It’s Time to Rethink Tenure

Thought you might find interesting my article criticizing tenure in today’s Inside Higher Ed.

The comments from readers are insightful and worth reading (and for the most part are critical of my article).

Here is the link:

Below is the opening:

It’s Time to Rethink Tenure

November 16, 2012 – 3:00am

By Chris Palmer

I arrived at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in the fall of 1972 knowing nothing about how American universities worked. As a Kennedy Scholar from Britain, I selected classes for my master’s degree based on the issues I wanted to study, paying scant attention to which professors taught the course. This was Harvard, after all, and I assumed all the teachers were competent.

I decided to take an economics course. The topic was highly germane to what I imagined at the time was my future career in the British government. Unfortunately, the course was taught by a professor who I quickly realized was past his prime.

The professor, whom I shall, out of respect, call by the pseudonym Professor Smith, was doddery, unproductive, and uninterested in student learning. Yet, because he had tenure, he was guaranteed his job for the rest of his life, despite his shortcomings. He continued to receive a substantial salary and occupy a position that should have been held by someone with much higher pedagogical standards and with much more to offer students.

Forty years have passed since I arrived at Harvard, but in the world of tenured professors, little has changed. Today, as a non-tenured member of the full-time faculty at the School of Communication at American University (with a renewable five-year contract), I better understand the complexities of this longstanding system. While tenure still has some benefits, it also has flaws that are hurting the quality of education that students receive. I believe it is time for a frank discussion about whether universities can afford to maintain the status quo. In my opinion, we cannot. It is time to rethink tenure…read more