I don't know what possessed me to watch a movie called "Tenure." I've had tenure for something like 15 years now, so it's not exactly top of mind, and everyone knows academics never come off well in pop culture. Well, the DVD was free of charge at my local library so what the heck.
"Tenure" (2008) tells the story of Charlie Thurber (played by Luke Wilson), an English professor who started at Bowdoin College but has failed twice at the tenure game, now taking his third and final shot at lowly third-tier university in Pennsylvania. Everyone recognizes that he's a fine teacher, but his professional life seems to consist of a series of rejection letters from various journals, also dropping consistently in quality and reputation, even as his colleagues keep reminding him that it's been a while since he published. He's only got a few months to prove himself before his tenure vote.
Then along comes Elaine Grasso (Gretchen Mol). She's a newly hired hotshot from Yale who doesn't seem to have any problem getting published, making Charlie look worse and worse by comparison. But soon Charlie figures out that Elaine's not a very good teacher -- sincere, hard working, but lacking the ability to get her students to engage.
So, teaching vs. research is set up as the major conflict of the film.
But there's a whole other story line about Charlie's personal life. His best friend, a Sasquatch hunting anthropologist, is denied tenure at the beginning of the movie, and he gives up on academics. Instead, he keeps working with a couple of geeky students looking for Sasquatch, while selling herbal penis supplements to students. Charlie doesn't need much help getting in trouble, though; he's calling a woman he saw working on the local PBS telethon and dealing with his cranky sister over their dad's problems adjusting to living in an assisted living home. And one of his colleagues publicly accuses Charlie of leaving the seat up in the faculty restroom.
The movie is more satire than realistic depiction of academia -- Elaine's arrogant Yale English Department boyfriend is exactly as annoying as you'd expect -- but the only really big mistake (aside from pitting teaching against research) is a discussion of "probationary tenure," which obviously misses the point.
"Tenure" isn't hilarious, but there are some funny moments, and it's interesting to see how the academy looks from the outside. Recommended if you're bored... and already have tenure. :-)