What’s the minimum that you would accept to give up tenure? Steve Levitt’s asking price is only $15,000, on the rationale that “the value of tenure is inversely related to how good you are. If you are way over the bar, you face almost no risk if tenure is abolished. So the really good people would require very small salary increases to compensate for no tenure, whereas the really bad, unproductive economists would need a much bigger subsidy to remain in a department with tenure gone.”
Although I could probably be induced to give up my tenure in exchange for a higher salary, my reservation wage is significantly higher than $15,000. In part, of course, that’s because I’m no Steve Levitt. As noted by Greg Mankiw in this Chronicle of Higher Education article on the topic (subscription or day pass required for access), most faculty would place a higher economic value on job security than Levitt, a respected and prolific scholar, author, and teacher, and former John Bates Clark medal winner. But there are other reasons as well. Faculty politics are often fairly irrational. As such, it’s “the petty things,” rather than being fired for lack of productivity or holding unpopular views, that untenured faculty might reasonably fear most. As Daniel Solove argues, “[p]rofessors may be terminated because others don’t like what they say at faculty meetings or how they vote on hiring and tenure decisions. They may be terminated for petty interschool or interdepartmental politics.”
In theory, tenure is thought to perform a variety of positive functions, including incentivizing faculty to hire the best new faculty. The extent to which tenure delivers on these promises in practice is much debated. In the upcoming days, I’ll post on a different aspect of this debate – is tenure really the culprit that prevents law schools from shedding their “deadwood?” As I’ll elaborate in that post, Incentives and Institutions: Why Stop with the Banks?, I believe that it is not.