Do colleges and universities still need tenure? At one time, it might have served a good purpose by protecting faculty members from dismissal because they advanced unpopular ideas. Today, however, its main function might be to insulated the tenured from adverse consequences of indifferent teaching and to make it hard for institutions to adjust to changing circumstances.
In South Carolina, a bill has been introduced that would end tenure for newly hired faculty in the state’s university system. Jay Schalin looks at the arguments pro and con in today’s Martin Center article.
Schalin writes, “Naturally, faculty organizations are aghast at the thought of eliminating tenure. The AAUP quickly issued a condemnation of the bill, which claimed that the ‘misguided legislation would do irreparable damage to the South Carolina public university system by severely undermining academic freedom.’ It would not only create “a dramatic chilling” of academic freedom, but also of ‘intellectual rigor’ and ‘would certainly impact the state’s ability to attract scholars.’”
The AAUP’s case doesn’t impress him: “Today, the real threat to academic freedom is not intrusive corporations, dogmatic trustees, or backward legislators, as it may have been in the 19th century. The current danger comes from within the university itself — and often by the very people who are protected by tenure.”
Besides, there are other contractual ways of defending academic freedom and protecting faculty members against unjust dismissal.
It will be interesting to see how the bill fares in the South Carolina legislature.
Schalin concludes, “Tenure is an idea whose time has passed; academia has responded to the need to protect academic freedom through policies and contracts, the legal system has also advanced in that regard with a large body of court decisions, and there are new concerns that need new solutions for which tenure is a barrier, not an aid.”
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