Reshaping Academic Subjectivities 1: Post-Tenure Review.


(I am copying here this anonymous letter written at and for an anonymous university some years ago—and sent to me merely as a fictional exercise whose time has not yet passed.  Post-tenure review is quickly becoming the norm, but there is nothing in post-tenure review processes that should necessarily make them terrifying.  And yet they are increasingly becoming just that.  Chances are, we should see post-tenure review processes as an integral part of a new form of production of subjectivity in the professional field—a neoliberal one, where we are only insofar as we accept the mission of managing our own entrepreneurship; where we become successful self-entrepreneurs or we become naked life that can be fired without murder or sacrifice.)

Faculty Senate


Dear Colleagues:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulation for Post-Tenure Review.  I must express my deep concern about this proposal, which modifies already objectionable rules and takes them in an ever-worsening direction.

I agree with the American Association of University Professors’ determination in 1999:  “The Association believes that periodic formal institutional evaluation of each post-probationary faculty member would bring scant benefit, would incur unacceptable costs, not only in money and time but also in dampening of creativity and of collegial relationships, and would threaten academic freedom.”  After that the document resigns itself to the facts on the ground—institutions will implement Post-Tenure Review if they so choose, courts of law cannot prevent them from doing so—and simply sets some parameters.  At the very least we should stick to those parameters.

While I also agree with the need for a collegial annual review procedure and share the concern of the administration and the faculty with the occasional cases of tenure abuse that are a structural part of the system everywhere, I believe those cases can and should be handled ad hoc in much better ways than by imposing a highly onerous set of administrative procedures on all of us.   Once the procedures are there, however, they will have deleterious effects, and they will create not a better but a worse university for all of us—a university hampered at the most basic level of trust, collegiality, creativity, a university whose primary function will have become the phony and mechanical productivity of people who work not freely but with the immediate purpose of meeting administrative goals external to their essential habits.  The administration, through these regulations, is opting to impose symbolic subjection on all of us.  I am certain they know this, and yet they are prepared to do it any way.  This is, ultimately, a self-destroying process, and somebody ought to warn them.

The new proposed rule according to which an Unsatisfactory in one of the three areas of evaluation or two Needs Improvement in a given year prompts the need for that faculty member to be reported to the Dean and prepare a Written Plan for Near-Term Improvement, co-signed by the Head and the faculty member in question, is well in excess of the reasonable parameters outlined in the AAUP document, which I am sure most faculty everywhere endorse.   Not to mention the rule according to which three years of that automatically triggers a Comprehensive Professional Review Plan that may or will result in termination.  On top of that, the rules say, the Head can solicit a Comprehensive Professional Review Plan at any point he or she so wishes regarding any given faculty member.  The existing regulations were already a step in the Ford-Taylorization of academic existence underway.  The new regulations, which arbitrarily radicalize the previous ones, take a giant step in the same, regressive direction.

I will make another point that needs to be brought to everyone’s attention (I intend to give this letter some circulation around campus, you might as well know that.)   The proposed regulations imply that tenure is not something one earns and has earned at some point in one’s academic career, after a lot of serious effort and as the culmination of it.  The proposed regulations instead send the clear message that tenure is, by fiat of the Task Force and the current Administration, something one must earn every year.   As if one had to start life anew every year.  As if life were fresh every year for the sad (and terrified) self-entrepreneur that now comes to mind as the subjective figure your measures tend to privilege.  And yet I am not just a point in a grid of coordinates so that only my current performance matters—my colleagues are not a nameless point in a grid.  They have a history, they are their own history.  The new regulations symbolically turn us all into beings without history, whose very credit absolutely depends on current performance—as evaluated by norms that are increasingly of your own making, that is, of corporate making (who knows who you are copying—but you are copying someone), and rarely sponsored by the faculty (that is, the free faculty not already subservient to you).

It is surprising, however, to see such apparent accepting meekness so far in the academic community.  I do hope professors write to you to express the indignation that these regulations do prompt among the professorial body.   True, we have been taught all too many times in recent years that consultation processes at this level are not serious, and that, no matter what could be said or is said against it, the decision has already been made.  That is how deep the disconnect between administration and faculty has become, and there is no conceivable reason to be proud of that fact.

The momentum of the proposed rules (there were rules already, and it is imperative to wonder why it has been felt convenient to radicalize and tighten up those rules in a draconian manner at this point in history), while paying lip service to peer-review procedures, actually shifts the final power of evaluation down to its final consequences to administrative managers—this is about control and power by the administration and for the administration. This is certainly not in favor of the faculty.  As I have already said, if the university has been, all of a sudden, made to feel the people’s clamor to get rid of incompetence at the institution, there are effective ways of doing that, or of going at it, that do not go through imposing an undignified administrative evaluation process nightmare on all of us.    The consequences for what used to be called academic freedom are negative and ominous.  The consequences for climate, creativity, wellbeing, and quality of research are equally ominous.

I provide the link to the AAUP document for your easy access:

Cordially Yours,

Professor X



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