Tenure Revisited

By Livingston, Margit | Boston College Law Review, January 1, 2020 | Go to article overview

Tenure Revisited


Livingston, Margit, Boston College Law Review


INTRODUCTION

I am a long-standing beneficiary of tenure for law professors. I have been teaching law full-time for decades, and have been a tenured full professor for over 30 years. So what follows may seem somewhat hypocritical-as a beneficiary of tenure, I am now questioning its continued desirability in law teaching. This essay will explore the advantages and disadvantages of tenure and conclude that tenure, in its current form, has disadvantages that outweigh its benefits as a whole.

Tenure in academia dates its origins to the twelfth century in Europe and gained momentum in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.1 Its purpose was to promote academic freedom by providing job security.2 No longer could professors be fired because of controversial views. Over time, additional justifications for tenure have been offered, particularly for law professors: it incentivizes highly qualified individuals to leave lucrative private legal practices to enter the academy; it builds a cadre of professors who are committed to the institution's long-term welfare; and it allows faculty members to focus on developing scholarship in a thoughtful and thorough manner, without fear of treading on "sacred cows."3

All these justifications carry weight, without doubt, and represent a boon to the law academy. At the same time, faculty members sometimes abuse tenure, knowing that they cannot be fired or even disciplined, except in the most extreme circumstances. Professors may shirk their duties in a variety of ways. This "slacking off" is highly detrimental both to law schools as institutions and to the students whose education suffers as a result. Consider the following cases:

The Checked Out Classroom Teacher

Professor A has had tenure at her law school for more than thirty years. Originally, she was a fair classroom teacher, teaching a wide variety of core and specialized courses. Her teaching, though never spectacular, was good enough to garner her tenure. Over the years, the quality of her teaching has declined. She has not kept up in some of her subject areas, either through laziness or indifference. She feels aggrieved that she has not been promoted into administration, with its higher compensation, additional prestige, and greater control over law school affairs, and she takes out this feeling of grievance by putting less and less into her course preparation and classroom performance. In addition, her performance in core courses has become so deficient that the students are complaining loudly to the administration, so much so that she has been moved into small "boutique" courses with low enrollments. Of course, such specialized courses can be a useful part of a law school curriculum and enrich the students' education. But a law school facing financial and personnel cutbacks, as many are, cannot afford to have professors teaching only such courses. Furthermore, her chances of moving to another law school where she might be happier are slim.

So what can the law school do about Professor A? The school officials believe that they are not getting the proper return on their investment, especially in light of her high salary. Termination or suspension is not available under the school's current stringent rules for discipline of tenured faculty. The dean can try to prod her to improve her classroom performance by giving her no or low raises. But the range of possible raises is often very narrow in universities, and at her level of seniority Professor A already earns a healthy salary. Some commentators have suggested that increased mentoring may assist an underperforming classroom teacher in improving teaching skills. Professor A, however, has no interest in such mentoring and believes that the students should be grateful for her knowledge and experience. Thus Professor A remains in her sinecure, and the students and the institution suffer as a result.

The Indifferent Law School Citizen

Professor B is a fine classroom teacher, offering both core and specialized courses. …

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

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.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Tenure Revisited
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.