In The Faculty Lounges, Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former member of the Journal's editorial-page staff, takes up the question of academic tenure—what it was intended to be, what abuses it now invites and whether it is a good idea at all. Along the way she addresses vital questions about higher education in America and its future—indeed, about the very idea of a university....The Faculty Lounges ends up being a provocative and even profound book, one that recommends itself to anyone who cares about higher education, especially anyone who is about to make a personal investment in it by signing a tuition check.
Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal turns in a lively, unsparing, and challenging look at many of the problems plaguing colleges and universities. You may not want to read it if you just wrote a big check for tuition. But if you want to learn more about higher education's problems — such as tenure, adjunct teaching, academic publishing, and lousy incentives — as well as future trends like increasing unionization, then this is the book to read. Few people will agree with all of it, but higher education leaders must respond to the challenges the author lays out because The Faculty Lounges is the long-form version of conversations a lot of parents are having.
While this book should be read widely on campus - especially by students - it also deserves to be read by others with an interest in the state of higher education. In particular, parents contemplating the college choices of their children, and trustees charged with governance will find that Riley has served up much food for thought.
It will surprise no one familiar with her work that Naomi Schaefer Riley is not a fan of tenure. In recent years, the former writer and deputy Taste editor of the Wall Street Journal and author of the book God on the Quad has emphasized themes, both in writing and on panels, of what she sees as the damage that tenure can wreak. In her new book, The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For (Ivan R. Dee), Riley fleshes out this argument, mostly through choice anecdotes, to buttress her view that tenure has become too costly to the enterprise and harmful to the quality of higher education (faculty unions come in for criticism, too, but that's mostly confined to one chapter). In prose that is vigorous and readable...Riley maps out several facets of her critique.
For Riley (God on the Quad), the problem with our university system lies with the concept of tenured faculty. Although allowing that 'tenure is not the reason why college costs so much,' Riley’s energies are largely devoted to arguing that 'tenure... is eroding American education from the inside out.' As a safeguard for academic freedom, Riley argues that there are areas of study where academic freedom is 'an almost irrelevant concept.' The path to tenure encourages 'trivial research and publication,' and once achieved, tenure means that professors 'can simply neglect their students with little or no consequence.' While 'not the primary cause of the financial problems' facing higher education, it is 'one reason colleges will have such a difficult time digging themselves out.' Tied with this harangue about tenure, Riley considers the ambiguous role of 'industry-sponsored research,' the problems faced by adjunct faculty, and the threat posed by unions. That 'military schools and religious institutions are places where tenure is least prevalent' is not an reassuring argument. In any event, according to Riley, 'faculty off the tenure track make up about 70 percent of the total and [teach] more than half the undergraduate classes,' which makes much of Riley’s quarrel tangential.
In her book, Riley deconstructs the cause of such faculty longevity, taking on one of the most cherished perks of high education, tenure. She asks whether the awarding of jobs for life, often as a result of a professor’s research and publication in rarefied journals, leads to some faculty staying too long at schools and doing too little of what ought to matter most — teaching.