Churchill Surrenders

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Ward Churchill is set to become a former University of Colorado professor.

The University of Colorado said it will dismiss controversial Ward Churchill.

CU Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano made his announcement Monday afternoon.

A committee found Churchill guilty of research misconduct and another panel recommended that he be fired because of "repeated and deliberate" infractions of scholarship rules.

While Churchill's "Little Eichmanns" controversy isn't cited as the reason for the firing (he wrote that almost five years ago), Reason's coverage of the issue has focused on the academic free speech issues it brought to the fore.

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  1. The Eichmann comment might not be the reason for his firing, but it is likely the reason so much attention was paid to his misconduct.

    The lesson here is, if you are going to lie to get your cushy job and oppressed faux-heritage, best to try to avoid being too much of a loudmouth asshole.

  2. I am really sorry to see Ward go. I honestly think this guy is one of the most brilliant, ironic, performance artists of the last 40 years. This guy’s whole career is nothing but one giant satire of the academic establishment. If he is not an artist he should claim to be one to take credit for what he accomplished.

    I don’t think people outside of higher education realize how hard it is to get a tenured position at any school letalone one at a big public school like Colorado. There are people who get PHDs and toil for years in contract positions and never get a tenured tack position, letalone tenure at any university.

    Here is Churchill with few if any academic credentials and he manages to get a tenured position. How? By telling everything that the faculties at these places wanted to hear. It was amazing. He hit every sacred cow. He was a crazy Vietnam Vet, communist, multiculturalist, anti-imperialist, America hater and to top it off he was a fake Indian. He managed to get hired not in spite of being crazy but because he was crazy.

    It is just classic. I can’t imagine any one doing more to satirize and discredit the academic left than Ward Churchill. Somebody ought to give that guy a medal.

  3. Good riddance!

    In all the talk about plagiarism, nobody mentions that his take on the World Trade Center tragedy was not original either.

  4. I couldnt have siad it better myself john.

  5. Oh, boo hoo! Tenure is so hard to get!

    Which is true, but tenure is a stupid concept anyway. How many of you out there have tenure at your chosen profession? Anyway, I doubt that brilliant academics have a hard time getting tenure. The mediocre don’t deserve it anyway.

  6. yeah i am one of those more diversity in the facualty guys…but this sucks i don’t want them to fire moonbats like churchhill i just want them to hire more wingnuts.

  7. I urinate in his lying mouth.

  8. Churchill was hired within a racist protocol that compromises consideration of academic merit with considerations of ethnicity. Such an arrangement is likely to engender shoddy scholarship, as well as deception in order to fit into a favored group status of the racist protocol. The latter amplifies the former.

    By association, the lefty buffoon harmed the case of critics of our government’s tragic foreign policy.

  9. John is absolutely right that the Churchill story is almost a cartoon of every stereotypte of the academic left–and yet it’s real.
    But he exposes the right, too.

    How many times was Churchill offered, not as a poster child or exhibit for the excesses of affirmative action, but as an actual speaker on Fox News, to comment on the events of the day? He’s never been elected to anything, he obtained his job through pandering and fraud, the only people who would show up to hear him speak are a few college kids who’ve been smoking too much pot–in short, he is as big a nobody as ever walked the earth.

    Yet Fox News helped make him a celebrity, as a way of throwing red meat to their viewers, as if he were a representative of liberals, or Democrats, or antiwar people, or something. Apparently, the folks at Fox think their viewers are REALLY dumb. And apparently, they’re right.

  10. jbd,

    What a bullshit post.

  11. For a non-leftist, as well as a more cogent critique of our government’s foreign escapades, go here:

    http://www.antiwar.com/

  12. Thank God this country can still take care of the things that really matter.

  13. KS, you might want to change your user name. Someone might mistake you for some kind of grotesque bigot.

  14. I never had one on the level with Ward Churchill, but I certainly had some crazy-ass professors in school.

    The funniest one was “Dr. Ali” who said he was from Somalia. I kid you not, on the first day of class he introduced himself like so:

    “My name is Ali. I am THE MAN! In my country the people live in trees.”

    He had a custom made T-Shirt with his face on it. Underneath his picture were the words “I Am The Man.” He wore it to every class I ever attended.

    I had this other prof. who was a total nutjob. He taught Statistics, but absolutely refused to explain any of the work. His lectures were diatribes against the school’s administration who refused to grant adjunct faculty like him benefits. He routinely had one girl in tears because he would berate her in class:

    Girl: Could you explain number 37 on last night’s homework? I didn’t get it.

    Prof: (Screaming) What? Are you a kid or a college student? Or are you just stupid? It’s not my job to explain everything to you idiots ten times in a row! I told you yesterday and if you’re to dumb to get it then there’s nothing I can do!

    Girl: Ummm…

    He gave me an A in the class, even though I skipped the final and made no effort to make it up. Why? My guess is that he was either too insane to really keep a gradebook, or because he was a half-assed cello player and I was a music major and he must have felt some kind of creepy connection with me.

  15. My favorite quote from crazy statistics teacher:

    “People who take the Bible seriously need to learn what is a metaphor (sic)”

    From Dr. Ali:

    “If you are late I lock the door on your ass. Don’t cry to me about your girlfriend because I am Dr. Ali and I don’t need that damn shit.”

    Seriously

  16. 3rdpoliceman,

    Where did you go to school? How long ago? Are the profs still teaching there?
    I smell a great reality tv show.

  17. That was at Riverside Community College (an untapped reservoir of insanity if you ask me). They had a kickass music program though. I have no idea if these guys are still working, and since this was in ’97 or ’98 I doubt it. For the sake of the students, I kind of hope not.

  18. I smell a great reality tv show.

    That would be awesome. Lock ten crazy professors in a house, or better yet a dorm, and put cameras everywhere. Every week they have a contest to see who can deliver the most astounding and inappropriate lecture and have America vote. The last one left gets tenure. Ryan Seacrest could host, and the judges would be Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, and Susan Estrich.

    I’d watch every week.

  19. The last one left gets tenure.

    That seals it. Brilliant!

  20. The headline “Churchill Surrenders” is cute but misleading. From TFA:

    Churchill has 10 days to appeal which entails making a request to have the university president or chancellor forward the recommendation to the faculty senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure. A special panel will then conduct hearings on the matter and make a recommendation to the president on whether grounds for dismissal are supported.

    [snip]

    Churchill’s attorney promptly called a news conference Monday afternoon to announce his client does intend to appeal to the tenure committee. He also mentioned going to court.
    Churchill, who ignited a firestorm by calling some of the World Trade Center victims “little Eichmanns” in an essay he wrote after Sept. 11, 2001, has vowed to sue the school if he was fired.

  21. Oh boy, Barbara Streisand gets to be the authentic face of the Left now. Although sometimes I wished it was as easy as my officially changing my name to “The Left.”

  22. I have a friend who is a Poly sci prof at Southwest Minnisota State University. Being a college and in a place like Minnisota it is full of leftwing nutjobs. My friend is a pretty mainline Republican and kept it to himself until he got tenure. Had they known he was a Republican he would never have gotten tenure, so much for the spirit of diversity. Anyway, 3rd Policeman’s stat prof would fit right in at SWMSU. The poly sci profs spend much of their time filing formal grievences and lawsuits (yes lawsuits) against each other over percieved and actual slights recieved at faculty meetings. Most of the department is literally not on speaking terms with each other and they are all leftist and allegedly agree with each other. It is pure insanity.

  23. “Oh, boo hoo! Tenure is so hard to get!

    Which is true, but tenure is a stupid concept anyway. How many of you out there have tenure at your chosen profession? Anyway, I doubt that brilliant academics have a hard time getting tenure. The mediocre don’t deserve it anyway.”

    The point is that if you can get tenure specifically for being in the right ethnic group and saying the right things, then whole edifice doesn’t mean much does it? More importantly, I am sure there are lots of qualified people out there who would love to teach at CU but didn’t get the chance because the color of their skin and political views were wrong.

  24. I agree with kbd. If it hadn’t been for the jingoistic indignation of the Right over a few inane comments, Churchill would have faded into well deserved obscurity and had been tenure yanked with little fan fair. Now he can wrap himself in martyrdom as yet another victim of the “Little Eichmanns” and get himself a steady income on the leftist lecture circuit.

    Yes, the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech, but at times ignoring the speaker can be just as effective.

  25. Akira,

    That is why you have to respect the guy so much. He has made a complete career out of outright fraud and he will continue to get away with it and make more money than probably you or I will doing it.

    Also, if the Right hadn’t picked up on him, no way would he have had his tenure yanked. Who are you kidding? He was a communist Indian for God’s sake. No way would the PC pantiwastes at CU have ever held him to account for his plagerism and lack of credentials. If they ever had any intention of doing anything but giving him perminent employment as a diversity trophy he would have never been hired in the first place. It is not like it was hard to figure out he was a fake. They just didn’t want to know and didn’t look. Had he not gotten greedy and stirred up the rightwing he would have toiled away in obscurity until he collected his TIAA CREF retirement. Then again, since he will now be making a fortune on the lecture circuit instead of being a nobody college professor, maybe that was his plan all along. Either way you have to marvel at the guy.

  26. Edit: and could have his tenure yanked…

  27. John,

    Fair point, but I still hate tenure.

    “America needs fewer teachers and more autodidacts!”

    –Me

    (Did I just quote myself? WTF?!?!)

  28. Also, if the Right hadn’t picked up on him, no way would he have had his tenure yanked. Who are you kidding? He was a communist Indian for God’s sake. No way would the PC pantiwastes at CU have ever held him to account for his plagerism and lack of credentials.

    I disagree: If the “PC pantiwastes at CU” and American academia were really as leftist as you claim then they wouldn’t have fired him at all no matter how much idiots like Sean “Little Goebels” Hannity bloviated about him. The process of peer review still exists; he would have been caught eventually.

  29. Real Bill,

    I hate tenure to. It just makes for bad profs who get wierder and weirder as they get older because they know they are not accountable to anyone.

  30. Akira,

    If peer review meant anything he would have never been hired. Every tenure position gets 100s of applications all of which are from people with legit PHDs. If the peer review system works, how did Churchill ever get hired over no doubt 10s or maybe 100s of more qualified people in the first place?

  31. John,

    Tenure is bad enough for profs, but at least somewhat justified on the grounds that we may want profs to push the envelope a bit. But WTF is the deal with tenure for K-12 teachers? They are specifically NOT supposed to be pushing the envelope. They are teaching minors, and captive ones at that!

  32. “The poly sci profs spend much of their time filing formal grievences and lawsuits (yes lawsuits) against each other over percieved and actual slights recieved at faculty meetings.”

    John, I second that motion! I have a friend who is a generally liberal Democrat that teaches English Lit at a university. And even though a liberal, he made a statement in his class recently that, although he doesn’t agree with her politics, he admired Condaleeza Rice for his grace, erudition, respectable manner, and thought she was a good role model for young black women.

    Now he’s facing charges of academic misconduct by some young, tackhead black Democratic female with an ideological axe to grind for just saying a kind word about Dr. Rice … even though he’s a liberal Democrat!

    Thoughtcrime …

  33. BAI,

    I’d feel some sympathy for your friend if I didn’t think that all teachers that express their personal political views in class are assholes. Express them outside of class. A classroom is not a soapbox.

  34. he admired Condaleeza Rice for his grace, erudition, respectable manner, and thought she was a good role model for young black women.

    I don’t think that is academic misconduct, but you must understand that a white person saying that they respect a black person’s speaking skills and manner can be very offensive. Have you ever seen this website?

  35. If the peer review system works, how did Churchill ever get hired over no doubt 10s or maybe 100s of more qualified people in the first place?

    Because, let us be honest, this isn’t a real department in a real discipline. Being an angry pseudo-Indian doesn’t get you very far in physics or math.

  36. you know that churchill made the big time when he became a south park parody (the kids learning from a bunch of college hippies to call everybody “little eichmans” was classic

    peer review- it’s like rush week without the beer bongs and sorority girls.

    what’s the frigging point then?

  37. I kept wondering who on the Left could be Coulter’s counterpoint. And now I have it, Ward Churchill. He matches her shrill insansity and in-yer-face offensiveness, blow for blow. Any chance we could get these two together for a remake of the Odd Couple? Or how about a twisted version of All in the Family with Coulter as Archie, Churchill as Edith, Michael Moore as Meathead, and….the statue of Britney Spears posing pregnant in the doggy style position as Gloria. Meathead/Moore could talk to it as though it were a real person, and in subtitles it could answer in non sequiter inanities.

    (I’ve watched too much TV in my past life).

  38. “peer review- it’s like rush week without the beer bongs and sorority girls.”

    I’m gonna use this and say I made it up.

    I know a guy who was a boss in a major research university who was constantly being called by corporate and political flunkies and asked to fire professors — often scientists who had published research vaguely threatening to the tomato industry or something. (Not always humanities profs, in other words.) If you abolish tenure, university faculties will be at the mercy of every imaginable political interest. If you tilt left, imagine Fox News or David Horowitz controlling what you can write; if you tilt right, imagine the New York Times or Michael Moore.

    Then again, tenure — and the process of peer review that decides tenure — has the effect of preserving bad ideas in amber. Why do humanities professors still talk about Marx? Because the people who came before them talked about Marx, and the ones before them, and . . .

    Every now and then someone proposes abolishing tenure at a research university, but it never happens, for the same reason that nations don’t unilaterally disarm. It’s a collective-action problem: even if tenure weighs down a college (creates all kinds of inefficiencies, bloats faculties with deadwood), if one college gets rid of tenure while others don’t, that college will be at a competitive disadvantage when it tries to hire top scholars. Given a choice between a tenure-track and non-tenure-track job, which would you choose?

  39. Dr. Ali is The Man, just so you know?

    At a commuter state college called Northeastern Illinois University, I was enrolled in a freshman communications class. The professor had to go to jail mid-term and another tenured member of the communications department took over. He was given to lengthy recitations of Shakespeare apropos of nothing, which was entertaining. He was also gravely concerned about amalgam, the modern material used in dental fillings, and its possible deleterious on our health- indeed, so concerned that he brought it up every class session, without fail. He also- I am not making this up- graced us with the tale of a bizarre, otherworldly lawsuit he and some other jamoke brought against the US Army. They would have prevailed were it not for his co-complaintant?s perfidy. So, with the upmost gravity, he stated his intention to cut out the other fellow?s tongue, then kill him.

  40. Man, I obviously went to the wrong school. I thought that a university that used to have a marijuana leaf as a symbol would be full of nutcases, but I got nothing on you guys.

  41. I’m a college history professor. I don’t have tenure yet, but I can’t wait until I do, simply because when you teach a classroom of brats and make them work for their grades, you’re a target for just about everybody. I still have parents calling me to get me to change the grades I gave their 22-23 yr. old (adult) children. And the biggest whiners I’ve encountered, hands down, are the conservative dads. (“Do you know who I am? Do you know how hard I can make it for you?”) All that rhetoric about meritocracy doesn’t mean a thing to those guys. I just want tenure so I can tell these folks to go fuck themselves whenever they come into my office.

  42. Larry,

    I don’t agree with much that my Union (CTA – California Teacher’s Association) has to say, but the one place I do agree is regarding tenure.

    It’s far too easy, especially these days, to make spurious complaints against a teacher and have them taken seriously. I can’t count the number of times either myself or colleagues have been called into the Principal’s office to explain my grading policy to some whack-job parent who claims I am discriminating (racially, sexually, etc.) against their little angel who I flunked because she didn’t do a single assignment all term and acted like a jackass to boot. Or how come I dragged a kid up to the Dean because I saw him punch another kid in the face in full view of three other teachers. And so on. It’s a monthly occurence in some public schools.

    Sure, there’s a lot of abuse of tenure with do-nothing teachers who are unassailable but you know what? Having tenure is the only thing that let’s me sleep at nigh knowing that there are several parents who want to get me fired just because they think they can. It protects good teachers who are doing their jobs much more than it does bad ones.

  43. I once had A Psychology prof at a community college who called all the females in class “Sexy Legs” and all the men “Captain America”. All the other profs had to do evaluations at the end of the semester except him. He was head of the department.
    Most of the CC profs I had were quite good though and I’m pretty sure none of them ever resorted to lying about their ethnicity. Of course, that might be why they were stuck at the Community College level 🙂

  44. Here’s something I just remembered about crazy Statistics Professor.

    The school I transferred to after J.C. had a little cafe on campus that would have local acts in on Fridays. They served beer so you know I was there every Friday.

    One day, who shows up on stage? That’s right, crazy Statistics Professor. He’s playing a violin, reciting poetry, and – I swear to God I am not making this up- wearing a dress.

    His poetry was awful, like in the Hitchhiker’s Guide where your head explodes if you hear a Vogon reciting poems? Yeah, that bad. In the mental battle between cheap beer and brain-destroying “poetry”, the beer won out.

    After his set, or rather when he’d been sufficiently booed into leaving, he recognized me and came to my table. He proceeded to put down every member of the audience as “rich white fascists,” and hit me up for money.

  45. I would say that tenure is a lesser evil. I know a guy who was asked by a dean to change a grade, even though the student had earned his bad grade fair and square. My friend is not yet tenured. So he did it. But on the paperwork for the grade change he wrote a nice version of “Because my boss told me to.” (I like to think of my friend as Captain Kirk, finding ways to resolve the impossible dilemma between integrity and survival.)

    That “Because my boss told me” comment eventually got the Dean in trouble. But a critical mass of problems had to build up before the Dean could be busted. If my untenured friend had simply refused then the trouble would have fallen on my friend, not the Dean.

    OK, maybe I just made the case against tenure, since my friend found a way out of it. Still, my point is that academics have to do some very unpopular things in order to do their jobs well (e.g. publish data that contradicts a senior colleague’s hypothesis, give bad grades to the children of the wealthy and well-connected, and oppose ill-conceived but politically correct curriculum proposals). A measure of security seems to be a lesser evil. Tenure may be an over-correction that errs too heavily on the side of security, but I totally see why it exists.

    What would I do if I could design the system? Damned if I know. Probably not full tenure, but definitely a ton of protection for people who do the unpopular things that need to be done.

  46. thoreau,

    I know what you mean. The one and only time I ever changed a grade was for a kid whose mom was the PTA president, and later on the school board. Pretty well connected. Even though I had sent a progress report warning that her kid was doing poorly she claimed that I hadn’t given her notice. Apparently, she expected a personal phone call in addition to the note that was mailed. Not to mention that I dared give her child whose academic powers were (in her mind) magical a “C.”
    Not even a D or F.

    Even though I knew that legally not even the Superintendent could force me to change a grade, I went ahead and did it anyway. I wish I could have left a comment like your friend. I was a first-year teacher (No tenure until year four) and it was a hill I just didn’t want to die on. I regret it, but I think I made the smart choice because this lady could have made things VERY difficult for me.

  47. I’m still not impressed. None of these examples are any worse than what average folks deal with every day in their jobs. Do people go into academia because they can’t handle the real world?

  48. I’m still not impressed. None of these examples are any worse than what average folks deal with every day in their jobs. Do people go into academia because they can’t handle the real world?

    Reasonable minds can differ on the value of tenure. The major difference between “academia” and the “real world” is that the average cubicle drone gets lauded and promoted for doing their job well. In education, you get attacked for it.

    I’m not whining here, but have you ever taught? It’s a hell of a lot harder than a lot of jobs in the “real world.”

  49. If you are valuable enough to merit permanent employment then your boss will act accordingly. Look, most folks work because they have to pay the bills, and teachers are no exception. Where is the incentive when you can?t be fired?

  50. No, I haven’t taught anything but one lecture for a prof who was out of town. (Guess what? More than one student told me that they wished I was their teacher. Why? Because the prof was old and tenured and didn’t really give a crap and I made a real effort.) I did spend a ridiculous number of years in school and got to know many teachers well, and I saw far more abuse of students than of teachers.

    The major difference between “academia” and the “real world” is that the average cubicle drone gets lauded and promoted for doing their job well. In education, you get attacked for it.

    Wow! The average cubicle drone’s life is nothing as you describe. They suffer abusive bosses, incompetent coworkers, angry clients, unpaid overtime (salary workers), pitiful amounts of time off, etc., etc. Oh, and on top of it all, they are forced to pay into Social Security, whereas teachers (at least in California) instead contribute to a real retirement fund.

    I’m still not impressed.

    Both worlds have their ups and downs, but tenure is a special protection that is not available to the general public. (Not that I want the general public to have it.)

  51. Real Bill-

    I totally hear what you’re saying. The problem is that in almost any other business, if the customer is happy then you’ve done the job well. Period. There may be internal politics, it may be necessary to give bad news to the boss, and sometimes it may be necessary to politely tell a client that, regretfully, it is simply impossible to fulfill the request. Still, if the customer is happy then the job was, by definition, done well and you’ve improved your position. You may still have to fight others who want to take credit, but at least that happy customer is a boon.

    In academia, sometimes a job done well means an unhappy student.

    Now, I said that I’m not a fan of tenure. I said that tenure is simply a lesser evil. I’ve worked in the for-profit education sector. I liked it, and if the right opportunity came along I’d do it again. There was no chance for tenure, but I was able to please my bosses by doing my job well. (e.g. My course materials were part of a package that was licensed to another for-profit school, earning me a nice fat raise.) That is why I’m not a die-hard fan of tenure.

    But I’m well aware that my success in the for-profit education sector wasn’t solely due to good student evaluations and quality course materials. It was also the result of having a department chair who shielded her instructors from some unsavory practices by the people in suits, and who knew that the only way to maintain our academic reputation (and hence our brand reputation) was to maintain standards, even if that meant pissing off some customers (students).

    If I had been supervised by some of the people in suits, I can assure you that things would have been very different.

    The bottom line is that faculty members need a certain amount of protection from whiny customers (students) in order to maintain the reputation that makes other students willing to shell out big bucks for an education. Whether that is accomplished with tenure or with a wise and protective department chair, we need a mechanism that won’t compromise quality for the short-term satisfaction of our most difficult customers.

    In short, the customer isn’t always right in academia. And the private sector knows that, hence the graduates of my former institution do quite well for themselves in the job market.

  52. If you are valuable enough to merit permanent employment then your boss will act accordingly.

    Agreed. However, most people have only one boss. Maybe two or three if you’re in a big company. I’ve only got one boss too, but I’ve got 100+ (parents) people who think they are my bosses. And my boss listens to those people. A case could be made that I’m working for the public, so I ought to be accountable to parents. OK, but a lot of parents don’t care so much about their kids getting treated fairly as they do about getting their way at all costs. I don’t mind hearing from parents when they’ve got reasonable requests, as many do. But it’s the ones who think they are your boss that are the problem.

    Look, most folks work because they have to pay the bills, and teachers are no exception. Where is the incentive when you can?t be fired?

    I agree to a point. Yes, a major reason I work is because I need money. But another, larger reason is that it is something important that I do and I take pride in doing my job well. “Most folks” I think feel the same way. People become Doctors, Lawyers, etc. for the money of course, but there’s more to it than that. Your work, to a large degree gives your life meaning.

    Do you really need the constant threat of being fired to motivate you at work? Or do you do it because you enjoy it and it makes you happy? If you need the sword of termination hanging over your head to work hard then I’d suggest you’re in the wrong business.

  53. Keep in mind that academics are a weird mix of servant and authority figure. As such, they need to be protected (to a certain extent) from the whims of (some) customers. But they also need to be protected (to a certain extent) from the whims of their colleagues (who, being authority figures themselves, are subject to corruption). This is especially true in research.

    I’m not saying tenure is the best solution. But it is an unusual situation. Wise and protective department chairs are a good alternative.

    And, as I said before, the private sector is aware of this. Graduates of tough institutions with high standards and cutting-edge faculty get good jobs.

  54. thoreau,

    You make some good points, but I do think that your view of work in the private sector is far too rosy. I suppose that we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  55. in academia, sometimes a job done well means an unhappy student.

    Thoreau, you nailed it. I wish I could have said it as well.

    I’m not a huge fan of tenure in principle, although I definitely want it for myself. What I mean is, I can see the logic behind the arguments of people who oppose it, and even agree sometimes. But I know firsthand what can happen to unlucky teachers without it. People in jobs like this need protection.

    It’s the same reason that Doctors and Lawyers have malpractice insurance. Sometimes they are sued unfairly over making tough decisions. People are often unhappy with the results, even when the Doc. or Esq. has acted legally and appropriately. And malpractice insurance could (in theory) protect sloppy or incompetent people but in the end it helps more than it hurts.

    Ok, I know that there’s a major difference between tenure and insurance, but the logic behind both is the same.

  56. One other thing that fans of the real world might actually appreciate about academics and accountability:

    In grad school, my Ph.D. advisor said that the best course evaluation wouldn’t be written by students at the end of the semester. Instead, it would be written by students ten years later. If the material made an impression on you, if you still remember it and perhaps even find it useful in your career, then that counts far more than “His lectures are always interesting. Assignments were at the appropriate level. Grading was fair.”

    This is, of course, almost infeasible to do on any sort of systematic basis. Still, one could contemplate alumni surveys or alumni awards for faculty. I was asked to do that once, when a professor was up for promotion, but I think I was asked because I was a recent graduate from a small department, so the people involved knew me and knew that I knew him. I haven’t been asked since then, or surveyed on any sort of systematic basis.

    Oh, and Real Bill, regarding your response: My view of the private sector isn’t rosy. My experience at a for-profit college showed me some rather unsavory practices as well as some very good practices. I saw both sides, and I succeeded there because I worked very hard on my lessons. (Teaching isn’t easy, especially if you want to develop materials that are useful for other instructors, and perhaps even compete with other instructors, as I did, to get your materials included in packages that are sold to other for-profit schools.)

    But everything I’ve ever heard tells me that a happy client is always, always, always a good thing. It may not be enough to save you from office politics and bad bosses, but it is far better to have a happy client than an unhappy client. In academia, however, sometimes you have to make the client unhappy to do your job well.

  57. Besides, there are ways of getting around tenure and any principal or dean of department chair worth his salt can get rid of a bad teach/professor if they need to.

  58. Okay, I’m off this thread after this post. I see now that my problem is that I don’t think teaching is especially important work; that is, it’s not significantly more important than most other jobs. This is certainly due to my own experience. I found teachers to be more of a hindrance than a help in my education “career”. They were often self-important people that insisted on wasting my time by forcing my to listen to them when I didn’t need to. You see for me, the best teachers are the authors of well-written books. I didn’t need to listen to the teacher drone on and on, I just read the damn book! I’d often sit in the back of class so that I could do my work without the teacher yelling at me to stop and listen. I rarely bothered with office hour because I actually spent the mental energy to figure things out on my own. If I needed a second opinion, I’d just refer to another book.

    (The partial exception to this was when I was taking graduate physics courses. My profs were helpful then. But graduate-level physics is far more difficult than anything learned in K-12 or lower division college courses.)

  59. ?Do you really need the constant threat of being fired to motivate you at work? Or do you do it because you enjoy it and it makes you happy??

    I work because I need to pay the bills, I chose the particular job because I like it more than most others I?ve tried and I?m good at it, and I work hard because I will be compensated accordingly. I?ve done more fulfilling work, like construction; it?s fun and you have something substantial to show for your hard work (it was also trashing my body). Really all I have to show for my hard work now is graphs, graphs and manuscripts. Not quite so rewarding. Incidentally, I?m at a point in my career where I need to decide if I am going to attempt to secure a tenure track position at a university or just work somewhere. I believe I?ll just work somewhere; I?d rather ?punch a clock?.

    My wife (a physician) is taking some time off from her education while I move around for my career, but in 2009 she is scheduled to start a two year fellowship. The point of a fellowship is to get above the menial work of the average doctor. Anyway, last night I asked her if she would complete the fellowship and work if we came into money (lottery, rich old uncle, whatever). She would, but not me. It?s clich? but ?I work to live, not live to work?. I can live a fulfilling enjoyable life without all that other crap; but that?s me, I?m kind of introverted or otherwise self-absorbed- I could fill a lifetime with shallow gratification. This weekend for example; two days at a secluded lake in the high Uinta mountains with my week old Sage fly rod and Ross reel, courtesy of my wife. Not to brag ?.

  60. Another factor that complicates the market model (teachers as producers, students as consumers) is the devotion to the practices of one’s discipline. As a history professor, I essentially have three masters — my students, my institution, and my discipline. I think tenure serves to moderate the disturbances that can emanate from each of them, often simultaneously. Students need to find me worthwhile, otherwise my classes will be empty and my evaluations will suffer; my institution needs to be assured of my fitness as an instructor and as an employee; and I need to feel that I am upholding the standards of my discipline, regardless of what others (i.e. students, the institution, and the general public) think. I think that tenure steadies the trigger finger.

    By the way, it’s commonly believed that academics are shitty teachers because they have tenure and don’t give a damn. I don’t think this is true. Academics are shitty teachers because they are (traditionally) only rewarded for their scholarship and are woefully undertrained as educators. They don’t give a shit about teaching because at many schools (not mine), good teaching is not required for tenure. Why spend all of the time preparing for classes — and believe me, good teaching is difficult and extremely time-consuming — when hiring and firing decisions are based predominantly on scholarship?

    This state of affairs is beginning to change, but only slowly.

  61. Ward Churchill does research?

    “Oh No You Di’in’t! An Espistimological Study of Getting Invited Onto Cable News Programs”

  62. Larry-

    My experience was that the best and worst teachers were associate and full professors, while assistant professors tended to be competent teachers who met expectations but rarely exceeded them. Good teaching takes time that only a person with job security can afford. And the old guy who doesn’t give a shit can’t be fired no matter how awful his evaluations are. But assistant professors have to walk a fine line between spending too much time on teaching (less research time) and doing a bad job that results in angry students complaining to the administrators.

    Strangely enough, the best and worst classes that I took from my department were taught by the same guy. He was awful in the lecture hall and brilliant in the lab. I blame the department chair, who should have assigned him exclusively to lab classes.

  63. Thoreau, I think there might be two things going on here. First, just because your assistant professors were adequate teachers (and your tenured professors inadequate) doesn’t necessarily mean that tenure is responsible for the discrepancy. It could be that it’s a generational issue, since recent Ph.D.s are likely to have had more training as teachers and are likely to emphasize that aspect of their “portfolio.” Also, I would be interested to know how many of your assistant professors who were decent teachers ended up getting tenure. At many of the bigger schools, and even the prestigious smaller ones, good teachers are passed over for tenure and replaced by good researchers. I know that some of the best teachers I had as a student are no longer in academia at all, for whatever reason. So, again, it could be an incentive issue — good research=tenure, good teaching=waiter.

    Along the same lines, although the old dude will never be fired, no matter how bad his teaching is, it’s very likely that the young dude won’t be fired no matter how bad his teaching is either. In fact, it could be that good teaching evaluations would hurt him. As has been suggested in this thread, there is a feeling in academia that if you do get good evaluations, it means you’re doing something wrong — that you don’t require your students to work hard, etc. So, tenure committees (most of which are filled with bad teachers who get terrible evaluations from students) have a tendency to be suspicious this part of the review process.

    At my school, we operate much closer to the market model. If you get bad evaluations from students, you absolutely will NOT get tenure, no matter how many books and articles you’ve published and no matter how famous you are. A lot of schools say this is the case, but very few actually follow through on it. I was once at a conference where the issue of teaching in tenure decisions was discussed, and I told them that student evaluations were hands down the most important factor in granting tenure at our institution. Some in the group responded, “Yeah, it’s important for us too.” And I said, “No, really. If you have bad evaluations, you have absolutely NO chance of tenure,” and they were incredulous. They asked how we could trust students to make such an important decision, and I responded that if students couldn’t make the call, then who could? But this is extremely rare. It’s becoming less rare, but as far as I know, we’re still in the minority.

    Of course, it’s a fine line because some students will give you bad evaluations simply because you ask too much of them. In my teaching experience, I have found that some students give evaluations based on their grades: if they get an A, so do you; if they get an F, so do you. They think they’re buying a product (a degree), and they want that product to be as good as possible (4.0). Other students, generally better prepared students, are much more discerning. They, too, are buying a product, but the product is different. Rather than purchasing a degree, they are purchasing an education, and they realize that being educated has nothing to do with having a degree or a high GPA. These students are much more likely, in my experience, to dislike “easy” teachers and to give high marks to professors who challenge them, regardless of what their final grade might be. Thus, it has a lot to do with what students think college is all about.

  64. Larry-

    To be fair, my sample of assistant professors was fairly small. Keep in mind, I didn’t say that the assistant professors gave GREAT classes, I said that they were within acceptable limits. My acceptable limits were severely dumbed down by some grossly incompetent teachers who had tenure. My acceptable limits were any guy who could show up, present the stuff in a comprehensible manner, and not leave me wondering why the hell I was bothering to attend. That’s a far cry from the ones who would demonstrate great insight, take it to a deeper level than I could get from reading the book, make the lecture worth attending, and generally engage me.

    So, the guy who basically acted as a supplement to the textbook was acceptable, because my comparison was a guy who couldn’t explain anything and frequently rambled about the deep insights that the establishment physicists don’t want you to know about, man. (Those deep insights that they don’t want you to know about? Page 1 of every textbook. Clearly, somebody had fallen off the deep end.) Or the guy who would show up, explain something so badly that it only became more confusing, act bewildered when it turned out that we hadn’t yet learned any of the things that he was basing his analysis on (he had the bright idea of merging a graduate elective with a required course for juniors) then hand us over to a lab TA who made it clear that he didn’t want to be there. Or the guy who would half-assedly solve a few problems, then talk about basketball and pretty girls on TV, then solve some more problems half-assedly, all the while remarking that most of us probably didn’t care about this.

    However, all of the best ones had tenure. And they significantly outnumbered the tenured nightmares. I’m inclined to believe that the good tenured teachers had the luxury of devoting time to their teaching, and that the assistant professors were mostly trying to make sure that they did a better job than the obviously awful ones.

    As to evaluations, I think one needs to read the comments as well as tally the scores. If the negative scores are associated with comments like “He gave too many assignments” or “This stuff is too hard” then the evaluations should actually be seen as a good thing. OTOH, if the negative scores are associated with comments like “Obviously unprepared” or “He never explained anything, he just went off on tangents that had nothing to do with the assignments” then there’s a problem. I recently spoke with a guy from a small liberal arts college, when he came to my institute to give a seminar on his research. He said that the philosophy at his school is that uniformly positive evaluations are a bad thing, but overall positive evaluations are a good thing. I concur. You need to read the comments to find out why the scores were bad.

  65. Agreed. I would only add that sorting through evaluations is more difficult than you imagine. After all, when you get a student who says, “He never explained anything, he just went off on tangents that had nothing to do with the assignments,” it isn’t clear to me what kind of student we’re dealing with. I have had students who — no joke — don’t know what a “king” is when they step foot in my classes. They’ve heard the term, of course — Burger King, King of Beers — but really can’t give even the most basic definition of what a king is — e.g. “the leader of a country.” It’s like one of those Jaywalking episodes on Leno. So, when a student says that a professor “goes off on tangents,” it may not in fact be true. I teach a modern world history survey, and in discussing topics such as colonialism, it’s important to discuss developments in several parts of the world — Africa, India, the Americas. A student who is not prepared for college (i.e. doesn’t know what a king is or can’t find his own country on a map) or is unprepared for class (didn’t do the reading) will be lost. It might seem as though the instructor is discussing things that are tangential, when in fact he/she isn’t. Obviously, if a professor is talking about something completely unrelated, this is probably not the case. However, I often add illustrations or anecdotes that are meant to elucidate, but may very well confuse the confused. This is what is so difficult about discussing this issue with people who are generally curious and well-educated. They often have little idea as to how clueless many college students are. I have stories that would astound you . . .

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