Friday, February 11, 2011

I agree with Chester Finn - Nobody deserves tenure

Chester E. Finn starts his column Nobody deserves tenure with:

Nobody deserves tenure, with the possible exception of federal judges. University professors don’t deserve tenure; civil servants don’t deserve tenure; police and firefighters don’t deserve tenure; school teachers don’t deserve tenure. With the solitary exception noted above—and you might be able to talk me out of that one, too—nobody has a right to lifetime employment unrelated either to their on-the-job performance or to their employer’s continuing need for the skills and attributes of that particular person.

Tenure didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai or over on the Mayflower. Though people occasionally refer to its origins in medieval universities, on these shores, at least, it’s a twentieth-century creation. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) began pushing for it around 1915, but tenuring professors didn’t become the norm on U.S. campuses until after World War II (when the presumption of a 7-year decision timeframe also gained traction) and it wasn’t truly formalized until the 1970’s when a couple of Supreme Court decisions made formalization unavoidable.

I love the line: "Tenure didn't come down from Mt. Sinai or over on the Mayflower." 

I totally agree, there is no reason why someone who worked for a couple years and kept their nose cleaned should have a job guranteed for the rest of their life.

(Hat tip:


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I think some people are concerned that if you get rid of tenure, that you also get rid of due process. And that's just not *necessarily* true. :)

Jay said...


Tenure is not a right but a privilege in universities given to professors to enable them to research risky topics without fear of retribution by administrators.

Henry Cate said...

Jay, I think we see the fundamental issue very differently. I don't want to get into a big debate, but I would like to understand where you are comjing from better.

Do you think teachers from kindegarten to 12th grade should also be granted tenure? And why?

Why are universities different than company research labs? Top scientists work at places like HP Labs, and if they are performing they are kept. But if they don't perform companies will ease them out. Why do you think it should be different at a university?