The Fight Over Tenure Is Not Really About Tenure

Molly Worthen
New York Times

Excerpt: Why should universities guarantee jobs to a bunch of elitists who study esoteric subjects and brainwash students with left-wing politics? This critique of tenure in higher education is as old as tenure itself, and it’s gaining ground. In recent years, governing boards and legislators in several states have attempted to ban tenure or curtail its power — sometimes succeeding. The proportion of American faculty members on the tenure track has been falling since the 1970s, and today just a third of college professors have tenure or are on track to receive it. Every year more and more teachers join the ranks of contingent faculty, surviving contract to contract.

Over the years, tenure’s defenders have offered up noble pleas for the system. It does not grant a teacher a job for life but simply protection from arbitrary firing and retribution; it safeguards academic freedom. All these arguments are basically right. But they will never persuade tenure skeptics outside the university.