Is tenure really what we think it is?

Aug 23 2012 Published by under Careers, Life

Read this: Court Rejects Law Professor's Assertion That 'Tenure' Means Continuous Employment.

So what does this mean for academic tenure in general? Maybe it's not as ironclad as people often think.


12 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    At medical schools tenure has been less than it's made out to be for a while now.

    "Congratulations, you've got tenure! We won't fire you but we might stop paying you."

  • Dr Becca says:

    As far as I can tell, "tenure" is a promotion and small change in title, but not much else.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    As I find myself saying with increasing frequency: "I've blogged about this."

    It's never been ironclad. But the public perception is that it's ironclad, and that is something that we academics have to dispel.

    • odyssey says:

      I would go as far as to say there are tenured faculty laboring under the misconception that tenure is ironclad. We need to educate them first.

      • Zen Faulkes says:

        Why I think we need to do general public before tenured faculty:

        Because there are more of the general public than tenured faculty. And they vote.

        There is a category of politicians who are itching to go even further in dismantling the tenure system using problems that don't exist - but are perceived to exist by the general public - as excuses.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Reading the article, I was not clear about the situation. It used to be a matter that if you were full time call staff on yearly contracts, and you got a seventh year contract, you were then tenured. We had an unplanned incident of that in another department.

    About that time, my department was doing a search. The Vice President and Provost told me we could not hire anyone presently working as call staff. I thought to myself, "Yeah, sure, do you really want to read in the newspapers how working here means you are unqualified to work here? We are going to to do a nationwide search and hire who we please." As it turned out, one of our call staff was best qualified and hired into tenure track. I see she is now an Associate Professor.

    My university had started hiring full time call staff on one year contracts, with the oral assurance that they would continue on one year contracts so long as they were needed and did satisfactory work. I was not real pleased with this, but it gives the administration flexibility, you know.

  • This article is uninterpretable, and makes it sound like this professor never had tenure in the first place:

    Ms. Branham had held a one-year teaching contract with the Michigan law school and was dismissed in December 2006, the final month of her contract year.

    The whole essence of tenure is that you no longer have a contract with a specific term of employment. So if she was hired on a one-year teaching contract, then by definition she didn't have tenure.

    • odyssey says:

      You're right. A better article is here. She did have tenure, at least tenure as Cooley apparently defined it. The key, at least in my mind, is the following (lifted from the linked article in this comment):

      "The Sixth Circuit's decision is very important to institutions of higher learning because it confirms that 'tenure' is a contractual concept which takes its meaning only from the language of the particular employment contract and from nothing else," Robb said.

      Moral of the story is, read your employment contract very carefully. But of course everyone already does that, right?

      • physioprof says:

        I have tenure, and as far as I know, I don't have any employment contract. And the faculty handbook of my university--which I assume is what counts as my contract--says absolutely nothing about what tenure means from a legal standpoint, except that it means I am appointed as a faculty member without a term-limited appointment.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Thinking back (and maybe making things up) I think I got a yearly contract until I was tenured, then no more contracts. One of my colleagues had a wierd contract, two academic year quarters and the summer quarter. After she was tenured, we changed to a semester system. Our Dean presented her with a new contract just for the academic year. She did not want to sign it. I told her to ignore it. She did, and in the confusion, it never happened.