Computational Complexity and other fun stuff in math and computer science from Lance Fortnow and Bill Gasarch
Thomas Friedman's column today talks about how the US no longer dominates the ACM programming contest.
A couple of links about tenure. An Inside Higher Ed article on the strange policies for tenure decisions (thanks Jeff) and a Chicago Tribune op-ed piece arguing against tenure altogether.
The Tribune op-ed is not particularly insightful. Unfortunately it represents a kind of thinking to which we must pay attention.The author seems more interested in the US culture wars than what is good for academia or the sciences. (Witness his preoccupation with Ward Churchill and "ideological hegemony" rather than the role of tenure in different academic and scientific disciplines.) Some of his points about non-tenure track teachers have merit. However, I still get the impression that he would want to refight the sixties regardless of whether or not teaching adjuncts had benefits and job security.While it is easy to dismiss tripe like this, we do so at our own peril. Scientists and university professors do not enjoy the respect that we like to think we have. Often, we are regarded as spoiled do-littles who "get by teaching a fewer than five hours per week". Compound this with concerns over rising tuition costs and the perception by many that we are some kind atheist elite out to destroy their way of life, and we become convenient scapegoats for middle class anxiety. Public perceptions color congressional priorities. Before the 2004 elections I saw a public opinion poll that suggested the average US voter wanted funding cut for non-medical scientific research. If we want to see a better long-term environment for scientific research in the USA, we need to convince not only the congress but the public that what we are doing is worthwhile to them.A good first step would be a solid reply the Tribune's nonsense from the faculty of a respected local institution...
Somehow all these tenure debates seem to implictly assume that only humanities professors exist. He also seems to implictly assume that the american university system is failing (as otherwise why fix something that is not broken). Again, this is completely not the case in the sciences, where overall the U.S. universities did amazingly good in the last century.It's also interesting that he says that tenure "is simply unlike any other institution in American society" without bothering to compare it with universities outside the U.S. (which overwhelmingly also have the tenure system).
From the Inside HigherEd article:Deirdre McCloskey called the use of outside letters �a scandalous failure of common sense. It is corrupt, dishonest, unscientific.� Since then, matters have only become worse. McCloskey urged �the responsible body to read the candidate�s work and discuss its intellectual quality with immediate colleagues in a context of believably disinterested assessments from outside.�It seems to me that the alternative, i.e. no outside letters, would be even more corrupt, dishonest and unscientific. Who is more likely to have a biased opinion of your work: the day to day friend/antagonist in your own department, or someone a thousand miles away in a different institution?