Posts Tagged ‘tenure’

The End of Tenure?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Advocates for granting tenure to university professors usually base their arguments on the principle of academic freedom. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, defends tenure as necessary to shield faculty from capricious complaints. What if a parent complained that her child was being taught about evolution? Surely we value the spirit of free exchange in higher education enough to protect it.

When university presidents discuss tenure, they frame it through a different lens. In a poll of 30 U.S. college presidents published in the Atlantic, only 4 said the abolition of tenure would stifle academic freedom. In fact, 17 of them–the largest block of respondents–said that eliminating tenure would have no effect at all.

Without tenure, all faculty would be put on limited-term contracts, requiring an intensive system of review. At least with tenure systems, universities are forced to make a choice of promoting or releasing a faculty member rather than keeping on a mediocre professor year after year. Still, in a competitive academic market, no university wants to be the first to end tenure. Only if a large group of institutions coordinated their decision could widespread defection be avoided.

Nelson’s point about tenure freeing up academics to publish unpopular views does not have much relevance on a medical campus. I see that faculty receive validation for their work from their peers or students, not from politics. If tenure promotes institutional loyalty and allows for long-term planning, than its benefits outweigh its downsides.

Trends in Tenure

Friday, August 27th, 2010

More than other professional organizations I am familiar with, the Association of American Medical Colleges produces frequent, relevant research reports. They benefit from a trove of data from member institutions and the services of statisticians. Occasionally their findings generate national headlines. Other times the intended audience is more insular.

In a recent analysis, AAMC researchers show that the preponderance of medical schools offer tenure for their clinical and basic science faculty. Boston University School of Medicine is one of just 7 (out of 126) LCME-accredited medical schools that do not offer any form of tenure. The others include the Mayo Medical School but also a few Caribbean-based schools. Newly accredited schools seem to be favoring the tenured/tenure-track model.

While the number of medical schools offering tenure to clinical faculty remains steady, the overall proportion of faculty who are tenured or tenure-track had declined. This is mostly attributable to the growth of “para-faculty” who are not eligible for tenure. Having multiple tiers of faculty invites feelings of second-class citizenry and risks slotting women and minority faculty in lower status positions. If a school allows for tenure, it should be offered uniformly. I’d like to read more about how the lack of tenure at a place like BU has affected recruitment and retention.