On the day the US same sex marriage decision came down in June, I posted a short comment on Facebook comparing the privileges of marriage to the privileges of tenure. Given that many of those who see the quest for same-sex marriage as a project oriented around status and property that reproduces inequality are tenured academics, I thought it be pertinent to suggest out that the same could be said of the tenure system.
Here is the original post:
(Warning–polemic alert, and only half tongue in cheek at that.) I agree with the critique of marriage. It certainly reproduces privilege. It’s a status the state uses to distribute resources inequitably. It’s enmeshed with property rights. It replaces the radical political imagination of the outsider with the comfortable and limited horizon of respectable society. But here’s the thing–in all these ways, marriage is lot like tenure for academics. So why are we not also calling for the abolition of tenure? #tenureismoredomesticatingthanmarriage.
The point I was trying to make is that those of us in privileged positions in the university who rightly critique the distributive injustice of marriage are probably working down the hall from adjuncts who make 20% of what we do, often teach more, often lack benefits, and don’t have a guarantee of lifetime employment. A few people got what I was saying and really liked the point, but what was most fascinating was that many of the tenured academics who commented were just not able to fathom the analogy at all. They tended to focus on the importance of academic freedom–which I hadn’t mentioned–but not on the material things that really make tenure so much better than adjunct teaching: much better pay, less teaching, benefits, an office, a reasonable teaching schedule. In this case, it’s much easier to unpack–or even see–others privilege than your own.