An Issue of Tenure: Should Colleges and Universities Function as a For-Profit Business?

By Kamery, Rob H.; Lawrence, Robert C. | Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research, January 2002 | Go to article overview

An Issue of Tenure: Should Colleges and Universities Function as a For-Profit Business?


Kamery, Rob H., Lawrence, Robert C., Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research


ABSTRACT

Tenure has been an issue of debate for over a century. It is a tradition that has been held in esteem for many years at some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States. In these rapidly changing economic times, it is necessary to review long-standing policies, and determine what course of action should be taken, if any. Though there are many opposing views concerning tenure and its abolition or continuation, the single issue they all revolve around is whether or not an academic institution should operate by the same standards and goals as a corporation. The conclusion is no, but colleges and universities can make positive changes to provide for better efficiency and consumer satisfaction.

INTRODUCTION

Tenure has come under attack because in the age of corporate downsizing, corporate leaders, legislatures, and some board of trustee members have questioned why colleges and universities should not also be made "leaner and meaner" (DeGeorge, 1997). In order to address the issue of whether an institution of higher learning should operate as corporations do, one must define the role academia takes in society compared to the role a corporation takes in society. Secondly, one must define tenure and its purposes, including arguments for and against this long standing tradition, and finally conclude, weighing both sides equally, what course of action should be taken to remedy the problems facing tenure.

Comparing the corporate and academic cultures is like comparing apples and oranges. Their motives are strikingly different, as well as organizational structure, specialization, decision-making process, and hierarchy of power. Each could learn valuable lessons from the other, such as the presence of shared governance in higher education as a decision-making tool. Corporations would benefit greatly in the area of labor relations if similar policies were adopted. Colleges and universities could provide a great service to their consumers, that is students, if like corporations, they would place greater value on the student's needs, and not their own sense of what is necessary for a proper education.

Tenure is defined many ways, but for the purposes of this research, it will be defined as relating to faculty at colleges and universities, and as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) defines it:

   "After the expiration of a probationary period, teachers or
   investigators should have permanent or continuous employment, and
   their service should be terminated only for adequate cause, except
   in case of retirement for age, or under extraordinary
   circumstances, such as financial exigencies" (DeGeorge, 1997).

Tenure has traditionally been held as the watchdog of academic freedom. There are many factors, which keep tenure in place, according to Mortimer (1985):

1. The pervasiveness of tenure systems among colleges and universities, which discourages deviation from the accepted practice.

2. The resilience of the principle of tenure, academic freedom, and economic security against attack.

3. The legality of seniority, and

4. Support for tenure systems by faculty unions (Mortimer, 1985)

According to Richardson (1999), tenured and tenure track faculty now constitute only 35 percent of all of those who teach at institutions of higher learning. This is good news for critics of tenure, because not too many decades ago, almost all faculty were tenured or on the tenure track (Richardson, 1999). There are many critics of tenure, but few distinct criticisms. Most fall under the economic umbrella, citing decreases in productivity and motivational problems with post-tenure professors.

The purpose of this study is to strike a balance between opposing sides of the tenure debate. In a free market economy, such as exists in the United States, the organizational model of the academic institution can thrive, and continue to grow.

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