Academic tenure

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Tenure is a category of academic appointment existing in some countries. A tenured post is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency or program discontinuation. Tenure is a means of defending the principle of academic freedom, which holds that it is beneficial for society in the long run if scholars are free to hold and examine a variety of views.


By country

United States and Canada

Under the tenure systems adopted by many universities and colleges in the United States and Canada, some faculty positions have tenure and some do not. Typical systems (such as the widely adopted "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure" of the American Association of University Professors [1] ) allow only a limited period to establish a record of published research, ability to attract grant funding, academic visibility, teaching excellence, and administrative or community service. They limit the number of years that any employee can remain employed as a non-tenured instructor or professor, compelling the institution to grant tenure to or terminate an individual, with significant advance notice, at the end of a specified time period. Some institutions require promotion to Associate Professor as a condition of tenure. A university may also offer research positions or professional track and clinical track academic positions which are said to be "non-tenure track". Positions with titles such as Instructor, Lecturer, Adjunct Professor, Research Professor etc. do not carry the possibility of tenure, have higher teaching loads (other than maybe the research positions), have less influence within the institution, lower compensation with few or no benefits (see Adjunct professor), and little protection of academic freedom. [2]

In response to Nazi manipulations of university faculty in Germany and Poland, [3] the modern conception of tenure in US higher education originated with the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. [4] Jointly formulated and endorsed by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the 1940 Statement is endorsed by over 250 scholarly and higher education organizations and is widely adopted into faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements at institutions of higher education throughout the United States. [5] This statement holds that, "The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition" and stresses that academic freedom is essential in teaching and research in this regard.

In the United States, tenure rights for teachers serving in (K-12) public schools also have been in existence for more than a hundred years. [6]

United Kingdom

The original form of academic tenure was removed in the United Kingdom in 1988. [7] [8] In its place there is the distinction between permanent and temporary contracts for academics. A permanent lecturer in UK universities usually holds an open-ended position that covers teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities.


Academics are divided into two classes: On the one hand, professors (W2/W3&C3/C4 positions in the new&old systems of pay grades) are employed as state civil servants and hold tenure as highly safeguarded lifetime employment; On the other hand, there is a much larger group of "junior staff" on fixed-term contracts, research grants, fellowships and part-time jobs. In 2010, 9% of academic staff were professors, 66% were "junior staff" (including doctoral candidates on contracts), and 25% were other academic staff in secondary employment. [9] Permanent research, teaching and management positions below professorship as an "Akademischer Rat" (a civil service position salaried like high school teachers) have become relatively rare compared to the 1970s and 1980s and are often no longer refilled after a retirement. [10] In order to attain the position of Professor, in some fields, an academic must usually complete a "Habilitation" (a kind of broader second PhD thesis; the very highest degree available within the university, entitling the holder to be a "full professor"), after which they are eligible for tenureship. This means that, compared to other countries, academics in Germany obtain tenure at a relatively late age, as on average one becomes an Academic Assistant at the age of 42. [11] In 2002 the "Juniorprofessur" position (comparable to an assistant professor in the US, but not always endowed with a tenure track) was introduced as an alternative to "Habilitation". However, the degree of formal equivalence between a "Habilitation" and a successfully completed "Juniorprofessur" varies across the different states (Bundesländer), and the informal recognition of having served as a "Juniorprofessur" as a replacement for the "Habilitation" in the appointment procedures for professorships varies greatly between disciplines.

Due to a university system that guarantees universities relative academic freedom, the position of professor in Germany is relatively strong and independent. As civil servants, professors have a series of attendant rights and benefits, yet this status is subject to discussion. In the W pay scale the professorial pay is related to performance rather than merely to age, as it was in C.


Danish universities in advertisements for faculty positions usually state that professor positions are tenured. However, the interpretation of tenure at Danish universities has been a matter of controversy.

Denmark adopted a more hierarchical management approach for universities in the early 2000s. This new system was introduced by parliament on proposal by the Minister of Science, Technology and Development, Helge Sander, based on his vision that Danish universities in the future should compete about funding in analogy to football clubs in order to increase their attention to marketing and industry. [12]

The controversial understanding of tenure in Denmark was demonstrated by University of Copenhagen in 2016, when the university fired the internationally renowned professor, Hans Thybo, after 37 years of employment in academic positions. [13] [ neutrality is disputed ] A later court decision ruled the dismissal illegal after a court hearing demonstrated that the university's reasons for the dismissal were false accusations by managers, but the university did not reinstall Thybo in his position. [14] The university maintained the dismissal after having received written statement from the postdoc that the accusation was false, and that Thybo never put pressure on him to do anything. This particular university carried out other similar dismissals after Thybo's case.

Arguments in favor

Defenders of tenure, like Ellen Schrecker and Aeon J. Skoble, generally acknowledge flaws in how tenure approvals are currently run and problems in how tenured professors might use their time, security, and power; however, as Skoble puts it, the "downsides are either not as bad as claimed, or [are] costs outweighed by the benefits"—and he points out that the very debate about tenure in which he is engaging is made possible by the academic freedom which tenure makes possible. [15] "Tenure remains scholars' best defense of free inquiry and heterodoxy," writes Skoble, "especially in these times of heightened polarization and internet outrage. Let us focus on fixing it, not scrapping it." [16]

The job security granted by tenure is necessary to recruit talented individuals into university professorships, because in many fields private industry jobs pay significantly more; as Schrecker puts it, providing professors "the kind of job security that most other workers can only dream of" counterbalances universities' inability to compete with the private sector: "Universities, after all, are not corporations and cannot provide the kinds of financial remuneration that similarly educated individuals in other fields expect." [17] Furthermore, Schrecker continues, because research positions require extreme specialization, they must consolidate the frequency and intensity of performance evaluations across a given career, and they cannot have the same flexibility or turnover rates as other jobs, making the tenure process a practical necessity: "A mathematician cannot teach a class on medieval Islam, nor can an art historian run an organic chemistry lab. Moreover, there is no way that the employing institution can provide the kind of retraining that would facilitate such a transformation... even the largest and most well-endowed institution lacks the resources to reevaluate and replace its medieval Islamicists and algebraic topologists every year. Tenure thus lets the academic community avoid excessive turnover while still ensuring the quality of the institution's faculty. It is structured around two assessments -- one at hiring, the other some six years later -- that are far more rigorous than those elsewhere in society and give the institution enough confidence in the ability of the successful candidates to retain them on a permanent basis." [18]

Above all, however, tenure is essential because it protects academic freedom: not only in cases in which a scholar's politics may run counter to those of their department, institution, or funding bodies, but also and most often in cases when a scholar's work innovates in ways that challenge received wisdom in the field. As much Ellen Schrecker identifies its flaws, she asserts tenure's crucial role in preserving academic freedom:

And yet, despite its whittling away by such unfortunate decisions as Urofsky, Garcetti, and Hong, the traditional form of academic freedom still exists, misunderstood and imperiled as it may be. It exists by virtue of two practices that protect the job security and institutional authority of college and university teachers: tenure and faculty governance. It exists as well because of the procedural guarantees that surround those practices... My own experiences prove tenure's value. As a historian who wants to conform to the highest professional standards while also trying to contribute in some way to the cause of freedom and social justice, I am viewed as a controversial figure in some circles. I would be seriously hampered in my work, however, if I was constantly worrying about losing my job because of something I wrote or said... Tenure is also the mechanism through which institutions create a protected space within which college and university teachers can exercise their craft without worrying that an unpopular or unorthodox undertaking might put their careers at risk. More concretely, it creates an economically secure cohort of senior faculty members who can (and sometimes do) defend the quality of American education as well as the ability of their colleagues to teach, do research, and speak out as citizens without fear of institutional reprisals. Such, at least, is the idealized version of the relationship between tenure and academic freedom.

[ full citation needed ]

In elementary and secondary schools, tenure also protects teachers from being fired for personal, political, or other non-work related reasons: tenure prohibits school districts from firing experienced teachers to hire less experienced, less expensive teachers as well as protects teachers from being fired for teaching unpopular, controversial, or otherwise challenged curricula such as evolutionary biology, theology, and controversial literature.[ citation needed ]

If the "social justice" element of Schrecker's defense makes it seem like present-day assurances of academic freedom create a politically left echo chamber in academic departments, Skoble observes that tenure thus becomes all the more necessary to preserve a diversity of ideas: "There is an orthodoxy in the academy, a well-documented leftward slant in political affiliation. To Bruce, this is an argument against tenure, but my point is that the more I am persuaded that there is groupthink orthodoxy afoot, the more I want assurances that I would not get fired if I write an essay on free trade or the Second Amendment or a book on anarchism. I take it the counterargument is that the more entrenched the orthodoxy becomes, the less likely a heterodox scholar will be tenured, or even hired, in the first place... I can see that this poses a problem but fail to see how abolishing tenure would help. As things stand, some heterodox scholars do get hired and tenured.. If only the heterodox need formal protection, and we have a problem with growing orthodoxy, then eliminating the formal protection will exacerbate the problem." [19]

Skoble argues categorically and plainly against critics that say "tenure protects incompetent professors": "My argument is that when this happens, it is a malfunction of the system, not an intrinsic feature of its proper use. The way it is supposed to work is that incompetent professors do not get tenure in the first place. The rebuttal is 'but they do, therefore tenure is a bad idea.' But that is like arguing that because you ran a red light and caused a train wreck, driving is a bad idea." [20]

Arguments against

Some have argued that modern tenure systems diminish academic freedom, forcing those seeking tenured positions to profess conformance to the level of mediocrity as those awarding the tenured professorships. For example, according to physicist Lee Smolin, " is practically career suicide for a young theoretical physicist not to join the field of string theory." [21]

Economist Steven Levitt, who recommends the elimination of tenure (for economics professors) in order to incentivize higher performance among professors, also points out that a pay increase may be required to compensate faculty members for the lost job security. [22]

Some U.S. states have considered legislation to remove tenure at public universities. [23]

A further criticism of tenure is that it rewards complacency. Once professors are awarded tenure, they may begin putting reduced effort into their job, knowing that their removal is difficult or expensive to the institution. [24] Another criticism is that it may cause the institution to tolerate incompetent professors if they are tenured. Gilbert Lycan, a history professor at Stetson University, writing in respect of a fellow professor he deemed unacceptable, stated that "the dean ... would not tolerate ineffective teaching by a non-tenured teacher who was making no effort to improve," [25] thereby tacitly admitting, or at least leaving open the fair inference, that ineffective teaching is tolerated if the professor is tenured.

See also

Related Research Articles

Academic tenure in the United States and Canada is a contractual right that grants a teacher or professor a permanent position of employment at an academic institution such as a university or school. Tenure is intended to protect teachers from dismissal without just cause, and to allow development of thoughts or ideas considered unpopular or controversial among the community. In North America, tenure is granted only to educators whose work is considered to be exceptionally productive and beneficial in their careers.

Habilitation is the highest university degree, or the procedure by which it is achieved, in many European countries. The candidate fulfills a university's set criteria of excellence in research, teaching and further education, usually including a dissertation. The degree, sometimes abbreviated "Dr. habil." or "PD", is a qualification for professorship in those countries. The conferral is usually accompanied by a lecture to a colloquium.

Lecturer is an academic rank within many universities, though the meaning of the term varies somewhat from country to country. It generally denotes an academic expert who is hired to teach on a full- or part-time basis. They may also conduct research.

Academic freedom is a moral and legal concept expressing the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts without fear of repression, job loss, or imprisonment. While the core of academic freedom covers scholars acting in an academic capacity — as teachers or researchers expressing strictly scholarly viewpoints —, an expansive interpretation extends these occupational safeguards to scholars' speech on matters outside their professional expertise. Especially within the anglo-saxon discussion it is most commonly defined as a type of freedom of speech, while the current scientific discourse in the Americas and Continental Europe more often define it as a human right with freedom of speech just being one aspect among many within the concept of academic freedom.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is an organization of professors and other academics in the United States. AAUP membership includes over 500 local campus chapters and 39 state organizations.

Academic administration is a branch of university or college employees responsible for the maintenance and supervision of the institution and separate from the faculty or academics, although some personnel may have joint responsibilities. Some type of separate administrative structure exists at almost all academic institutions. Fewer institutions are governed by employees who are also involved in academic or scholarly work. Many senior administrators are academics who have advanced degrees and no longer teach or conduct research.

Governance in higher education is the means by which institutions for higher education are formally organized and managed. Simply, university governance is the way in which universities are operated. Governing structures for higher education are highly differentiated throughout the world, but the different models nonetheless share a common heritage. Internationally, tertiary education includes private not-for-profit, private for-profit, and public institutions governed by differentiated structures of management.

The following summarizes basic academic ranks in the French higher education system. Most academic institutions are state-run and most academics with permanent positions are civil servants, and thus are tenured.

Academic freedom at Brigham Young University (BYU) has been the subject of several controversies, mostly focusing on its religious nature. In 1992, BYU issued a statement limiting academic freedom in certain areas, including language that attacked the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and language that violates the university's honor code.

Professors in the United States commonly occupy any of several positions of teaching and research within a college or university. In the U.S., the word "professor" informally refers collectively to the academic ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, or professor. This usage differs from the predominant usage of the word professor internationally, where the unqualified word professor only refers to "full professors." The majority of university lecturers and instructors in the United States, as of 2015, do not occupy these tenure-track ranks, but are part-time adjuncts, or more commonly referred as college teachers.

This article describes the academic positions and ranks in Sweden.

Martha Smeltzer West an American attorney and legal scholar who served as general counsel for the American Association of University Professors and Professor Emerita at the UC Davis School of Law. In 1998, she won California's first federal grant under the Violence Against Women Act, using the money to found the Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic at UC Davis Law School. West was the lead author of the 2005 white paper "Unprecedented Urgency: Gender Discrimination in Faculty Hiring at the University of California" and of the 2006 AAUP report "Organizing around Gender Equity."

Academic ranks in Canada are the titles, relative importance and power of professors, researchers, and administrative personnel held in academia.

Academic ranks in Germany are the titles, relative importance and power of professors, researchers, and administrative personnel held in academia.

Academic ranks in Denmark are the positions and titles of professors, researchers, and administrative personnel held in academia at Danish institutions, and the relations between them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Peterson (psychologist)</span>

Joseph Peterson was an American psychologist and a past president of the American Psychological Association (APA).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1911 Brigham Young University modernism controversy</span>

The 1911 modernism controversy at Brigham Young University was an episode involving four professors at Brigham Young University (BYU), who between 1908 and 1911 widely taught evolution and higher criticism of the Bible, arguing that modern scientific thought was compatible with Christian and Mormon theology. The professors were popular among students and the community but their teachings concerned administrators, and drew complaints from stake presidents, eventually resulting in the resignation of all four faculty members, an event that "leveled a serious blow to the academic reputation of Brigham Young University—one from which the Mormon school did not fully recover until successive presidential administrations."

The political views of American academics began to receive attention in the 1930s, and investigation into faculty political views expanded rapidly after the rise of McCarthyism. Demographic surveys of faculty that began in the 1950s and continue to the present have found higher percentages of liberals than of conservatives, particularly among those who work in the humanities and social sciences. Researchers and pundits disagree about survey methodology and about the interpretations of the findings.

An adjunct professor is a type of academic appointment in higher education who does not work at the establishment full-time. The terms of this appointment and the job security of the tenure vary in different parts of the world, but the term is generally agreed to mean a bona-fide part-time faculty member in an adjunct position at an institution of higher education.


  1.; this statement has been adopted by more than 200 scholarly and academic groups ( The American Association of University Professors also publishes "Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure".
  2. "The Status of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty | AAUP". 17 December 2008. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  3. "A brief history of academic freedom".
  4. "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure – AAUP". 10 July 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  5. "What is academic tenure?". 30 June 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  6. "Tenure". American Federation of Teachers. 2015-06-01. Retrieved 2021-01-07.
  7. "Education Reform Act 1988". Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  8. Enders, Jürgen. "Explainer: how Europe does academic tenure". The Conversation. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  9. "buwin2013keyresults.pdf — BuWiN 2017". (in German). Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  10. "Prekäre Arbeitsverhältnisse an Universitäten nehmen zu". Der Tagesspiegel Online (in German). 9 December 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  11. "Explainer: how Europe does academic tenure". 6 February 2018. Archived from the original on 6 February 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  12. "Helge Sander forandrede universiteterne totalt og fortryder intet". University Post (in Danish). 2021-06-03. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  13. Schiermeier, Quirin (5 December 2016). "Nature: Sacking of prominent geoscientist rocks community". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.21095. S2CID   186102842.
  14. "Sacking of top geologist Hans Thybo was unjustified". 27 November 2017.
  15. Aeon J. Skoble, "Tenure: The Good Outweighs the Bad -- A Surresponse to James E. Bruce," in Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 22, Number 1 (Spring 2019): 207–210, quoted at 208.
  16. Aeon J. Skoble, "Tenure: The Good Outweighs the Bad -- A Surresponse to James E. Bruce," in Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 22, Number 1 (Spring 2019): 207–210, quoted at 210.
  17. Ellen Schrecker, The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University (The New Press, 2010), p. 26
  18. Ellen Schrecker, The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University (The New Press, 2010), p. 27-28
  19. Aeon J. Skoble, "Tenure: The Good Outweighs the Bad -- A Surresponse to James E. Bruce," in Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 22, Number 1 (Spring 2019): 207–210, quoted at 208-9.
  20. Aeon J. Skoble, "Tenure: The Good Outweighs the Bad -- A Surresponse to James E. Bruce," in Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 22, Number 1 (Spring 2019): 207–210, quoted at 209.
  21. Lee Smolin (2008). The Trouble with Physics . Penguin Books. ISBN   978-0-14-101835-5.
  22. Levitt, Steven (4 March 2007). "Let's Just Get Rid of Tenure (Including Mine)". Freakonomics . Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  23. Flaherty, Colleen. "Killing Tenure". Inside Higher Ed . Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  24. "Study links tenure criteria to long-term professor performance". Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  25. Lycan, Mountaineers Are Free at 297 (Stone Mountain, Georgia: Linton Day Publishing Co. 1994).

Further reading