Accountable once a decade, at least

This year I’ve personally observed just how hard it is to fire someone in academia (newsflash!). Some people turn out to be non-productive — that’s to be expected. Much worse if they’re toxic to the people who are ARE productive! But somehow they stay forever. (Note to clients: I’m not talking about any of you folks, don’t worry. But I bet you know someone LIKE who I’m talking about.) Meanwhile, colleges and universities take MONTHS of committee review time to hire anyone, at any level – flying people in from out of town for jobs that are 99% sure of going to an internal candidate.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to hire people quickly and if they don’t work out, fire them quickly? Or, at least, if you’re going to take a long time to hire someone, at least be able to fire them easily. The process of taking forever to hire someone, and then also taking forever to fire them seems like the worst of both worlds.
Perhaps the problem boils down to what Edward L. Ayers wrote recently in EDUCAUSE Review (vol. 39, no. 6, November/December 2004): “Higher leadership is generally transitory, amateurish, and constrained but is the only force providing any coordination or direction to many otherwise disconnected scholars, departments, and disciplines.” Of course, the senior leadership I personally know are thoughtful, engaged, and committed. But none are formally trained as managers of large multi-tiered specialist staffs.
Meanwhile, I was thinking recently that one solution to academic “coordination or direction” issues (i.e. slow adoption of technology, interminable faculty meetings, imponderable decision-making, general cat-herding behavior) is to have standard tenure be ten years in length. Lifetime tenure would require a special appointment after at least one (or possibly two) ten-year appointments. That way, you’d have to be accountable at least once a decade.
Of course, current faculty would be grandfathered in under the existing rules….