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Conflict over tenure and balance at Northeastern

Tenure can cause problems, according to Prof. Robert Gilbert, chairman of the political science department at Northeastern University. The tenure system makes it virtually impossible to remove an established professor Steven Worth, a Northeastern political scientist, believes he would no longer have a job were it not for tenure.

Tenure means as well that after a new teacher has been on the staff for an average of six years, the department will collectively decide for or against tenure. For suzanne Ogden, another Northeatern political scientist, her six years have come to an end with the setting up of an educational exchange program with China -- and a departmental vote denying tenure to the only woman in the department.

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The boundaries laid down by the tenure system limit a department's ability to achieve balance, according to Professor Gilbert.

"With tenure, even professors in the natural sciences sometimes believe they can talk about anything," he explained with feelings fed by the fact that political scientists tend to feel that their subject -- people -- gives them the right to cover any subject.

"Sometimes they start discussing politics and religion and whatever they want ," he adds, speaking both as a former graduate student at the University of Massachusetts and as a department chairman responsible for grading not only students but faculty as well.

He feels it may be time for a test case, to see whether a university has any way of leashing professors after they have been granted tenure.

for the present, however, achieving relevancy and balance in the classroom depends on "hiring balanced people" as teachers.

With some pride and perhaps a little surprise in this solidly Democratic state, he notes that "we even have a Republican in the department."

And he has one student openly working for Ronald Reagan.

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"I think this student feels free to express his views," Professor Gilbert says. "I don't express disapproval and I don't think that he feels pressure to conform."

Almost certainly the unidentified Reaganite would have felt at ease in Professor Gilbert's lively lecture on the 1960 Nixon- Kennedy debates.

As the author of "TV and Presidential Politics," Professor gilbert ran expertly through the facts and figures necessary for background.

Then he led the class in a give-and-take discussion that concluded with agreement that Mr. Nixon very nearly won the election; that his defeat may be pinned directly on a string of unfortunate circumstances surrounding the crucial first TV debate.


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