Written: Feb. 16, 2010
Academic life consists of people, and whenever there are people, there is politics, and politics, by definition, is dirty and mean. Often lots of people who got tenure a long time ago, and became dead wood (and often also lousy teachers!) vote against granting tenure to a younger colleague, and very often they are not fit to lick the boots of those that they reject.
Like many "academic traditions", the institution of tenure is a very stupid and obsolete one. It stifles creativity by forcing young people to publish-or-perish against a deadline, encouraging mediocre "fashionable" research. It also encourages people with tenure to work as little as they can, and to moonlight as consultants, because of their "job security" (they would have to murder their wife in order to lose it).
But granted that the institution of tenure still exists (and it looks like it is here to stay for a long time), try to be nice! Whenever you are voting whether or not to grant tenure to a younger colleague, unless he or she are obviously unqualified, or terrible teachers, try to be positive. How would you feel if you were denied tenure? Thou shalt not do to your fellow-person what you would hate to be done to you.
So anyone who votes against granting tenure to a colleague "deserves to be shot". Of course he or she do not deserve to be shot, that's a little bit of an over-kill(!). They only "deserve to be shot" as a way of speech, like the guy sitting next to you on the train speaking loudly and endlessly on his cell-phone. A proper punishment for those mean creatures who vote against granting tenure to their deserving younger colleagues is to have their tenure denied! Analogously, a proper punishment to all those editors and referees who reject other people's submissions, is to have their own papers rejected! And a proper punishment to a colleague who does his own work during your seminar talk is to come to his (or her) talk, and flagrantly (at least pretend) to do your own work. And indeed that is what I once did to a colleague who notoriously always does his own work in seminars. To my dismay, it didn't bother him a bit, so on second thought, "an eye for an eye" does not always work, but it is nevertheless a fairly good approximation.
The bottom line is: try to be nice! And if you can't be nice because God made you mean, maybe the thought that there is some chance that you would get shot (for real!) by a vengeful candidate, would force you to, at least, act nicely.