Ask Your Comradde: Is Tenure Going Extinct?

Our correspondent asks:

With the number of professors obtaining tenure declining each year and the ever increasing pool of assistant professor applicants getting larger, do you think tenure will be going extinct in the near future?

My impression is that academia–like many of our major social and economic structures–is bifurcating into a relatively small collection of well-funded elite private and public institutions that educate the children of the economic elite and a much larger collection of non-elite institutions that are starved for funds and have to essentially make a profit on tuition to survive. I suspect that tenure will not be going away for faculty of the former, as it is a perk that helps them recruit and retain the most prominent scholars, but it may very well be phased out over time in the latter.


  1. phytophactor says

    Tenure kept me from being fired just because a jerk of a chair person didn’t like botanical type faculty. But there is the dark side of tenure (cue Star Wars theme), and some, thankfully, small fraction of faculty will upon receiving tenure will “drop out” of being productive to pursue other interests. If any job applicant waxes eloquently about hobbies or outside interests, then they will surely not get the job (the dark side looms). Tenure should not protect such people, but it should protect people against the whims of jerky administrators. However it is under attack, especially at junior colleges

  2. AndyG says

    My observation from being a tenured faculty member in a basic science department at a medical school is that for biomedical research positions, tenure = not getting fired after n years, where n is your tenure clock.

    At our institution, “tenure” means a guaranteed salary of about ten thousand bucks a year, plus medical benefits, plus an office. Everything else is at the mercy of the school or our ability to get grants. So while it is formally possible that a tenured faculty member would drop out and do nothing, it is unlikely that many would do this for so little salary.

    So essentially, the tenure process is being converted into a hurdle that young faculty have to cross. If they fail, they get fired. If they pass the hurdle, nothing much changes, although they may get a salary increase. That’s it.

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