Academic tenure

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A tenured appointment is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency or program discontinuation. Tenure is a means of defending the principle of academic freedom, which holds that it is beneficial for society in the long run if scholars are free to hold and examine a variety of views.

The modern conception of tenure in US higher education originated with the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.[1] Jointly formulated and endorsed by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the 1940 Statement is endorsed by over 250 scholarly and higher education organizations and is widely adopted into faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements at institutions of higher education throughout the United States.[2] This statement holds that, "The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition" and stresses that academic freedom is essential in teaching and research in this regard.

By Country

North America

Under the tenure systems adopted by many universities and colleges in the United States and Canada, some faculty positions have tenure and some do not. Typical systems (such as the widely adopted "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure" of the American Association of University Professors[3]) allow only a limited period to establish a record of published research, ability to attract grant funding, academic visibility, teaching excellence, and administrative or community service. They limit the number of years that any employee can remain employed as a non-tenured instructor or professor, compelling the institution to grant tenure to or terminate an individual, with significant advance notice, at the end of a specified time period. Some institutions require promotion to Associate Professor as a condition of tenure. An institution may also offer other academic positions that are not time-limited, with titles such as Lecturer, Adjunct Professor, or Research Professor, but these positions do not carry the possibility of tenure and are said to not be "tenure track." Typically, they have higher teaching loads, lower compensation, little influence within the institution, few if any benefits, and little protection of academic freedom.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

Academic tenure was eliminated in the United Kingdom in 1988[4].[5] In its place there is the distinction between permanent and temporary contracts for academics. A permanent lecturer in UK universities usually holds an open-ended position that covers teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities.

Research lecturers (where they are permanent appointments) are the equivalent in rank of lecturers and senior lecturers, but reflect a research-intensive orientation. Research lecturers are common in fields such as medicine, engineering, and biological and physical sciences.[6]


Academics are divided into two classes. On the one hand, professors (C2/W2 positions in the old/new system of pay grades) are employed as civil servants of the state and hold tenure as a highly safeguarded employment for life. On the other, there is a much bigger group of "junior staff" on fixed-term contracts, research grants, fellowships, and part-time jobs. In 2010, 9% of academic staff were professors, 66% were "junior staff" (including doctoral candidates on contracts), and 25% were other academic staff in secondary employment.[7] Permanent research, teaching and management positions below professorship as an "Akademischer Rat" (a civil service position salaried like high school teachers) have become relatively rare compared to the 1970s and 1980s and are often no longer refilled after a retirement.[8] In order to attain the position of Professor an academic must usually complete a "Habilitation" (a kind of broader second PhD thesis), after which she or he is eligible for tenureship. This means that, compared to other countries, academics in Germany obtain tenure at a relatively late age, as on average one becomes an Academic Assistant at the age of 42.[9] In 2002 the "Juniorprofessur" position (comparable to an assistant professor in the US, but rarely endowed with a tenure track) was introduced as an alternative to "Habilitation". However, the degree of formal equivalence between a "Habilitation" and a successfully completed "Juniorprofessur" varies across the different states (Bundesländer), and the informal recognition of having served as a "Juniorprofessur" as a replacement for the "Habilitation" in the appointment procedures for professorships varies greatly between disciplines.

Due to a university system that guarantees universities relative academic freedom, the position of professor in Germany is stronger and more independent than, for instance, in France.[citation needed] As civil servants, professors have a series of attendant rights and benefits, yet this status is subject to discussion; for example, the question of relating professorial pay to performance rather than merely to age is now being considered.[10]

Arguments in favor

Many argue, among other things, that the job security granted by tenure is necessary to recruit talented individuals into professorships, because in many fields private industry jobs pay significantly more.

Arguments against

Some have argued that modern tenure systems diminish academic freedom, forcing those seeking tenured positions to profess conformance to the level of mediocrity as those awarding the tenured professorships. For example, according to physicist Lee Smolin, " is practically career suicide for a young theoretical physicist not to join the field of string theory."[11]

Economist Steven Levitt, who recommends the elimination of tenure in order to incentivize higher performance among professors, also points out that a pay increase may be required to compensate faculty members for the lost job security.[12]

Some U.S. states have considered legislation to remove tenure at public universities.[13]

A further criticism of tenure is that it rewards complacency. Once a professor is awarded tenure, he or she may begin putting reduced effort into their job, knowing that their removal is difficult or expensive to the institution.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure – AAUP". Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  2. ^ "What is academic tenure?". Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  3. ^; this statement has been adopted by more than 200 scholarly and academic groups ( The American Association of University Professors also publishes "Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure".
  4. ^ "Education Reform Act 1988". Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  5. ^ Enders, Jürgen. "Explainer: how Europe does academic tenure". The Conversation. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  6. ^ "United Kingdom, Academic Career Structure". European University Institute. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  7. ^ "buwin2013keyresults.pdf — BuWiN 2017". (in German). Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  8. ^ "Prekäre Arbeitsverhältnisse an Universitäten nehmen zu" (in German). Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Explainer: how Europe does academic tenure". 6 February 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  10. ^ "Germany, Academic Career Structure • European University Institute". 24 July 2017. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  11. ^ Lee Smolin (2008). The Trouble with Physics. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-101835-5.
  12. ^ Levitt, Steven. "Let's Just Get Rid of Tenure (Including Mine)". Freakonomics. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  13. ^ Flaherty, Colleen. "Killing Tenure". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Study links tenure criteria to long-term professor performance". Retrieved 16 October 2017.

Further reading

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