As you know, I tend to avoid highly contentious topics on this blog. Today, however, I feel compelled to talk about something near and dear to my heart: tenure.
There is a national movement to change and/or eliminate tenure – in public schools and universities. In fact, here in Florida, the state Legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill promulgating that “as of July 1, 2011, all newly hired teachers will be offered 1-3 year contracts and tenure will no longer exist for new hires.” In many universities, similar policies also are being considered and/or implemented. The most important aspect of tenure is that it is primarily intended to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics.
As a former high school teacher and for 40 years a professor at four different universities (including being a Department Chair three times and once an Associate Dean), I indeed have seen the misuse and abuse of tenure; yet I certainly have seen the benefits of tenure as well. Tenure is one of the major cornerstones of any educational system, and to suggest that it be eliminated because of a few troublesome and undesirable tenured teachers is akin to suggesting that democracy be eliminated because we elected a few troublesome and undesirable legislators. Interestingly, in my novel, Fear of Feeling Loved, the heroine, Marcia, is a newly hired university Assistant Professor and is focused on doing what she needs to do to eventually qualify for tenure. Her friend and mentor, an older Professor, explains to Marcia the importance and virtues of tenure (as well as the unofficial politics involved).
With tenure, a professional school teacher will feel fee to develop his or her courses and individual classes based on what their students need (which on occasion may not be what the students want), and give students, their parents, school administrators and others in society their best professional opinions (which on occasion may not be what they want to hear). With tenure, university professors will openly and honestly honor their commitments to teaching, research and community service.
Without tenure and thus a fear of losing ones job, for example, a pubic school biology school teacher may understandably be less committed what science may say about evolution, and a political science professor may be reluctant to be honest when asked about an upcoming election or an elected official. In addition to generating knowledge, disseminating knowledge and facilitating critical and creative thinking, in many ways our society’s educators play a very important gad-fly role for the ultimate betterment of everyone.
Question: What are your thoughts regarding tenure?