Academic Tenure In America A Historical Essay Guidelines

What is academic tenure?

A tenured appointment is an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.

Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has assumed responsibility for developing standards to guide higher education in service of the common good. The modern conception of tenure in US higher education originated with the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Jointly formulated and endorsed by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the 1940 Statement has gained the endorsement of more than 250 scholarly and higher-education organizations. It is widely adopted into faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements at institutions of higher education throughout the United States.

Why is tenure important? What purpose does it serve?

The principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, which is necessary for all who teach and conduct research in higher education.  When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech or publications research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge.

How does tenure serve the public interest?

Education and research benefit society, but society does not benefit when teachers and researchers are controlled by corporations, religious groups, special interest groups, or the government. Free inquiry, free expression, and open dissent are critical for student learning and the advancement of knowledge. Therefore, it is important to have systems in place to protect academic freedom. Tenure serves that purpose.

Does tenure only benefit individual professors?

Although tenure does protect individual faculty members, it actually serves society and the common good by protecting the quality of teaching and research and thus the integrity of institutions of higher education. If faculty members can lose their positions for what they say in the classroom or for what they write in an article, they are unlikely to risk addressing controversial issues. The common good is not served when business, political, or other entities can threaten the livelihood of researchers and instructors, and thereby suppress the results of their work or modify their judgements.

Do all professors have tenure?

The number of tenured faculty within the academic labor force has declined to about 21 percent. Thus, the number of teachers and researchers who are protected when speaking in the classroom or publishing research on controversial topics is declining. Institutions commonly evaluate faculty members during and at the end of a probationary period.

Should all professors be eligible for tenure?

The AAUP holds that all full-time faculty members, regardless of rank, are to be considered eligible for tenure. The AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure insist that, “with the exception of special appointments clearly limited to a brief association with the institution, . . . all full-time faculty appointments are of two kinds: (1) probationary appointments; (2) appointments with continuous tenure.”

The AAUP also supports tenure for part-time faculty members. The AAUP’s report on Tenure and Teaching-Intensive Appointmentsrecommends “fractional positions, including fully proportional pay, that are eligible for tenure and benefits, with proportional expectations for service and professional development.”

What is an example of a professor who needs academic freedom and tenure to do their work?

In 2003, Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University discovered that high levels of lead were present in the Washington, DC, water supply. He spent years proving that misconduct at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency worsened the D.C. water crisis and endangered children's’ health. In 2015, he found higher levels of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, and, despite reassurances by state and local authorities, his findings were again confirmed. Edwards set up a website, to share his findings with the public and hold the government accountable. “I didn’t get in this field to stand by and let science be used to poison little kids,” he told the Washington Post,“I can’t live in a world where that happens. I won’t live in that world.” Academic freedom and tenure protects professors like Edwards from being disciplined, dismissed or silenced when their work risks offending powerful interests, including business or government interests.

See more resources on tenure.

Editors sign up books they hope will sell; professors write books they hope will get them tenure. The unhappy result of these conflicting desires is an excess of unpublishable manuscripts and many desperate academics. "My sense is that there's a much higher level of anxiety among scholars because they recognize that it's harder to get that first monograph published," says Lisa Freeman, director of the University of Minnesota Press. "I hear that all the time: 'What do you mean you don't want to look at my book because it's too narrow! That's what you're supposed to do!' " The gap is increasingly filled by young professors trying to write crossover books. And while that might in many ways be for the good, it can also result in an intellectual conformity all the more distressing for being nonideological, the product neither of tenured radicalism nor of political correctness but of simple economics. For if books are the sine qua non of employability, then the judgments upon which academic hiring committees must ultimately rely are not those of experts, or of peers, or even of university press editors themselves. The people who determine what subjects up-and-coming academics get to write about -- and who in effect award tenure and the right to shape the next generation of scholars -- are Barnes & Noble customers. And what they want from university presses, as any editor will tell you, are women's studies, African-American studies, gay and lesbian studies, Asian-American studies, studies of popular culture and literary biographies, to say nothing of that inevitable publishing troika, Nazis, dogs and the Civil War.

BUT doesn't such structured trendiness defeat the whole purpose of university presses? Aren't they subsidized by their host institutions specifically so that they can withstand the pressures of the marketplace? As it turns out, they aren't all that well subsidized. According to the American Association of University Presses, the average university underwrites about 10 percent of its press's cost. That figure hasn't changed much in the past 20 years, but other things have. Paper and printing costs are up. So is the practice of assembling photocopied course packs, which cuts severely into book sales. Foundation support, both for scholarship and for publication, is down; just last month, Congress's 37 percent cut in the National Endowment for the Humanities eliminated one of the most significant scholarly publications support programs in the country. And academic librarians -- perhaps the steadiest consumers of university press books -- are cutting their book budgets sharply. Not only have their general budgets shrunk, but the cost of commercially published scientific journals has soared by 115 percent in the past nine years; to keep up, research libraries are allotting more and more of their budgets to journal subscriptions. On the average, according to the Association of Research Libraries, its 119 member libraries buy almost a quarter fewer scholarly monographs than they did in 1986. "We're in a quandary," says Duane Webster, executive director of the research library group. "The practice of individual institutions has been to eliminate or cancel low-use, high-cost items, whether these are monographs or serials. The consequence is that, collectively, the corpus of available knowledge has shrunk."

Douglas Bennett, a vice president of the American Council of Learned Societies, an umbrella organization for a lot of very obscure specializations in the humanities, shares Mr. Webster's fears. "We think that scholarly research is something that to be healthy requires some active support from a variety of sources that are independent of what the marketplace will support," he says. Penn State's Sanford Thatcher tells the story of how he tried to publish some of the as yet untranslated works of Johann Gottfried Herder, an 18th-century German thinker best known for providing the first philosophical justification for modern nationalism. Despite good reviews, Mr. Thatcher had to abandon the project after the first volume for lack of funds. Colin Day, who is an economist as well as the director of the University of Michigan Press, illustrates the problem by way of example. "Say you want to publish a book on some very serious facet of Japanese studies," he begins. "What would your library sales be?" Since many academic libraries have begun limiting themselves to one particular branch of knowledge or another, Mr. Day says, "there have been discussions about having no more than, say, a dozen libraries in America collect books in Japanese studies." That would account for 12 copies, plus a few hundred more to those scholars of Japanese life interested in this topic. Given the cost of printing a book (Mr. Day says that when the print run drops from 1,000 to 900 the average cost of printing a volume rises by 10 percent, while the drop from 600 to 500 brings the cost up by 25 percent), no university press would take on the book. "Those trendy books on the Japanese threat to American industry will go on selling," Mr. Day says. "But not the serious books."

Not everybody thinks the market's bias against hyperseriousness is such a bad thing. "Me, I'm looking for people not to write books," says Lindsay Waters, the founder of the Minnesota series, who is now the executive editor for the humanities of Harvard University Press. "There are too many people writing books and sending them in who ought to be writing articles. People say to me, why don't you do nice books on Keats's image patterns? I won't buy 'em. What's so good about them? It's not like anybody is going to require their students to read them." At their best, university press editors can bring a generalist's rigor to their scrutiny of manuscripts, holding them up to standards of coherence and clarity. "The world of the humanities and social sciences could use more talk across disciplinary lines," Mr. Bennett says. "To the degree that the publication process results in works that, without any decline of sophistication or richness, are prepared in such a way that they're understandable by people in other disciplines, that seems like a positive effect."

One scholar of 18th-century English literature, David Ritchie, a professor at Queens College, recently explained in an article in Scholarly Publishing that the theory boom of the past decade may have been accelerated by the economics of publishing -- by presses looking for works that cut across subspecializations -- but that such pressures had had certain social benefits. "Why is it that I buy the latest books by Stephen Greenblatt, Stanley Fish, or Henry Louis Gates, since I don't specialize in Renaissance, 17th-century, or African-American literature?" he writes. "The answer is that theory has become common ground for most of us who take the profession seriously, and if I buy theory I will be able to discuss Greenblatt, Fish and Gates with a wide spectrum of my colleagues."

IN any case, for the most unmarketable pieces of scholarly research, there's always electronic publishing. In the sciences, any number of superspecialized subdisciplines now bypass the journal stage and transmit papers directly to subscribers on list servers that take advantage of the Internet. Why shouldn't the humanities follow suit? Eventually, they probably will, though at the moment nobody knows how to insure quality control, without which subscribers are likely to find themselves swamped with unedited articles of dubious value.

In the meantime, though, university press editors find themselves wielding ever more influence over the fate of academics and their departments, a degree of power that makes many of them uncomfortable. They'd like to see universities change the way they grant tenure -- athough they would not do away with it altogether, as some college presidents and administrators propose. What the publishing community wants to eliminate is the mindless reliance on books as material evidence of intellectual excellence.

"Tenure evaluation is based on the quantity rather than the quality of the publication," Lisa Freeman says. "We've got a system in which more is better." David Bartlett believes tenure committees should be required to read candidates' writing themselves, rather than tally up the number of publications and rank the presses at which they were published. Otherwise universities will someday find themselves staffed by academic equivalents of John Grisham -- by scholars who can sell.

"I think you're going to see a sea change in academic publishing in 1996 or 1997," Ms. Freeman says. "I think that in two years, there will be hardly any monographs on the market."

And lest that plaint sound wearisomely academic, consider that Harold Bloom's "Anxiety of Influence" and John Rawls's "Theory of Justice" both began life as relatively obscure monographs. It would be a bleak world indeed that could find no place for thinkers such as these.

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Correction:

Because of a production error, an essay on Oct. 29 about the changing relations between scholars and university presses, headlined "Keepers of the Tenure Track," misspelled the surname of the author of an article in the journal Scholarly Publishing. He is David Richter, not Ritchie.

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