The Quest for Tenure: Job Security and Academic Freedom

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2006


The concept of tenure originated in Europe in the twelfth century! Several hundred years later, after the termination of several faculty members at Stanford University and other colleges, professors from leading universities in the United States called for the creation of a national association to develop general principles regarding tenure and legitimate bases for the termination of faculty members.' Tenure is designed to protect a faculty member by safeguarding academic freedom, ensuring a fair process prior to dismissal, and providing job security. In recent years, tenure has come under increasing attack due to the financial costs on academic institutions and concerns regarding the creation of a system of disincentives for teaching and scholarly productivity. In addition, the tenure process has been criticized for denying opportunities to women and other underrepresented groups due to the application of collegiality as a criterion for selection. The end of mandatory retirement has also created difficulties for institutions in the hiring of new faculty members and other employment issues related to an aging faculty.

This Article addresses the issue of tenure as a condition of employment by examining the process for the awarding of tenure as an employment benefit and the impact of tenure on the employment relationship. Next, the Article addresses the nexus between tenure as a condition of employment and the protection of academic freedom, and the role of collegiality in the employment relationship. Finally, the Article examines the future of tenure and the specific problems of an aging faculty, financial challenges to academic institutions, and the increasing use of contract employees.