How Not to Lose Your Tenured Job

Many of us right-thinking academics were appalled by the recent firing of Joshua Katz. Katz,  a now-former Princeton classics professor, had the temerity to publish his criticism of some of his colleagues for demanding that academic freedom and intellectual integrity be abandoned in the name of “antiracist” politics. 

Of course, that “open letter” was not the official pretext for defenestrating Katz. Rather, Princeton’s administration decided to fire him for offenses allegedly committed over 15 years ago and for which he was already investigated and punished in 2018. 

It is not easy for genuinely independent thinkers to find their way into tenured positions. Thus, in service to my freethinking colleagues throughout the globe, who, like myself, have been so blessed, let me put down five rules for keeping, if you adhere to them, the position you’ve worked so hard to win. 

1) Never, in any publication, criticize a named colleague at the same institution. Whatever their errors or stupidities, surely you can find somebody at another institution, perhaps a student of “that fool Frank,” to whom you can with at least the appearance of fairness attribute a similar error. My “tenured radical” master’s advisor, the late Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, issued this fatwa to a classful of beginning graduate students. I have never regretted my strict adherence to this rule even when editors and referees have tried to seduce me from it.

2) Never publicly criticize your own institution. Whatever flaws, failures, and enormities it commits, your institution is not so special—the school across the river or across the ocean is doing the same misdeeds. So target those guys, not the people who sign your checks.

3) Show up to teach. That is what you are paid to do, and if you don’t do it, they will eventually find a way to stop paying you.


4) Don’t proposition a student or junior colleague. Some institutions extend this prohibition not just to students in your classes or under your supervision, but to all students in your institution. Human resources in your own institution has no doubt published a code and instructional materials by which you can master the ins and outs of this policy. If temptation strikes and your job matters enough to you, take a cold shower and think of Abelard.

5) If you have a choice of institutions, remember that at public universities academic freedom protects the individual academic, while at private institutions academic freedom is the jealously guarded privilege of the institution. The Yale graduate and ex-gay polemicist Robert Oscar Lopez may have thought that moving from Cal State Northridge to Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary would give him more scope to publish and preach against homosexuality and homosexual parenting; instead, Lopez was fired after about three years when the party line changed at his religiously affiliated institution. 

Many may find these rules obvious, and to those who (unlike myself) have actually worked for an extended period outside the ivory tower they may indeed be obvious. Certainly nobody hired since 1980 is unaware of rule four, that dallying with students is juggling lit M-80s. Yet in approaching 40 years as student, researcher, and teacher I have met precious few who had heard of rule one, “write no evil of the gal across the green,” and rule five I claim as my own formulation. 

As the fate of Joshua Katz reminds us, you would have to be an even bigger fool than Frank with his absurd notions on the dating of Inca pottery to expect that these rules would be applied fairly. A progressive idol has immunities irrelevant to the career of a black economist who discredits the lies about ”racist” police promulgated by Black Lives Matter. But is it really fair that you can go on seducing the minds (but not the bodies) of your students and perverting them from the official pieties and loudly promulgated orthodoxies while enjoying an upper middle class wage and prerogatives redolent of the pre-revolutionary aristocracy or unionized electric company personnel? 

Check your privilege, kid—as long as you obey these commandments, it will hold up until, and beyond, your retirement.

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About Michael S. Kochin

Michael S. Kochin is Professor Extraordinarius in the School of Political Science, Government, and International Relations at Tel Aviv University. He received his A.B. in mathematics from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He has held visiting appointments at Yale, Princeton, Toronto, Claremont McKenna College, and the Catholic University of America. He has written widely on the comparative analysis of institutions, political thought, politics and literature, and political rhetoric. With the historian Michael Taylor he has written An Independent Empire: Diplomacy & War in the Making of the United States (University of Michigan Press, 2020).

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