A specter haunting the academy today is of an intellectually wizened white male professoriate refusing to step aside for au courant, energetic, ambitious, and of course diverse younger faculty. Part of a larger concern with tenure itself, the fear in question is that tenured old-timers, of which I am one, are holding fast to financial and administrative perks, limiting institutional control and stifling institutional development in the process.
Sometimes the fear is expressed openly. Intractable seniors, according to a recent, widely debated Chronicle Review post (“The Forever Professors”) often “crush the young” through their “selfish[ness].” A law school colleague argues that, having enjoyed our share of university bounty, responsible seniors should facilitate succession by quickly and gracefully exiting the stage. Such a development might be contrasted with what is actually happening today: seniors in effect extorting rich buyouts to retire.
More of the time, of course, the critique is not explicit. Yet who among us seniors has not felt the sting of “what are you still doing here, gramps” looks from junior law faculty and deans?
A visceral response to critics may be tempting here, but we must show our maturity. Beating up the young for impertinence would show both ignorance and hypocrisy. Inter-generational, oedipal struggle, we have learned, is the way of the world, and, it must be admitted, many of us felt the same way 30 years ago about our predecessors in law. They would never have gotten their jobs in the competitive environment of 1985, we self-righteously told ourselves, just like we would not get ours in today’s environment, when two good law review articles are required just for a job interview.