Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Removing University Faculty Tenure

There was an interesting article in the NY Times discussing the failings of tenure in K-12 education and several states trying to remove the tenure process [linky]. If you’re reading this blog, then you probably already know the merits of both sides of the argument, so I’m not going to remind anyone of those. However, removing the tenure system at K-12 (which I think will eventually happen) is certainly a step towards removing tenure at the collegiate level.

The dynamics of tenure for K-12 teachers and university faculty are vastly different. University faculty are not only rated on their effectiveness for teaching (albeit a minor part of the overall “score”) and their contribution to academic service, but they also must graduate successful students, perform research, publish, and, most importantly, bring in money.

What if we assume there wasn’t a tenure system? Would a full professor who has presumably brought in a lot of money for a university escape the headsman’s ax if the budget gods decided their salary was not justified (no matter the amount of money they bring in)? Would they rather have the younger (cheaper) asst/assoc prof who doesn’t bring in as much money? I’m not so sure that would be the argument. I suspect the argument would revert back to who is the better teacher. If that’s the case, then my money’s on the asst/assoc prof because they still have jumps left in their career.

Do you think the university tenure system is going to be dismantled at some point (and if so, when)? How much do you think the typical ratios for performance evaluation would change? Some typical numbers I know of are 50% research, 30% teaching, and 20% service.


  1. I'm going to guess that we will start to see tenure go away at the university level during our lifetimes. It will also lead to the further decreases in U.S. academic quality.

    At public schools, it will come down to money. I think everyone will be on soft money. It's not that they will remove you, it will come down to paying your own salary. At private schools, teaching might play more of a role, but I think there will be separate teaching and research only faculty.

  2. Why do you think it would cause a decline in US academic quality? My guess is they couldn't remove tenure without re-vamping the proposal-slog system. I think most profs would trade less proposal writing with the same payout and give up tenure (or at least I would).

    I'm going into this with eyes wide open, optimistic, but prepared to adapt if things change.