Why tenure remains vital today (opinion)
The Georgia University System Board of Regents recently adopted a new policy that makes it easier for administrators to dismiss a full professor, in order to “ensure accountability and the continued strong performance of faculty members” after tenure. Critics have denounced the policy as a “deep ideological attack on higher education” which “destroy the protections of academic freedomAnd the quality of the education it supports.
Battles for tenure have been fought for decades, but attempts to limit or abolish it are on the rise again. In 2017, conservative lawmakers in Missouri and Iowa proposed legislation that would largely end the tenure of professors at public universities and colleges, following a similar effort in Wisconsin two years earlier. Republicans in Iowa have renewed their efforts this year, arguing that tenure guarantees are unproductive and allow progressive faculty members to silence conservative views. This fall, Florida lawmakers began discussing a post-tenure review proposal that critics say will severely undermine tenure protections.
The warrant also has criticism on the left. The Boston Globe, for example, earlier this year called for term limits, “to promote racial, gender and ideological diversity, as well as to better advance academic freedom.”
These assaults come at a time when trust and respect for higher education institutions and faculty is dwindling. According to recent polls from the Pew Research Center, “only half of American adults think colleges and universities have a positive effect”; up to 61 percent think higher education is going in the wrong direction. When the American Academy of Arts and Sciences asked Americans this summer which professions “contribute to the general good of society,” they ranked college professors well below doctors, teachers, scientists, and construction workers.
“Hyperpartisan trends” across the country suggest further attacks are likely. At the University of Florida, university officials recently banned three political science professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the voting rights policies of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. The university only reversed the course after a “storm of protests”.
In this environment, tenure remains essential to the central mission of higher education: the creation, preservation and dissemination of knowledge, without fear or favor.
In a landmark 1940 statement, the American Association of University Professors identified two main reasons for tenure: to ensure “freedom of teaching and research” and to provide “a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to teachers. competent men and women. “To these two elements, we would add a third: enabling faculty members to participate effectively in institutional governance, including the formulation and implementation of college and university policies.
Faculty members will have a much harder time questioning received orthodoxies or exploring sensitive topics if they face dismissal because their research, teaching, or public statements offend administrators, donors, officials. parents or politicians. Students and society, not just faculty members, will pay the price; ideas that are essential to society can be stifled when they are needed most.
Permanent professors tend to provide a stable environment for teaching, learning and managing colleges and universities. Unfortunately, the past 50 years have seen a steady decline in the percentage of tenured and tenured positions. Once a large majority, some 73 percent of college and university teachers are now ineligible for tenure. Occasional professors, many of whom stay for short periods or teach in several institutions, cannot offer the same stability or the same institutional commitment.
Seniority also helps attract and retain talented people. Many professors, especially in STEM fields, could easily pursue more lucrative careers in the private sector. The job security offered by tenure, and the freedom to pursue research that interests the faculty member more than the employer, is an important advantage. Without tenure, the pool of highly qualified candidates will be reduced and colleges and universities will be forced to offer higher salaries.
The tenure also supports strong faculty participation in institutional governance. Faculty members have primary responsibility for matters requiring subject matter and pedagogical expertise, from decisions regarding appointments, promotions and tenure to curriculum development, mentoring and counseling. Faculty members also share responsibility with administrators and administrators for most other aspects of college and university governance. In fulfilling these responsibilities, tenure gives faculty members the freedom to exercise their best judgment without fear of reprisal. It also helps isolate college administrators from external pressures, as they can invoke academic freedom and faculty autonomy when they reject appeals for discipline or fire professors caught in the sights of the left or the left. law.
There are, of course, legitimate concerns about tenure, particularly since the elimination of mandatory retirement in 1994. As people live and work longer, tenure can limit the ability of colleges and universities to adapt. the changing needs of programs and budgets. Tenure sometimes blocks subdomains as well as individuals, hampering investment in emerging or expanding areas, such as computational biology, computer and information science, and sustainability. To reduce costs and increase flexibility, institutions often hire assistants, visitors and other occasional professors, exacerbating a two-tier system in which non-tenured professors receive low pay and less job security despite shortcomings. high teaching loads and other responsibilities.
Finally, while the great majority of professors remain very productive throughout their careers, some have blocked or stopped research; others have not changed their classroom presentations for years.
Some critics believe that, done right, as an aid to faculty development, post-graduate exams can solve these problems. In our view, however, this moment calls for an affirmation of permanence as an essential mechanism to protect the freedom to create, preserve and disseminate knowledge without outside interference and to ensure an appropriate balance between institutional responsibility and the autonomy of individuals. faculties.
After all, despite its shortcomings, tenure remains an essential part of university culture. And critics have failed to come up with viable alternatives to an approach that has stood the test of time, one that we undermine at our peril.