Wither Tenure?

July 6, 2010

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has an article called “Tenure, R.I.P.” (likely gated to Chronicle subscribers), about the declining percentage of professors at American colleges and universities who have or are eligible for tenure. “Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007.”

This does not describe Earlham College.  This appears to be yet another way we are becoming unusual.  We have about 90 FTE (full time equivalent teaching faculty positions in the College, and all but about 8.7 FTE are tenured or tenure track — that’s about 89% tenured or tenurable.  (The ones that are not tenurable are part-time positions in the arts and languages.)

The Chronicle article is worth reading in full because it surveys the causes of the decline of tenure and reviews the possible consequences.  Among the consequences are issues about governance:  “Indeed, what’s disappearing along with tenure, say its advocates, is the
ability of professors to play a strong role in running their universities and to object if they think officials are making bad decisions.”

That, too, isn’t Earlham.  We are committed to having the Faculty make decisions about our educational program, and to having the Faculty be well informed about and to be carefully consulted (listened carefully to) with regard to all aspects of the functioning of the College.

On the other hand, when we created the Earlham School of Religion in 1960, we decided not to tenure its faculty members but instead to use renewable five year contracts.  Nevertheless, positions at ESR are largely full-time, and largely occupied by people who remain in the positions for decades.  Those who teach at ESR also expect and are expected to participate fully in the governance of the institution.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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