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July 27, 2006


Mike Huben

One of the irritating things about Miron's writing style is that outside of his academic papers, he gives no references to his sources. He writes as if these are all his own original ideas, and I very much doubt that.

Tenure is there for many reasons, not a single reason, and it is interesting to see which Miron has left out.

One significant reason is backbiting office politics. It's somewhat limited when there's a profit motive involved, but in non-profit institutions, it's easy to imagine faculty pressuring administration to oust an unpopular colleague. This would create a climate rewarding the most politically vicious rather than the most academically excellent.

Another significant reason is that in situations such as public schools, administration can change rather frequently and abruptly due to elections and appointments. Tenure protects from wholesale patronage systems, and the job insecurity they bring. It also protects against the false economies of hiring lower paid new employees. Political administrators perceive primarily the budget, but schools exist for the difficult-to-measure education of the students.

And finally, tenure (like unions) gives teachers a place to stand when negotiating as a group: employers cannot simply fire whoever leads teacher demands. Without this bargaining power, salaries would be enough lower that the best would be siphoned off by business.

Brian Buckley

I think most libertarians view markets work best when they are agile, open and frictionless.

The tenure system adds a great deal of friction to the educational market. Tenure in education has hung on just as the principal of seniority in unions has hung on in the private sector, but in both cases it weakens, not strengthens, the entity.


Interesting idea, because in all organizations a real problem is the tendency to hire marginal performers for short-term motivations and then be unable to fire them once they are settled in.

Google, according to Peter Norvig, tries to avoid this by not having any hiring manager; new hires are judged qualified by a central body, hired for the company, and then given a job assignment. This to avoid a single hiring manager's taking the best of an underqualified pool because of the pressure to make some progress on a vital project. Microsoft, by wide report, has tried to avoid the same problem by having candidates interview widely outside the hiring group, and giving every interviewer a veto (and also by planning to separate the least-qualified 5%-or-so of employees every year).

It seems likely that most universities could evolve better schemes than tenure for reviewing renewal of contracts to avoid retaining merely average performers. The main problem is to avoid "logrolling" where unqualified people support one another. This would probably involve expanding review outside the department, to other departments and institutions. Today that doesn't happen enough until the rare (but not unknown) occasions when a department of mediocre people is declared "academically bankrupt" and handed over to a "receiver" brought in from another department to oversee early-retirement buy-offs and restaffing.



For once I agree with you; I wish Miron would do more citing as well. (Although I don't think either you or he is trying to pass off other people's ideas as original just because neither of you has provided citations.)

One quibble: tenure is not "like unions," except in the very loose sense that they both reduce the employer's options regarding employees.

Unions work by facilitating the collusive behavior of employees against an employer and (in some jurisdictions) protecting against new entry. Tenure does neither of these.

Mike Huben

I really don't know why you're quibbling James: I made the comparison for ONE POINT: I never stated it went any further.

As for "facilitating collusive behavior", surely you've noticed that corporations are creatures of states, and enable employers to create large, monolithic, collusive organizations. There'd be no need for employee collusion without this state apparatus that makes possible large modern employers.



My quibble over your comparisons with unions stems from my fetish for accuracy. Tenure does not have anything to do with negotiating as a group.

As for "facillitating collusive behavior," I'm not sure the relevance of your claims about corporations. Whether your view about corporations is correct or not, either (1) unions facillitate the collusive behavior of employees against an employer, or (2) unions do not facillitate the collusive behavior of employees against an employer. If you believe (1), great! We've something else to agree on. If you believe (2), you have a very novel view among labor economists and might want to seek publication of your theory.

By the way, your last post did not list opposing views, include numbers, or cite cources. I don't find it to be twaddle, or innumerate, or an attempt to pass off original ideas as your own. Am I mistaken on this?

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