The counter-intuitive incentives of fewer burdens.
Sean Carroll, a physicist and I would say fairly prominent public atheist, newly a professor at Johns Hopkins, recently tweeted in support of this new gender ideology:
I found this fairly surprising and alarming all at once. He's been a proponent of rationality and critical thinking for quite sometime and I've largely agreed with his takes on religion and science. To see that he's been taken in by gender ideology (or pressured to signal in such a manner) makes me extremely cautious about what he or public academics I previously trusted might say on other topics I'm only minimally familiar with. Put another way, if this tweet was my first encounter with him, I would be extremely skeptical on what he has to say on anything else.
I'm an academic with tenure, and I think what you say is exactly spot on. I have some thoughts to build on it:
1.) I believe the dynamic you describe is not limited to sociology and fields that intersect with culture war issues. It is much more widespread than that.
2.) In some fields now, it takes many years to get tenure, especially if you count time spent postocing or in other temporary positions. And the fight to get there is brutal. That means many academics have spent their entire adult lives working toward a tenured position, and they are often well into middle age by the time they are up for tenure. Being denied tenure then is not just career-ending, but completely devastating. The result is that tenure becomes less about liberating those academics who have it, and more about tyrannizing those who don't quite have it yet. Those who do finally get tenure have usually acquired a huge amount of cognitive momentum along the way. Therefore, the threat of being denied tenure might ultimately play a larger role in how academics think than does tenure itself. The scrappy 30-year-old upstart with truly out-of-the-box ideas is not the type of academic who is likely enjoying the protections of tenure. The ones with tenure are much more likely to have ossified points of view. I suspect that this dynamic is not clear to outsiders since it conflicts so much with the ostensible goal of the tenure system.
I have little doubt that without tenure I’d have been pushed out of academia
There are definitely strong pressures to conform, to stay silent, and not to call things like one sees them if that is uncomfortable for some
Tenure is a privilege
Whether each of us chooses to use that privilege is a choice
I am fascinated by the difference between institutions that see 'process' as the important thing versus institutions that see the 'ends' as the important thing. Both seem to have pathological versions.
Our legal system, for instance, might be a case where process has become so sprawling and difficult to navigate that it needs to be reigned in and more trust put directly into the humanity of juries and judges. The way Nial Fergusson put it was that instead of the rule of law we have the rule of lawyers.
Tenure is no protection against firing, and it is true that tenure makes the class in Higher Ed timid, and more beholden to the hive mind—the reason for that is there’s scraps to fight over to pad one’s reputation and paycheck. All of that to say this: parallel institutions must be built. There is no reforming higher ed.
It's the process of earning tenure that is the problem. Years of jumping through an endless series of hoops like only a fully tamed lion can.
You have to conform to get tenure in the first place. By the time you've earned you've lost your soul.
Who will get hired to replace those who lose their jobs?
The OP and the comments miss a really obvious fact about academics that could largely explain the observed phenomenon. Tenured academics do in fact THINK that they are using their tenured freedom to speak truth to power or to espouse controversial ideas. It appears as though they are not doing this because of different reference categories. Ideas are only controversial relative to a mainstream or orthodoxy. The framing within academia is that wider society believes in biological essentialism or ignores slavery or whatever. This is reinforced through exposure to undergrads, who know almost nothing and parrot the most superficial takes half-overheard from their parents/friends. And if you see "anti-woke" criticisms in the NYT daily, it makes the "woke" position seem the minority position.
While I agree that tenure contributes to ideological conformity (“fit” is the term I hear), I think the issue is larger than that. At bottom, most of the people who go into humanities academia are there because they think there’s something to criticize about our society. Self-selection, in other words, leads to everyone in a field seeming to agree about some fundamental concept (such as gender ideology). They believe they see what’s wrong with the world more clearly than others. People who don’t “fit” this view usually self-select themselves out of academia--or, in some cases, never get hired because of lack of “fit.” By the time tenure comes along, they are long gone.
Prophesies are our beacon of sense making. As changes happen. If they don't step up to make their small human compassion mnemonic? We get the voice of Sandra Sotomayor writing her opinion on basing universal Healthcare not on the insurance argument. About a distorted field Be it said _emergency services for whom' but she said in her second ingredient of t majority that it was truthfully everybody's human right to live past 60. The first place I have ever heard this stated seems like the Achilles heel in my source of health care. I need to take better care because there were other bases for universL care, I guess she was declaring herself ? As a human. But her asserting statement may become the basis for revoking my Healthcare. She used either the words human right or compassion in her assent. Half this country does not care that you are human or that you care. . As half of the pop
I think that the "secret project" is ultimately the expiation of white guilt. Thoughts from others?
Tenure has become like cash bail - behave yourself and you keep the money, keep the job. (I approve of cash bail, I'm tired of urban crime.)
As an academic, I don't think this is true. I would be much more comfortable voicing my views if I knew I couldn't be fired for them. Tenure really is essential for us if we want to explore controversial ideas. While it's true that 'peer acceptance' can act as a social pressure, that's not nearly as much of a pressure as 'you could lose your job, your food, and your house, and become permanently unemployable.'