Tenure, according to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), “is an arrangement whereby faculty members, after successful completion of a period of probationary service, can be dismissed only for adequate cause or other possible circumstances and only after a hearing before a faculty committee” (“Tenure,” n.d.). While this may sound quite simple and straightforward, tenure is a concept that has been met with much debate, especially over the past several years. “Some institutions and administrators contend that tenure is an antiquated system that imposed inflexible burdens on the academy, and may foster – or even encourage mediocrity” (Hill, 2010, p. 112). Schools have spent a great deal of effort looking for ways to institute, improve, or even eliminate tenure policies at their institutions.
“The goal of tenure is to create a contractual relationship between a professor and the college or university that is enforceable in a court of law” (Cameron, 2010, p. 1). It is also a “means to a certain ends,” according to the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (the “1940 Statement”), published by the AAUP (p. 3). Namely, these ends are: “…freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession to men and women of ability” (p. 3). But is tenure necessary for these things to occur? Shouldn’t any professional have the right to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, without fear of wrongful termination, and be able to have economic security while doing those jobs?
While most people, including me, would answer “yes” to wanting all professionals to do their jobs well, be paid appropriately, and have some semblance of job security, this is not always the case. Many professionals, especially those outside of teaching, have lost their jobs as management changed or when arbitrary staffing decisions were made. Professionals are not always paid enough for what they do (consider fire fighters, public school teachers, and other civil servants), and not every professional performs at their job at the highest level of which they
are capable. Should college or university professors be any different? Should professors be guaranteed lifetime employment, just because they earned tenure?
Before these questions can be answered, the tenure policies that have already been established in various colleges and universities need to be explored. In order for tenure to be implemented at a college, it must be promised via faculty handbook, contract, or any other written policy (Kaplin & Lee, 2007). Administrators cannot verbally make promises to faculty or job candidates that either “contradict the written policies” or make it seem as though there is more job security than there really is (2007, p.187). When this does happen, it generally does not win in court. A notable example of this was the case of The Johns Hopkins University...