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Tenure: Does It Help or Hurt Academia?

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By Jenna Ashley Robinson

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January 06, 2012

The institution of tenure can be a heated topic. But in an age of relative austerity on campus, institutions must consider whether the expensive practice earns its keep. Lindenwood University made the controversial decision to end tenure in 1989 in response to budget shortfalls—and reported no adverse effects on faculty from the change.

Many arguments against tenure exist. Duke Cheston argues that tenure fails to fulfill its main purpose: securing academic freedom and promoting open inquiry on campus. Similarly, some professors have said that it stifles the freedom of expression it is supposed to support while also creating inefficiencies. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s The Faculty Lounges claims the institution of tenure is responsible for many of the ills of higher education.

Roger E. Meiners defends tenure here, arguing that tenure is relatively effective at regulating faculty salaries and contributes to stability on campus—and thus eliminating it wouldn’t yield much savings. In Faulty Towers: Tenure and the Structure of Higher Education, Meiners and Ryan C. Amacher blame inefficiencies in academia on the non-profit nature of nearly all colleges and universities rather than the tenure system. Mary Grabar describes her own experience here: the discovery that without tenure even the teaching of basic English is driven by political correctness.

Also worth consideration is the plight of adjunct faculty—who have the same degrees as their tenured counterparts but are paid far, far less. Naomi Schaefer Riley blames this inconsistency in pay on the tenure system itself, while others simply note that there is significant over-supply of Ph.D.s in many humanities and social science disciplines.

Dirk Mateer outlines some of the alternatives to tenure here, including the use of multi-year contracts and teaching specialists.

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