In Favor of Tenure
The article "Tenure Comes Under Stricter Review" (April 24) mistakenly claims that tenure "guarantee[s] a job for life."
Tenure simply guarantees that following a probationary period, usually seven years, and after careful scrutiny by fellow faculty members and administrators for outstanding work in teaching, research, and service, a faculty member can be dismissed only for cause.
Those causes are essentially incompetence, moral turpitude, and demonstrated financial exigence of the university.
The article also implies that the university would be better served by the model of corporate America - where workers can be fired at the pleasure of their bosses, and subservience and obeisance are the watchwords of the day.
A careful look at major historical world cultures yields the discovery that the development of individual liberties in the West, and their historic absence elsewhere, is rooted in part in the institution of the free university.
Only in the West did there emerge the institutionalization, through the university, of the right of certain people, and eventually all citizens, in theory, to challenge the sacred truths of society.
If the corporate model is institutionalized in our universities, the true losers will not be the faculty, but our children and future. Why? As we enter the new millennium there are tremendously important issues and problems that must be addressed.
For one, is the shift toward a more 19th-century free-market economy a movement toward human liberty and progress, or the latest manifestation of corporate greed and class warfare?
If we are to answer such questions well, the right to present unpopular beliefs must be preserved. Those who believe that the threat to free inquiry in the university is overstated have simply closed their eyes to history, especially to the history of this century.
Hugh D. Hudson Jr.
Executive Secretary, Georgia Conference, American Association of University Professors
The article suggests that non-tenure-track faculty routinely negotiate contracts and, from the cases given, intimates that wages and other conditions remain comparable to faculty with tenure.
Many universities have a two-tier system in which non-tenure-track faculty are used as low-cost revenue producers. These faculty teach full-time loads and fulfill other administrative and academic tasks. While doing essentially the same tasks compared with tenure-track faculty, their salaries are about 50 percent lower. Benefits, if they have any, are fewer, and their contracts are usually only one-year appointments.
Perhaps tenure should be changed, but this common alternative is not a hopeful solution.
Thomas B. Stevenson
New Lexington, Ohio
The article neglects to fully explain the rationale for tenure: to create an environment where even the most orthodox ideas can be challenged. In this way knowledge and invention can be advanced.
Tenure is not a "perk" that can be traded for higher salary or sabbaticals. It is not automatic. At the University of Illinois, fewer than half the junior faculty hired get tenure.
Tenure creates quality control by a tough selection process. It provides continuity and stability in university teaching. It encourages faculty to go the extra mile for students.
Are there problems associated with administering tenure? Sure. However, the solution is not to abolish it, but to make it better. Here at Illinois, a top-level committee is working hard to do just that.
Vice President, Academic Affairs
University of Illinois
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