While reading the NY Times this morning, I ran across an article about tenure. As an aspiring PhD student and hopeful professor, I find myself thinking about things like tenure a lot. However, the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty are decreasing. I don't know if it's because they are going off of percentages, but the general trend is to hire adjunct faculty because they're cheaper than tenured professors.
The tenure system was created to keep professors from being fired for political views, religious beliefs, personal ideology, etc. I personally think the system is in serious need of overhaul--we still need to try to maintain the "independent" nature of academia without making it quite so difficult to get into the tenure club. Tenure can also saddle a university with professors that aren't good teachers; however, the university can't get rid of them because they have tenure.
The whole tenure process makes me nervous. If I want to be in academia, my best (and best paying) option is to pursue tenure. It's a difficult process from all accounts, with lots of pressures. The pressure to publish is currently one that I want to overcome.
It is comforting to know that more universities are realizing that overextended adjuncts are not going to make the best teachers. They are increasing their number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, realizing that it makes a difference on the success of students--there is a correlation between student retention and who teaches them. The article didn't really address the plight of adjuncts, however.
Adjuncts often work at several universities, teaching more than a full load of classes, to make ends meet. It's difficult for an adjunct to live comfortably off of what they can make working part-time, so they do what they need to make ends meet--which means more teaching and less time to spend with students. I think there needs to be a system to support adjuncts, especially since higher education is depending on them increasingly to teach classes.
It's really interesting to read about issues in higher education and realize that those issues will someday affect me--or have already.