Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Academic Model or Corporate Model: Is Tenure Still Viable?

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Academic Model or Corporate Model: Is Tenure Still Viable?

Article excerpt


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, we investigate the role academia takes is compared to the role a corporation takes in society. Tenure and its purposes must also be defined, including arguments for and against this long-standing tradition, and, weighing both sides equally, finally conclude 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 are their organizational structures, specializations, decision making processes, and hierarchies 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).

According to Richardson (1999), tenured and tenure track faculty constitute only 35 percent of all of those who teach at institutions of higher learning. Marcus (2000) reports on the continuing decline of academic tenure in the U.S. 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.

This research attempts to strike a balance between opposing sides of the tenure debate. In a free market economy, such as exists in the U.S., the organizational model of the academic institution can thrive and continue to grow. It is necessary for attitudes to change; for example, the acceptance of the institution that chooses not to offer tenure, or combine it with part time faculty and/or multi-year contracts. Institutions of higher learning should be able to adjust to the changing economic environment effectively, without dismantling the long standing traditions put in place decades and centuries ago. Tenure is an economically sound policy for colleges and universities, but should not be so sacred that it cannot be reformed. Sowell (2003) notes in a recent article that the time has come to rethink academic tenure.


Colleges and universities should not be compared to businesses, and the education of students should not be compared to products produced by factories. Businesses usually benefit from downsizing, whereas a college or university may not become more efficiently valuable. In fact, the opposite is more likely to occur. Also, collegiality is highly valued in the academy (Cawyer, Sanders & Schrodt, 2003). Corporations are managed hierarchically, whereas colleges or universities are not. CEOs may make decisions with or without board approval, but administrators share decisions with faculty members. …

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