From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:
To Encourage the Others
March 22, 2023
Tenure—lifetime employment for college professors—is under attack from all sides.
The American custom of granting thirty-something professors the right to a job for life was traditionally said by its defenders to go back to the 1900 dispute between robber baroness Jane Stanford and Edward Alsworth Ross, her new Stanford University’s superstar sociologist.
Mrs. Stanford first tried to have Professor Ross fired for supporting Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan’s Free Silver movement in the 1896 election. She finally succeeded in 1900 after Ross, who sided with American labor against capital (he told his students, “A railroad deal is a railroad steal”), spoke out against Stanford’s Union Pacific Railroad importing Chinese coolies to avoid paying higher wages to American workers.
A half dozen or so Stanford professors resigned in protest over Ross’ firing. Ultimately, in 1940, tenure became a standard feature of American academia.
Ross, who served as chairman of the ACLU in the 1940s, was long seen as a hero by academics and civil libertarians. But lately, due to his Progressive anti-immigration and pro-eugenics views, he is being recast as the bad guy in the conflict, while Ms. Stanford’s violation of his academic freedom is seen as public-spirited censorship. For example, author Adam Morris writes in the leftist Guernica literary magazine in a 2021 article entitled “Stanford’s White Supremacists”:
The controversy became a landmark academic freedom case that partially motivated the formation of the American Association of University Professors by Arthur O. Lovejoy, one of the seven professors to resign. Ross’s highly publicized departure from Stanford brought him the fame he ultimately sought, and a pulpit from which to promulgate some of Populism’s most repellently racist and nativist ideas—ideas that moderates like Mrs. Stanford considered too poisonous for public expression.
Read the whole thing there.