Reforming Academic Rank

In “Simplifying the Academic Hierarchy,” John Jeffries Martin argues that the “associate professor” title should be abolished. Building on Max Weber’s Marxist thinking about the bureaucracy in the American university system, Martin proposes that the best way to reform the rank system of the professoriate is to hold a probationary “assistant professor” rank for a short period of time before an institution promotes and tenures faculty into “full professor” rank. The publish or perish “bean counting” mindset of the rank system, he asserts, alienates teachers from their relationship to their own scholarship, burns them out and distracts them from thriving as educators, because there are so many “hoops” to jump through on the way toward full professor. The emphasis on “specialization” impedes the response to one’s “calling” because the focus on proving one’s self to administrators disallows the freedom to muse reflectively and be inspired by chance, among other things. He writes: “Simply by removing the second ‘hoop’ — that is, the goal of promotion to full professor — many universities and colleges would become more capacious workplaces, accommodating the diverse strengths, talents, and goals of their faculties with greater ease.”

Such reform won’t likely happen in my lifetime, if ever, but it’s an interesting notion to think of alternatives and it’s liberating to recognize how the system is historically contingent. Since I’m an associate prof going up for tenure next year — and with full professor many years away — I’m glad I read this piece. It reminded me of my own situatedness in the academic hierarchy — and to think about the tenure process and the rungs I’m climbing a little more objectively.

Published by

Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.

One thought on “Reforming Academic Rank”

  1. Clicking through the links above, I found this hilarious related quote:

    “The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain any more so it eats it. It’s rather like getting tenure.” — Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (source: Ian Parberry’s Favorite Quotes

Comments are closed.