On Tenure

July 1, 2014

The word tenure has come to mean different things to different people at various points in time in the history of civilization. A thousand years ago, tenure related to the law of property in feudal England and the manner in which a person held or owned property. Under feudalism, the king owned all of the land, and his vassals, as tenants, were entitled to hold only those portions of the land allotted by him and only under conditions he imposed. This feudal control by the overlord of transfers of property by tenants, was ended in 1290 by the Statute of Quia Emplores. In recent years, tenure has taken on a different meaning for many people, particularly those in education. Webster presently defines tenure as “the status of holding one’s position on a permanent basis, granted to teachers, civil servant personnel, etc., on the fulfillment of specified requirements.”

This article examines the role and the effect tenure has had on both educators and the education process. Unfortunately, for some teachers – and perhaps more rather than some for teachers at the East Williston School District – tenure has come to represent a job with no accountability.

I’m a chemical engineer and proud of it. I practiced my trade primarily in the classroom for 50 years. Educating youngsters for a career in engineering and training engineers/scientists in order to enhance their careers became my signature professional purpose. I did this in part because I believe engineering, more than any other profession, has contributed significantly to improving the quality of life for society. Along the way, I was tenured for the last 43 years.

My experiences as a tenured faculty member at my institution were interesting. Most of my colleagues were reasonably dedicated and rarely missed class, but I would describe only a few as hardworking. For what it’s worth, I missed one day (in the hospital) in 50 years. Overall, most of my guys did an acceptable job. But there were some, perhaps one out of every five, who milked the system for their own aggrandizement at the expense of the students. And nearly every one of those extortive individuals viewed themselves as God’s gift to education.

The situation at the EWSD is particularly disconcerting. The Board, PTO, and Superintendent have chosen not to allow opposing voices to be heard. FOIL requests are routinely effectively ignored (they once responded to one of my FOILS by providing me with reams of paper that were impossible to decipher). Some parents are too frightened to speak out, as with the teacher who retaliated against a 6-year old because her mother had the courage to speak the truth. It is for this reason that I always advise parents who have considered speaking out to remain anonymous. I have repeatedly made the above claims, and yet, no one – including the PTO hierarchy and the Superintendent – have ever dared to challenge my accusations. The FACT that the Superintendent misrepresented herself on the application for the position has also never been challenged.

What do we have at the EWSD? Based on my information, most of the EWSD teachers, and particularly those at Wheatley High School, approach their job as teachers in a manner quite different from what I would describe as a dedicated educator. The end result has been a precipitous drop in the school’s ranking, significant absenteeism, a failure of some (or is it many?) students to be admitted into the college/university of their choice, and poor student writing skills. Why is this occurring? I have placed the blame on numerous occasions on the incompetent past School Board President, Susan Bergtraum, and the former parasitic School Union President, David Israel (I still have a copy of the contract where Israel sold his membership short in order to gain a personal giveaway from the District). They set a process in motion that has resulted in the decline of quality education and teacher abuse in the EWSD.

Although much of the above will be viewed by the enemy as rhetoric, one needs to examine teachers’ salaries relative to others. As with some other professions, e.g., medicine, I believe it is disproportionate relative to the rest of the work force. Present-day salaries simply cannot be justified, particularly for those whose salaries are at $150,000/year. When one considers the salary, perks, health benefits, abbreviated workdays, extensive vacation periods, work ethics, etc., of the suburban teacher, it is hard not to conclude that these individuals have it made. Make no mistake about it, they have it made! I ought to know, because I was part of a similar system – only at another level.

And then there is job security. Today, most taxpayers no longer have the luxury of job security. In the old days, one might receive at any time a DCM – as it was called curing the depression era – Don’t Come Monday. Being tenured means not having to worry about losing your job. What is this worth? When I was growing up, it was worth enough that teachers who earned significantly less than the rest of the workforce were grateful for their job. I knew when I accepted a teaching position in 1960 for $6,000 a year, a salary substantially below what my colleagues were accepting in industry and business, I did so for two reasons: the desire to teach and the benefits mentioned above.

The bottom line is that tenure has unquestionably produced tenured teachers who are pampered, underworked, overpaid, lazy and indifferent to the needs of their students. All of them? NO! But many of them? YES! The tenure process has led to the aforementioned disproportionate wages and benefits relative to the rest of the workforce plus a lifetime of job security. As I’ve said on numerous occasions: we teachers have jobs, the rest work for a living.

Will tenure survive in its present form? I doubt it. Nor should it. The Ivy schools have all but eliminated tenure. I can say in no uncertain terms that tenure was appreciated and probably helped me from an academic and professional perspective. But the abuses that I witnessed and the present abuses at places like the EWSD need to be reduced, if not eliminated. There needs to be accountability if the educational process is to return to what we had in earlier times. Perhaps five-year tenure appointments with periodic evaluations might help.

For tenured teachers, it is time to give thanks. It is also time to reverse the trend and provide tax relief and start putting money into scholastic programs, not teachers’ salaries. For the tenured teachers, it is payback time.

Lou Theodore

PREVIOUS POSTINGS:
APRIL 1: On the Barack Hussein Obama Update III
MAY 1: On the East Williston School District Budget Vote
JUNE 1: On the Interview Process
JULY 1: On Tenure

NEXT POSTINGS (tentative):
AUGUST 1: On a National Energy Policy
SEPTEMBER 1: On Purely Chaste, Pristine and Random Thoughts XXI
OCTOBER 1: On Barack Hussein Obama Update IV
NOVEMBER 1: On Paying Student-Athletes II
DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Basketball: 2014-15 Season
JANUARY 1: On Football Boxes
FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats

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