Abolish tenure! Are there alternative mechanisms for ensuring academic freedom?

According to recent studies college professors actually get paid less for every additional hour they spend in a classroom. This finding is true not only at large research universities but at state “teaching universities” and small liberal arts colleges (Fairweather, 2005). Some argue that the institution of tenure encourages this problem. There are scholars who believe that tenure should be replaced by a system of multiyear renewable contracts for all instructors instead of shifting the burden of teaching to lesser-paid adjunct professors.

Opponents of tenure consider tenure as a static system of promotion that gives people a permanent job for what they have already accomplished, while teaching is a dynamic profession. Defenders of tenure claim that it protects academic freedom (O’Neil, 2009), however, one might question this possibility of tenure by pointing out issues such as departmental majoritarianism, repressing ideas for a long time before being granted tenure or even after that, as one of tenured professors at Ohio University wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “I must try to be less bold in expressing unpopular opinions about campus policies, curriculum goals or the use of increasingly limited resources…” (“What Does Tenure Get You?,” 2011).

If we accept that there are disadvantages to tenure as well as its positive aspects such as securing academic freedom, then the question is whether there is an alternative mechanism which can provide academic freedom without the mentioned problems of tenure. To answer this question, I looked for real-world examples of “In Lieu of Tenure” to see whether alternatives of tenure can secure academic freedom. The first mechanism I found is faculty development leave (FDL), which ensures semester-long sabbaticals every five years, rather than every seven at Webster University. FDL faculty members must undergo performance evaluations and contract reviews every five years. Although, the university’s chancellor and several of FDL members consider this track as effective, enriching, rewarding and refreshing, but still in FDA, the status option denies them the same job security as tenure. According to the chancellor “every single faculty member at Webster University has academic freedom and the day that that is not the case is the day that the university ought to rise up and vote no confidence in its president”, nevertheless when the university fell on tough economic times or should a controversial issue arise, the non-tenured faculty could well be at greater risk (“In Lieu of Tenure,” 2010).

Work Cited

  1. Fairweather, J. S. (2005). Beyond the rhetoric: Trends in the relative value of teaching and research in faculty salaries. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(4), 401–422.
  2. In Lieu of Tenure. (2010, March). Retrieved December 9, 2016, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/10/webster
  3. O’Neil, R. (2009). Academic freedom in the wired world: Political extremism, corporate power, and the university. Harvard University Press.
  4. What Does Tenure Get You? – Brainstorm – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2011, May).

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