Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Tenure and Academic Freedom


Does academic freedom depend on tenure? As we normally understand academic freedom, the answer is probably yes.

Donald Downs, writing in a Pope Center paper, said that tenure is an important bulwark of academic freedom. “Faculty members who do not have tenure also enjoy basic due process and academic freedom protections, though generally less fully than faculty members who have tenure — mainly because they have limited-term contracts, and because the politics and folkways of campus life bestow more power upon tenured faculty members.”

Thus, a non-tenured faculty member with a short-term contract may simply not be re-hired if his or her views are considered out of bounds. So academic freedom is strictly limited without tenure.

But is the protection of academic freedom worth the costs of tenure — such as low faculty productivity, restraints on management flexibility, and ideological control over the curriculum? Tenure may have had value in 1915, but in an entrepreneurial era with the communication power of the Internet and other information channels, where think tanks are the chief sources of policy research, and where many faculty have abused their freedom through indoctrination efforts, is tenure still providing society with much value?

If I actually saw much in the way of intellectual debate on campus, I might say yes. But I don’t see that.


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