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More Tenure


As a follow-up to yesterday’s “Abolish Tenure” post, here are some quick and readable references on the topic. In 1999, The Washington Monthly ran an excellent critique of tenure by Robert Worth called, “The Velvet Prison.” Yes, The Washington Monthly–there are plenty of reasons to get rid of tenure that liberals and conservatives can agree on. But of course, I’m not the first conservative to note that the core justification of tenure no longer holds water. At the very start of the Ward Churchill affair in 2005, Max Boot made the same point, as did Victor Davis Hanson. Finally, Cathy Ann Trower’s piece, “The Trouble With Tenure,” is based on interviews with several tenure opponents, all of whom recommend long-term contracts (alongside tenure, or instead of tenure) as an alternative. The Worth and Trower pieces also raise some of the most widely heard objections to tenure abolition.

Trower’s piece is particularly interesting because it begins by recounting the frustrations of governors and state legislators with tenure, and refers to several attempts by legislatures to abolish or reform it. Clearly the path to any practical plan for abolishing tenure runs through state legislatures (and/or state-wide voter initiatives). Before that can happen, however, more work needs to be done on laying the groundwork for a public case.

After rereading these references, and lots of excellent mail, I’m struck by how little the main objections to abolishing tenure have to do with the core rationale for creating tenure in the first place–the protection and promotion of a marketplace of ideas. As Boot says, “The rigid ideological intolerance of American universities makes a mockery of tenure’s primary justification.”


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