Tenure Debate Team Project-1

Introduction and Background

TENURE : condition of occupancy; manner or possesing in general.

- New Webster's Dictionary

Tenure in the Medieval Period

Modern academic tenure traces its roots back to the ever-changing and war-ridden period of the Middle Ages. Political rulers and church officials often wanted to secure the safety of academic scholars, sometimes going so far as to promise safe passage, protection from attack, and adequate compensation from loss or attack while the scholars were in the rulers' kingdoms. Kingdoms could advance and progress by learning from the knowledge and work of scholars, so it was to the rulers' advantage that academics felt safe, and subsequently were attracted to settle or at least pass through such friendly kingdoms.

But as easily as rulers of nations such as France and England could give their support to scholars, they could take their support away. To protect against such fluxes in protection and guard against powerful monarchs and religious leaders, medieval scholars began to join together and form "communitas, collegium, societas, consortium" - forerunners of the modern universities. Here, academics could band together and defend themselves as a collective unit. They elected their own officials, and could sue and be sued as a collective. Rules and "academic laws" were established to govern the groups. By establishing such "colleges" or "universities," academics could then protect themselves from physical assault and political and religious attack.

The main premise behind creating these safeguard groups was to avoid persecution for new ideas and work in fields that went against conventional thought and the political and religious leaders of the day. If, for example, a scholar was doing work in a new field that undermined the current powers-that-be, then this academic would certainly come under pressure to discontinue his work.

The tenure system allowed scholars to pursue their work without fear of reprisal or punishment. Since their jobs and livelihood were secure, the scholars could work in fields that would have otherwise caused their political or religious supporters to withdraw protection and finances. Thus the tenure system was established. Scholars "proved" themselves by performing work in the academic field, and then were "elected" into the upper echelon and protected by their fellow academics. In addition to protecting against outside forces, tenure also offers protection from the changing power within the universities.

Tenure in Other Fields and Countries

Tenure was not limited to the field of academics. Other fields such as law, civil service, business, and religion also have had forms of tenure in place during the past. For instance, most priests in both the Catholic and reformed churches have been protected from dismissal. Most collective bargaining groups such as unions have policies of tenure and seniority where workers' jobs are protected by the collective power of the group. The founding of the American federal judicial system in 1787 is another example of tenure, because judges' positions are secure.

Tenure is not limited to Europe or the United States; the need for protection for academics spans the globe. Some other countries that have tenure policies include:

Modern Tenure in the United States

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was founded in 1915 with the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of professors ad the credibility and integrity of the university institutions.

The AAUP created 1925 and 1940 versions of their statements on academic freedom and tenure. These serve as documents "designed to set a framework of norms to guide adaptations to changing times and circumstances." The 1940 version of the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure has become a near-standard when tenure policies are established or compared.

Modern-day tenure can be defined, as stated in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure by the American Association of University Professors, as:

After the expiration of a probationary period,
teachers or investigators should have permanent or
continuous tenure, and their service should be
terminated only for adequate cause, except in the
case of retirement for age, or under extraordinary
circumstances because of financial exigencies.

The "customary probationary period" is a time where scholars who work for the college or university to see if the scholar should become tenured at the school. It can be likened to an "engagement" between the university and the scholar. This customary probationary period "should not exceed seven years," according to the AAUP's 1940 statement and provisions for transfer and "carrying over" years of service in the probationary period are accounted for in the AAUP's 1940 statement. It is suggested that teachers who are dismissed and not granted tenure at an institution be given notice at least one year before the probationary period ends. It is recomended that "teachers should be given the salaries for one year from the date of notification of dismissal whether or not they are continued in their duties at the institute" (AAUP).

There are three customary academic career levels for teachers:

Thus an entry level teacher is in the probationary period, and the non-tenured level teacher is also in the probationary period. The difference lies in that the non-tenured level is "higher" up and closer to becoming tenured. Only the third level of "promotion-and-tenure" gives the teacher total freedom. For the remainder of this paper, "tenure" and "promotion-and-tenure" are considered synonymous. Progression into the tenured positions have traditionaly been attained by a teacher's excellence in:

Academic Freedom and Tenure

Academic freedom supports the professors' rights to perform research and publish the results of the research so long as they can perform their other academic duties. Academic freedom also supports the professors' rights to discuss their subject and anything pertaining to their subject in accordance with institute policy. And finally, academic freedom is based upon the idea that the teacher should be accurate and always seek truth, show respect for others' opinions, and realize and convey that they do not speak for the institution. These tenants are critical to protect the fragile balance between intelectual freedom and abuse of such freedom.

Since academic freedom is critical to the success of the institute, the AAUP states that all teachers and faculty should have the same academic freedom - before and after tenure. This assures that during the probationary period, teachers can pursue their work unhindered and attaining tenure is as fair as possible.


Tenure is intended to be "a means to certain ends". This includes freedom to teach and do research and to give teachers financial security. Thus modern tenure, as layed out by the AAUP in 1940, is intended to attract quality professionals into the academic setting by providing intelectual and finacial freedom.

The underlying principle of tenure, as stated by the AAUP, is that

Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are
indispensible to the success of an institution in
fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.

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