Archive for January 8, 2011

The Idea of a University: an Essay in Support of Professor Tom Garvin’s Thesis of Grey Philistines Taking Over Our Universities, Jim Mc Kernan, East Carolina (via Paddy Healy’s Blog)

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a new message (Jan 2011) from Professor McKernan in Response to recent plans by Irish University authorities to restrict academic freedom and undermine the right to tenure under Croke Park Deal
The original essay is linked below

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Necessary Rights for Irish Academics

Jim McKernan
Professor of Education,
East Carolina University, North Carolina, USA

Academic freedom is the right of the faculty member to select one’s materials, methods , pedagogy and points of view in teaching one’s discipline. That is to be empowered with a “voice”. Academic freedom is an absolute necessity for a democratic society. It pertains to both teaching (freedom of speech) and research (search for truth). These aspects of the academic life are indispensable for the success of the university. Faculty need to be free of the constraints of censorship and interference in the conduct of their duties by the institution or other agents and agencies in the community.
The very essence of the university, for faculty and for students, is freedom to seek the truth. In fact, one might claim that the university is the only institution in our society that has the privilege of devoting itself to truth, beauty, and rationality. This undertaking is not to be taken lightly. The word university literally means ‘the community of scholars” and institutions of higher education have been created precisely for these reasons.
Let us begin by considering the issue of academic freedom. The very essence of the institution of higher education, whether it is a university or polytechnical unit, for faculty and for students, is freedom to seek the truth. In fact, one might claim that the academy is the only institution in our society that has the privilege of devoting itself to truth, beauty, and rationality. This is quite a privilege and quite a challenge; and it is not to be taken lightly. The university community has been created precisely for these reasons.
Faculty members, after a probationary period have a property right to their position and cannot be removed barring “just cause”. Tenure does not guarantee a post for life. When I was first appointed at UCD in 1981 there was one condition in my contract letter for removal-being guilty of “gross moral turpitude”. Irish academics had real tenure in those days. I do not know if new conditions for removal of tenured faculty have been introduced. In North Carolina there are I believe five reasons for justly removing a faculty member with tenure: moral turpitude; negligence; inadequate performance, financial exigency; and mental or physical incapacity. I cannot see how the NUIG Plan can work as it would be a definite “breach of contract” if one side unilaterally creates new conditions without the agreement of the faculty member. Tenure really means that one “owns their position and the right to return to that position year after year after the probationary period. I strongly suggest that the legal position of tenure in Irish law be investigated as prolegomenon to challenging the NUIG Plan.
When an individual cannot enjoy academic freedom because of real threats to continued employment, advancement or career, the educational function of the institution ceases to be realized. While this is simple to say, its import and power cannot be ignored or diminished. Academic freedom is an enormous issue and it must be protected at all cost. But is tenure important to the protection of academic freedom? The answer, clearly, is Yes. Tenure secures a working community of scholars based on accepted academic values and aims, and it guarantees that a person cannot be dismissed from that community without due process and without consideration based on well established objective academic criteria. As it turns out, the truth is not always popular, especially within circles of power and wealth. Remove the system of tenure and we shall witness a “Flight of the Dons”. That would be an unanticipated outcome of the same nonsensical market model the current grey philistines are promoting. I ask that faculty resist these plans that would undermine the current academic freedom and tenure system in Ireland.

Dr. Jim McKernan
College of Education,
East Carolina University,
Greenville USA 27858
Note: the author was previously the King Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University; Dean and Chair of the Faculty of Education, University of Limerick and College Lecturer in Education, University College Dublin. Email:

Just a little reminder of an article posted here last year

Jim McKernan Professor, Social and Cultural Foundations of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA Email Introduction Professor Tom Garvin’s eloquent and critical essay “Grey philistines taking over our universities” is cogent, timely, and also necessary reading at this critical juncture in Irish higher education. His remarks, which invit … Read More

via Paddy Healy's Blog