Should Tenure Be Abolished?

In a recent article for Time, Andrew Rotherham explored the tenure system in higher education.  Critics claim that the tenure system is outdated and no longer necessary; while proponents claim that tenure ensures a continued culture of intellectual independence and inquiry.  Rotherham begins with an examination of the complaints against the tenure system:

It creates negative incentives and reduces productivity.  The tenure system does not have any mechanism for ensuring professors remain productive after they have been tenured.  Administrators can do nothing, and so instead turn to cheaper, contract-based adjunct professors.

There are no across the board standards for tenure requirements.  Each school can determine its own standards for tenure, and in no school is quality of teaching taken into account.

Tenure can be easily abused.  The system has extended the blanket of “academic freedom” to cover all sorts of questionable behaviors, such as accessing pornography from university computers.

But for all this, proponents point out that administrators can use a variety of tools to keep their professors in check, including subtle and overt retaliation for non-mainstream views.  Furthermore, it is the administrators themselves who have set (or accepted) the standards for tenure in their respective institutions; if the bar is so low as to be meaningless, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Several states have tried to modify their university tenure systems, but have not been successful in the face of vehement opposition.  However the current economic situation is actually doing more to undermine the tenure system than any legislative reform: adjunct professors are cheaper.

Rotherham notes that where people come down on the issue depends heavily on where they sit in the classroom.   An interesting exception, however, are the general opinions of college presidents.  To find out their interesting viewpoints, read the full article at,8599,2080601,00.html?artId=2080601?contType=article?chn=us