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A World Without Tenure

Posted By Malcolm A. Kline On June 21, 2011 @ 3:55 pm In Book Reviews | No Comments

A new book shows us examples of colleges and universities where tenure does not exist and students and faculty alike survive and even thrive. “The institutions that have rejected tenure also represent a broad political cross section,” Naomi Schaeffer Riley writes in her new book, The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For. “Military schools and religious institutions are places where tenure is least prevalent.”

“Of the hundred or so schools that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, an evangelical group, about a third do not offer tenure.” Riley is also the author of the book God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America.

Moreover, “Four of the five service academies do not have formal tenure for their faculties,”  Riley informs us. “Senior military faculty have a mandatory retirement age—often before they are sixty years old.”

“So tenure wouldn’t make much sense for them.” Riley is also a former editor at The Wall Street Journal. Of course, as Riley notes, conservative schools such as Gove City College shun tenure as a policy.  Still and all, Riley points out, even more liberal schools such as Hampshire College and Bennington eschew tenure in order to keep their faculty fresh and dynamic.

“What do these schools—religious, military, radical, conservative—have in common?” Riley asks. “Why have they all determined they can do without tenure? The answer is this: these institutions have strong and clear missions.” In contrast to the predictions of tenure enthusiasts, firings at these institutions are rare. “Few professors would even apply to these schools if they did not believe fully in the schools’ mission,” Riley points out.

In the bulk of the well-written, thoroughly documented book, Riley shows us the flip side of these non-tenured academic islands. “If you count faculty in vocationally oriented departments, those who teach area, ethnic, cultural, and gender studies, as well as a significant chunk of the country’s research scientists, you will arrive at a number that is more than half the tenured faculty in the United States,” she writes. “At the very least, there is no reason why tenure shouldn’t be abolished at the vast majority of the four thousand degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States where academic freedom is an almost irrelevant concept.”

“When professors are engaged in imparting basic literacy skills, or even classes on how to cook or how to start a business, there is no reason why their academic freedom must be protected.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [1].


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