Monday, June 26, 2006

A Tenured Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a company, a very big company, that produced all the goods that were ever sold in stores -- all sorts of things: pharmaceuticals, food, books. Everything from pots and pans to herbal medicine. To create these products, the company employed a lot of people, including a large number of engineers, researchers, and writers. We shall call these particular employees the brain people.

At some point, the brain people decided that they were a rather special lot. They decided that because they did nothing but research new and better products, and knew little of the ways of the world, that they should have a special employment status. The company, because it was producing so many products for so many customers, was afraid to lose all the brain people to some other kind of job. Thus, they agreed to the brain people's request and offered them a very special benefits package: they called it tenure and it meant that the brain people could never be dismissed from their jobs unless they committed a gross violation of the company rules.

This worked well for the most part, but the brain people, once they retired or stopped doing much work still had to be paid. This cost the company a great deal. The company kept raising their prices until people had to borrow money to buy things from them. But this didn't hurt the company, because people believed the products were worth it, and it's not like customers could go anywhere else -- the company was a monopoly.

But then one of the unpleasant results of tenure started to manifest itself. Since it was such a good life, and since you always had lots of people looking up to you, the job of being a brain person started to attract very vain, very selfish people. Not all of them were like that, mind you, but enough were that the quality of the work the brain people did, as a whole, became lower and lower. And another thing happened too: the brain people, who had always been in charge of hiring new brain people, started to get very careful about who they let come to work at the company. They hardly realized they were doing it, but soon they were hiring new brain people who were easy for the old brain people to control, who would agree with them instead of challenge them or otherwise make life difficult. Many of these new brain people weren't terribly talented, but were hired mostly because they were willing to conform their views to those of the old brain people.

Overall, the company still produced good products, but the costs of those products kept going up and up and up to support all the brain people that had been hired.

Then one day someone saw one of the brain people do something bad. This particular brain person was in charge of the aforementioned herbal medicine products. His name was Bob. It wasn't a big or particularly profitable department, but it lent some prestige to the company: lots of people liked to think that a few herbs could make them well. But Bob unfortunately gave a speech to a bunch of doctors where he said that a lot of doctors had tried to kill their patients, and the whole world of medicine was a great big horrible place, and that only herbal medicine could really cure anybody, not drugs and surgeries and whatnot. Naturally, many of the doctors were appalled at the accusation, and they complained vociferously to the company. But the company said nothing could be done: Bob had tenure, and they couldn't violate his tenure rights for expressing his personal views. "Why, that would violate his freedom!" they said.

But a few of the doctors didn't like this answer. They suspected Bob might have done other bad things. After all, it was only logical to suspect that someone who made crazy comments on one topic might have made crazy comments on another, or even done something crazy in his work. So these doctors started digging around, and they found a lot. Bob had been a very bad brain person indeed.

They found a number of occasions where Bob had stolen other people's ideas and repesented them as his own, and a number of occasions where Bob just made things up to support the work he did for the company. They even found out that Bob proudly claimed that he had once helped other people blow things up, and even though it seemed like he maybe wasn't telling the whole truth about this, it bothered them that we was so proud of that claim.

The doctors were very persistent: even though Bob had lots of friends who said all kinds of nasty things about the doctors, they still kept on digging. The doctors even discovered that a lot of Bob's friends took the medicine Bob produced, and it worried them a little because Bob's medicine, it turns out, was only good for making people a little crazy. But eventually the doctors who pursued Bob made so much noise about all the bad things he did that the company had to do something, even if this upset Bob and his crazy friends.

So the company decided to investigate, because they wanted to know if Bob had committed one of the gross violations that might cause him to be fired. After all, if they didn't show that their brain people really did have good brains, they couldn't keep charging so much money for their products. The investigation took a very, very long time, because no one knew what a gross violation looked like anymore. It was so hard to prove that one existed, the company gave up trying, and just let the brain people do whatever they wanted. Some in the company were even angry at the doctors for making them investigate, because it was a lot of work and whatever a gross violation turned out to be, it sounded icky.

But investigate they did, and because there were still good brain people left, brain people who want to hold other brain people to high standards, a decision about Bob was eventually reached. They couldn't talk about all the bad things Bob did, just the ones that related to Bob's work. But they found a lot of bad things there, enough that Bob had to go. The head brain people told the company president that Bob had to be fired, and the company president agreed.

So Bob was sent out into the great wide world, no longer allowed to call himself a brain person, no longer prtected by tenure. Bob promptly hired a lawyer to force the company to give him his job back.

No one will be living happily ever after any time soon.


I'm not sure what possessed me to write this little fairy tale. Oh, by the way, did you hear that Ward Churchill just got fired? I think I might have written about that somewhere.

Tracked back to Open Trackbacks - Wacademic Edition at Pursuing Holiness.

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