Tenure Debate Team Project-1

Advantages and Disadvantages of Tenure

In the debate over tenure, there are many arguments stated by defenders and opponents of the issue. This section of the paper will introduce some of the common advantages and disadvantages presented by each side.


To the defenders of tenure, its predominant function is to safeguard the public welfare by protecting academic freedom while assuring academic accountability (Smith, p. 77). Freedom in research, freedom in teaching, freedom in publication, and freedom in learning are all indispensable to the ultimate objectives of an educational institution. Tenure serves as a protection of academic freedom and represents a shared commitment among members of the university community. Tenure is granted only after a professor displays a commitment to teaching, scholarship, and university service. Tenure is a means by which professors can protect themselves, at least partially, from the uncertainties that inevitably emerge when management decisions are made by a continually changing group of professors who may shift their political alignments. In short, tenure is a form of job protection professors have from their colleagues and the special problems created with an academic democracy.

Proponents of tenure also stated that once tenured, a faculty member becomes an intellectual leader of the university community. They are able to provide expertise, stability, and direction to the university's academic programs. It is felt that faculty authority to define faculty positions, conduct searches, and make decisions about curricular changes would be significantly undermined if tenure were not in place. Tenured faculty are motivated by a pride in their profession, a sense of responsibility and a recognition that they are the real "owners" of the college (Cotter, 1995).

Stability of employment is seen as another advantage of the tenure system. Professors themselves feel that a largely temporary and untenured faculty will cause a working environment of hostility and disrespect. These working conditions cannot present students with new and challenging perspectives. "Tenure, as a visible manifestation of university commitment to the faculty member, offers an assurance of career continuity which facilitates reciprocal faculty commitment to the long-term study and research programs by which the frontiers of knowledge are expanded" (Smith, 79).

Tenure is also construed as a practical means employed by university administrators and board members to induce faculty members to honestly judge the potential of prospective professors. In effect, university officials and board members "strike a bargain", with varying degrees of credibility, with professors. If professors bring in prospectives that are better than they are, they will not be fired. Tenure is a means of putting limits on political infighting. It increases the cost predatory faculty members must incur to be successful in having more productive colleagues dismissed. More importantly, academic decisions on the worth of colleagues and their work often are made by the rules of consensus or democracy among existing incumbents. In essence, tenure can be seen as a measure of contractual protection against getting fired.

Stability of employment expectations, for individuals of demonstrated competence, tends to enhance the attractiveness of the teaching profession and may induce highly qualified persons to pursue a teaching career in lieu of more lucrative pursuits. Many colleges and universities feel that if a tenure system were not in place they simply could not compete for the best and brightest graduate students who prefer appointments at colleges where tenure is possible. Moreover, if tenure fell out of favor everywhere this might reduce the number of people going to college teaching because relatively low salaries combined with no job security would make teaching less attractive. Tenure may, in fact, enable colleges to attract and hold very able people for less money, since they have the benefit of lifetime job security.


The most prominent criticism against tenure is that it may result in job security for professors who are poor teachers. Some fear that once a professor gains tenure he or she will go into neutral and stop producing. The inept are in fact protected by tenure. College and university administrators have used tenure with the meaning and force of sinecure-a paid office without employment

Another criticism of tenure is that it makes termination of professors literally impossible. Many people say that making it easier to remove people is needed. There have been cases where faculty members have been convicted of felonies yet they still expect to retain tenure. Then there are the people who have never been promoted, never even teach, but still hold on to their jobs. But not nothing in the concept of tenure precludes firing; tenure precludes only arbitrary firing. However, most colleges and universities interpret it as an absolute bar to dismissal and reassignment (Smith, p. 42).

The tenure rule, through its rigidity, is also seen as a limitation to the development of a college or university's younger faculty and the institutions own specialties at its own proper level. "Academic institutions are also severely handicapped by such rigidity in their ability to respond to changing educational needs and to financial reverses that most of them face" (Smith,49). Institutions must have the freedom to pursue its own institutional goals.

One of the most stated advantages of tenure is it allows professors academic freedom. However, even tenure fails to guarantee academic freedom because some professors with tenure are more concerned with salary advance or administrative appointments than the faithful exercise of their academic duties. Therefore, tenure may inhibit or corrupt the realization of academic freedom by tenured faculty (Smith, p. 51).

One of the most outstanding problems with tenure is the seven-year rule that was instituted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). In its local chapters and nationally, the AAUP has come to the defense of anyone who has taught seven or more years. Even if no issue of academic freedom is involved and the administration has extended a professor's appointment beyond six years at his request, the administration is told by the AAUP that the professor has tenure. By making seven years the absolute limit of probationary employment, the AAUP imposes a uniform standard on all colleges and universities and on all departments and faculty without regard to the crucial differences that essentially alter the way in which tenure functions in these various contexts. By specifying a uniform deadline within which the "axe of severance" must fall or tenure be granted, the AAUP has in practice forced each academic administrator, whether senior faculty member, department chairman, dean, or president, to disregard the natural laws of development in the lives of individual professors (Smith, p. 47).

These are some of the advantages and disadvantages posed by each side of the tenure debate. It is obvious that both sides have valid arguments in favor of their position. Instead of continuing this debate, we will seek to present viable solutions to please those on either side.

Introduction and Background
The Current Tenure Situation in America
Advantages and Disadvantages of Tenure
Possible Solutions
Concluding Remarks
References and Related Links

Last Modified 12/6/96 -- Jon A. Preston