The Postsecondary Professoriate: Problems of Tenure, Academic Freedom, and Employment Law

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In recent years higher education has come under intense scrutiny from stakeholders and the public. Particularly, faculty have been indicted for what many perceive as lack luster performance. The professoriate has been indicted for being self promoting, lazy, incompetent, and unaccountable. Yet, faculty are asked to perform in complex roles. In essence, the professoriate in higher education has fallen from grace. In order to address the indictments, this paper examines the complexity of the professoriate from three perspectives: (1) tenure; (2) academic freedom; and (3) faculty as employees. Utilizing the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) "Statement of Principles" as a basis, these concepts are explored to address specific issues related to misunderstandings and misconceptions of tenure and academic freedom, as well as how faculty responsibilities of teaching, research, and service are not to overstep their faculty role as employees. Implications reveal both faculty and the public must have a clearer understanding of how tenure is a protection for academic freedom and academic freedom is not synonymous with freedom of speech. Additionally, certain privileges and rights afforded to faculty, such as tenure, academic freedom, and freedom of speech, are conditional according to both status and terms of employment.

INTRODUCTION

American postsecondary institutions and their faculty have come under expansive misconceptions and scathing indictments in recent years (Newman, Couturier, & Scurry, 2004). As a result, significant change is on the immediate horizon, but change is nothing new to colleges and universities or their faculty. What is new, though, are the types of changes affecting college and university faculty. From fewer tenuretrack positions being available to court intervention of academic behavior, the professoriate is faced with "scrutiny and a widening misunderstanding" (Finkelstein, 200 1 , 324), particularly as it relates to faculty. This paper helps clarify the complex role of the professoriate in American higher education. Whereas scrutiny and indictments no doubt will remain, a better understanding of today's professoriate may diminish the severity of criticism and mitigate its impact on the academy. The intent of this paper, then, is to examine the dual role of the faculty, first, as teachers, researchers, servants, and second, as employees according to three performance concepts: (1) the nature and context of tenure; (3) academic freedom and its limited constitutional protections; and (3) faculty and their behavior as employees.

BACKGROUND

No doubt the American professoriate has undergone many considerable transformations since its colonial days. Those were times where faculty roles primarily centered on teaching and when students were trained in the professions, predominantly for religious, legal, and medical purposes. These began to be altered in the 1 800s with the German influence of Lehrfreiheit (freedom to research and publish wherever it may lead), Lernfeiheit (freedom to shape courses of study), and Wertfreiheit (objectivity and impartiality to research). The introduction of these into US institutions helped shape the PhD as the preeminent degree for faculty. Moreover, research became the esteemed role across campuses and the nation. As late as the mid1960s, the professoriate experienced highly favorable reviews from public polls. Following World War II, American higher education experienced "prosperity, prestige, and popularity" (Thelin, 2004, p. 260). These ushered in the "golden years" of the professoriate to where the "biggest gains in income, power, prestige, and protections between 1945 and 1970 were those accumulated by the faculty" (Thelin, 2004, p. 310). In spite of criticism through the 1970s and 1980s faculty grew in rank and tenure in keeping with the expansion of community colleges, university systems, and student populations, both traditional and adults, but the admirable position of a professor scurrilously fell from grace over the next 20 years (Finkelstein, 2001). …