Tenure Tension: Tenure System Reform Pressed by Public, Legislative Bodies

By Winbush, Donald | Black Issues in Higher Education, October 5, 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Tenure Tension: Tenure System Reform Pressed by Public, Legislative Bodies


Winbush, Donald, Black Issues in Higher Education


Tenure Tension: Tenure System Reform Pressed by Public, Legislative. Bodies

ATLANTA -- The changing nature of higher education's tenure system, and the growing debate surrounding it, pose critical questions about the future attractiveness of life in the professorate.

In an uncertain climate for education funding and increased public pressure for higher education to be more accountable, the venerable tenure system is facing perhaps its greatest challenge.

Some are calling for an aggressive reassessment of the system to make it more cost-effective, while others characterize it as outmoded and call for its abolishment.

The assault on tenure recalls the public education reform movement of the 1980s, when many states bowed to public frustration and hastily drafted legislation that created new programs, policies and standards -- often with minimal input from the education establishment, then widely condemned as part of the problem.

Financial Drain?

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), at least two dozen state legislatures have felt compelled recently to delve into the issue of professorial workloads.

A popular notion in American society is that unproductive and unaccountable tenured professors, in particular, overpopulate higher education, effectively draining the academy financially and creatively.

"Outside of higher education, there is much misunderstanding about tenure," says AAUP spokeswoman Dr. Iris Molotsky.

Tenure is granted to professors, who, having completed a tenure-track probationary period of several years, are judged competent enough by peers and administrators to receive status that carries strong job and economic security in higher education.

According to the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, tenure status guarantees academic freedom in teaching and research, and "a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability."

Molotsky says the public generally regards tenure as a system that shields professors from regular performance evaluations, allows them to rest on their laurels and avoid heavy workloads, and protects faculty deadwood from being fired.

Academic Freedom Threatened?

But the tenure issue, Molotsky argues, fits into a larger puzzle.

"Cutbacks in the budget have really fueled the whole question of faculty productivity and accountability," she says.

AAUP President Dr. James Perley, a professor of biology at Ohio's College of Wooster agrees. "The bottom line is the economy."

The public is making a clamor about rising tuition and room-and-board expenses, which average from $10,000 a year at public schools and more than twice that amount at private ones.

In a climate of diminishing revenue projections for higher education, colleges and universities are being pressed to improve faculty productivity as one way of saving money.

Perley says the image of an underworked and overpaid tenured professor offers a tantalizing target. "We are being increasingly seen as laborers who can work as adjunct professors without benefits."

He likens it to the business world downsizing and efforts to hold costs by getting rid of the senior employees. "This is a corporate model being imposed on the academic world," Perley says.

The assault on tenure, Perley and others insist, threatens the very academic freedom tenure is designed to protect.

Advocates of the tenure system also argue that growing hostility toward it could hurt the recruitment of new faculty and the retention of veteran professors.

To counter the image problem and promote better understanding of what tenure is and what college professors do, the AAUP, Perley says, is conducting an ongoing "positive proactive" response to the "threat," through guest media appearances, position papers, letters to the editor and other public forums.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Tenure Tension: Tenure System Reform Pressed by Public, Legislative Bodies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?