The tenure system is a relic of the past and should not be used in the new millenium.
I am a PhD student hoping to secure a teaching position once I have finished my degree, but my dreams don’t include tenure. Some point to the benefits of tenure as: freeing a scholar from fear of reprisal for his or her ideas and creating an environment of security where pet projects can be explored (for more on the tenure system see the wikipedia entry, in case you scoff at me for citing wikipedia, see a report on the accuracy of wikipedia in the journal Nature. But, I think the negative consequences of tenure outweight the positives.
Tenure promotes an academic “underclass.” The priviledged few that secure tenured teaching positions jealously hold onto them in some cases well beyond reasonable retirement and consume a department’s limited resources which forces the department to rely on adjunct professors that are paid not even a part-time salary without benefits. More importantly, instead of encouraging good scholarship tenure subsidizes laziness and the pursuit of incredibly archane and uberspecialized research that is unhelpful to the rest of society.
Furthermore, in order to secure tenure hopeful professors must produce a list of publications just at the time in their career when they should be focusing on sharpening their teaching skills and learning their field. Young scholars fresh out of PhD school should not really be publishing a lot anyway. People need time to attain a fuller understanding of the field before they start throwing out their new ideas in publications. Forcing early publication just produces a lot of half-baked theories or ultra specialized treatments of trivial subjects because 1) the young scholar must find something new to write about and most of the good topics are already taken 2) the young scholar must choose a topic that he or she can adequately understand 3) the young scholar must not pick a topic that will politically jeopardize his or her chance at guaranteed lifetime employment.
Furthermore, tenure isolates professors even further from “real life;” afterall, besides professors, who has a guaranteed job anymore. This encourages even more trivial scholarship from out-of-touch people. Also, tenure makes it hard for institutions to get rid of professors that have no business in the classroom and who really should be fired.
Tenure takes away the incentive to produce really great teaching and research. I agree that productivity declines when people are constantly on the hot seat and their jobs are perpetually in peril, but there should be something between the constant hot seat and guaranteed lifetime employment. How about rolling contracts with periodic review? These contracts could span 3-5 years and include a buyout option for the school–similar to what universities already have with athletic coaches.
Finally, is it any wonder that one of the most innovative engineering schools has a rule that it doesn’t grant tenure? See the Wall Street Journal article about the school and come back to awilum.com soon to hear more about it.
What do you think about this?