Within contemporary debates about the present and future of the university, academic freedom often functions in a Neoplatonic manner—which is to say, it functions as that eternal and unfettered form that guides the mundane material practices of academic life (most obviously, tenure and its lifetime job security). Without the Platonic cover of academic freedom, the exorbitant job guarantees of tenure would, it seems, have precious little reason to exist. However, in the Platonic spirit of academic freedom, I want to propose that we jettison the entire notion of academic freedom as the primary theoretical cover for tenure and examine—dare I say affirm?—tenure as a practice in its own right, as a business practice in a particular labor situation. While most recent analysis suggests no future for tenure precisely because of its economic costs, I argue that tenure is in fact “rational and maximizing” in the present cultural-capital economy of university administration, teaching, and research. In short, this essay argues that it's the practice of tenure, rather than the idea of academic freedom, that needs to be expanded, affirmed, or saved in the context of the corporate university.
Jeffrey T. Nealon; The Economics of Academic Freedom, or Plato's P & T Committee. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2009; 108 (4): 751–764. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2009-018
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