Search the Lounge


« The Curious Case of the Missing Q | Main | Sunstein's Least-Cited Article? »

April 04, 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


The fundamental reason for tenure is to promote academic freedom and speech. The McCarthy era was not so long ago--the thrilling days where faculty members had to flee certain universities due to their political views. This to me is the great risk to the dismantling of tenure.

Isn't the answer a more serious faculty review process after tenure? My understanding is that at most schools it is pro forma, with little or no teeth.


The other reason for tenure is faculty governance. WIthout tenure, it slips more and more to something that is just a rubber stamp.


Of course they can attract quality faculty without tenure; where else are law professors going to go?

Orin Kerr

When you say dismantle tenure "prospectively", does that mean hire new professors that are not tenured while the professors hired with tenure retain it?

Jacqui Lipton

You got me there, Orin. I hadn't thought it through that far. Could tenure be "phased out" at such a school? For example, no one currently tenured loses tenure but as those folks retire they are replaced with non-tenured folks? I can see that removing tenure from folks who already hold tenure would be nigh on impossible.

After all, promotion and tenure requirements change over time i.e. expectations of the quantity and quality of scholarship required by junior faculty as compared with their senior counterparts. So couldn't expectations as to the existence of tenure also change over time within a given school?

To put it another way, if a new prospective hire at Harvard Law School knew (s)he wouldn't be eligible for tenure even though his/her senior colleagues would have tenure (but also knew that no other new hires would get tenure), would that be a disincentive to take a faculty position at Harvard?


Sure, people would eventually adapt, especially if it was something started at the top (Tier 1). But what about those on the tenure track? Would they fall in the "too bad so sad" category or would they be grandfathered in since they are already working the job under the assumption that tenure is forthcoming?


Those of us who have been on the job market in the last couple of yeaes (the "law school scam" years) are distinctly aware that some law schools will cease to exist in the next decade. How many or which ones, no one can say for sure. But if I were weighing a TT offer from a 4th tier or unaccredited school against an offer from a higher-ranked more stable school that was abolishing tenure prospectively, I would certainly take the latter.

Seval Yildirim

For those of us who write and speak on controversial topics (such as critiques of US foreign policy, Israeli state violence, Islamophobia, inadequacy of international law) and speak publicly about these topics, and/or those of us coming from minority backgrounds (racial, ethnic, sexual, religious) tenure is what we look forward to when we begin teaching. Many of us self-censor before tenure in our writing, at conferences, during faculty meetings, or on blogs like this, because we are fully cognizant that we are already swimming upstream because of who and/or what we are. In the midst of the current anti-intellectual climate where educational structures are being critiqued solely from an economic angle, I find even the thought of dismantling tenure extremely scary for those of us who are peripheral to academic power structures (for various and varying reasons).


To extend my earlier thought, I don't see professors talking about tenure as a faculty governance issue often enough. I think this may stem from most professors having been in the heavily tenured atmospheres that exist at most schools.

Ask yourself these questions:

Would a Dean who didn't have a tenured faculty position to go back to fight against a university siphoning more and more money from the law school (and from the law students)?

Would faculty members be willing to object to the selection of a dean foisted on them from the outside by a university or board for reasons that are contrary to the educational mission of the school?

Would faculty object to decisions made by an administration that negatively affected the education their students received (while boosting the school's bottom line)? Say increasing class sizes to match large undergraduate classes...200+ students in a lecture hall...

Would they do this if one possible result is the school deciding not to renew the professor's contract? (The school only has to do it once for it to have an effect, by the way.)

If these questions do not immediately jump to mind when the tenure question comes up, then I would like to politely suggest that your awareness may be stuck in a "tenure bubble."

I know faculty are not perfect at governance, but they are better at the alternative. Who is more likely to protect the educational program and mission? Who is more likely to protect the students?

Orin Kerr

ATLProf, your questions presume that tenured faculty currently exercise their faculty governance rights in a selfless way to help the school, rather than in a selfish way to help themselves. Could you offer some argument/evidence for that?

Jacqueline Lipton

KDI - I suppose that someone who was hired expecting tenure should still get tenure? I wasn't making a concrete proposal in the initial post. Just raising the issue for discussion.

ATL Prof - I echo Orin's question re your comments, and also are you suggesting that the multiple kinds of organization that don't have tenure structures cannot engage in effective governance? Health-care organizations? Business organizations? I'll buy the argument that tenure supports academic freedom which is what it's for, but I'm less sure about its necessity for faculty governance.

Additionally, I'm not convinced that deans stand up routinely for faculties anyway. University administrations have much more obvious/easy ways of enticing deans to do their bidding in terms of the ability of removing them from their decanal positions and taking away other benefits (high salaries etc). I'm not convinced that tenure is what makes a dean into a potentially strong advocate for the school.

Teaches without tenure

Expect grade inflations, lots more. The shift from tenured professors to untenured instructors in universities is one of the causes of grade inflation. Students don't want fair grades, they want good grades. And administrators don't want problems.


"Expect grade inflations, lots more. The shift from tenured professors to untenured instructors in universities is one of the causes of grade inflation. Students don't want fair grades, they want good grades. And administrators don't want problems."

Half of the law school students don't get jobs as lawyers. This is not due to grade inflation. I understand that this discussion is only tangentially related to serving the students, but citing grade inflation--the downside of which is diluting the value of high grades and the degree overall--as a argument against removing tenure seems to miss the mark. Grade inflation only affects graduates. And clearly very few at law schools care about these people. So essentially your saying that removing tenure would harm students and graduates. Sorry, but if advancing the interest of students was ever the aim of tenure (it wasn't, but...), then the system failed horribly.

And, moreover, I just graduated from a school with plenty of tenured professors. And, suffice it to say, I had plenty of company of the magna cum laude level.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad