Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sex and Tenure

By Richard Vedder

Two good economists, Ryan Amacher and Roger Meiners, wrote a pretty good book a few years ago about the academy, Faulty Towers. They did say that most of the criticism of tenure was unfounded, and that that institution did not prevent universities from getting rid of undesirable faculty members. In a review of the book, I somewhat dissented, saying that while that may be legally true, as a practical matter tenure raises the cost of bringing about desired personnel changes.

I was reminded of all of this when I read in INSIDE HIGHER ED about the tenure battle at the University of Michigan Law School involving Peter Hammer. Prof. Hammer was denied tenure because the faculty voted 18 to 12 in favor --two votes shy of the necessary two-thirds for approval. Hammer, of course, sued (meanwhile, he is teaching at nearby Wayne State law school).

There are no doubt many issues in the case, including the usual ones about the quality and quantity of academic research. It is always a judgment call about where to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to justify the awarding of a lifetime employment contract. But Hammer seems to be basing much of his argument over issues relating to the fact that he is gay.

Sexual orientation should have absolutely nothing to do with tenure cases. To be sure, if Hammer can demonstrate that members voted against him primarily because of his sexual orientation, that would be an appropriate argument to make in trying to overturn the decision. But Hammer is arguing that persons belonging to churches with an aversion to homosexuality are, therefore, guilty of discriminatory behavior that should render their vote void. Under that reasoning, no members of certain religions could vote in cases involving gays. Perhaps Muslims could not vote in cases involving Christians. People trying to use their sexual preferences, their race, their gender, or whatever group characteristic they have to overcome adverse evaluations of individual behavior do not have my respect. I have no idea whether Prof. Hammer should have been tenured or not, but I hope that efforts to try to overturn a vote based on the religious preferences of faculty members will be unsuccessful.

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