professors they claim are “underperforming.”

The five Wayne State professors currently facing hearings to revoke their tenure have taught at the university for an average of 30 years. One of the professors pointed out at a meeting with Sobel that he had been moved to a lab with inadequate equipment to carry out his research, which the university knew full well.

The attack on these five is just the start of a grander scheme to go after tenured professors. Last year Wayne State identified 60 to 80 medical school faculty they claim are similarly “underperforming,” and in August specifically mentioned 37 who could be terminated or forced to retire.

These university officials claim these proceedings are about raising the university’s level of “excellence.” The Detroit News in an editorial even floated the fiction that the attack on tenure was for the good of the students.

What hogwash! Full-time professors are expected to carry out research that is more and more financed by private corporations. In the medical field, for example, most research is paid for and carried out for the interests of the pharmaceutical and medical supply industries. Its direction is determined by what can be made profitable. None of this has anything to do with “excellence” or the welfare of college students.

Wayne State, like universities all around the country, has set up a two-tier system among those who provide instruction to students. Nationally, only about 25% of all college professors are tenured. That figure is half what it was in 1975. At Wayne State, counting graduate assistants who are allowed to be fully responsible for the teaching of classes, only 22% of instructors currently have tenure, and 69% are either part-time professors or grad assistants, paid far less than the tenured professors, with little to no job security.

Tenure assures professors the ability to speak freely in the classroom and the time to devote to classroom preparation, rather than being solely concerned with meeting the requirements of the universities’ corporate sponsors. If universities were truly concerned about education for their students, they would hire more full-time professors, not fewer.

Professors are experiencing what many workers are going through, with a two-tier wage and benefit scheme leading to attacks on pensions, retiree health care benefits and wages for more senior workers. If professors thought tenure gave them complete protection from the attacks workers have faced, they are about to find out otherwise–if university administrators like those at Wayne State succeed in their attacks.