I worked hard, did all the right things, and was awarded tenure. Two weeks later I left my notice. What was to be my Tenure Party, turned out to be my Going Away Party. I don’t believe in tenure. Tenure is one of the many broken pieces of higher education that feeds into the antiquated model of education that so desperately needs a paradigm shift.
What is Tenure? Tenure is an academic track for faculty that is designed to create job security so that faculty will feel comfortable pursuing academic freedoms that might be unpopular or unconventional. Tenure alleviates the pressure of conformity and present faculty with the intellectual autonomy to investigate the issues, problems and solutions without fear of losing their job. Basically, if you are a tenured professor its hard to lose your job.
Why NOT Tenure? Unfortunately, tenure has evolved into more of a hindrance to productivity and performance than a protection of employment. It is a symbol of status and academic greatness that has weakened high education similar to rising tuition costs and grade inflation.
To be awarded tenure, you need to conform, compromise and be popular with your tenure committee. During the six years it takes (on average) to receive tenure, its a good time to open your course evaluations, suck up to students, inflate some grades, play nice in the faculty lounge and pursue only research that will be popular in the campus community.
The year I was awarded tenure, 2 out of the 4 tenure applicants were awarded tenure. Therefore, the other two who did not receive tenure found new jobs at different colleges to start the down the tenure path again, playing nice all over again for six years.
The good news for the two of us who did receive tenure is that we could take our foot of the academic accelerator and coast. Perhaps it was time for a sabbatical? There was no longer a concern over student course evaluations, tenure would protect us unfavorable student opinions. We could feel free to study, research and exercise our academic freedom. Unfortunately, what I saw was that most faculty decided to pursue less purely academic research and more funded research by big business.
Of course this is all merely my experience and my opinions. There are good tenured and bad tenured.
With respect to Academic Freedom, I see the value in tenure. However, shouldn’t the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protect our freedom of speech? Further, most faculty and administration in high education hold advanced degrees and understand the rigor and integrity of research. Therefore, I believe a common respect exists for research finds that are a result of accepted research methods. If the research findings demonstrate an unpopular or controversial result but the methodology is solid, safe to say the faculty will not lose their job.
Does Academic Freedom allow faculty to be truly free to research whatever they please? The optimal word here is FREE. Because most research is not free, and requires grants or college funding, I would argue that Academic Freedom is not free.
My final point, because Tenure removes the commonly placed performance metrics and incentives from professors, there is not reward for achievement, success or financial reward for tenured faculty. They have achieved the high bar, and unless they are self motivated, business theorists like Yasser & Wasi (2014) would argue that there is little incentive for tenured faculty to achieve high performance.
Why value tenure at a college where student tuition was $48,000, grade inflation rates were high and students could learn more from a Google search than they could in the classroom? I now work for an online college that is equally accredited and the quality of our education exceeds that of my previous employer. The annual tuition is $10,000, grades accurately reflect performance, and Google searches are encouraged only to validate and facilitate online discussions.
Change is coming to education. I just hope it gets here before my son goes off to college….