Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Will Tenure Cease to Exist?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with one of my past professors. In telling me about the incoming and outgoing faculty at the UofC, he mentioned something that I thought was very interesting - that tenure will cease to exist in 25 to 50 years. While he thought that there would always be tenured professors at top tier institutions (i.e. Chicago, the Ivies, etc.), he believed that second and third tier institutions (i.e. Illinois St., SUNY Buffalo), will eventually stop to offer tenure.

My initial reaction was that abolishing tenure would be inconceivable, as tenure seems to be fundamental to the university setting . Yet, upon second thought, it makes sense, particularly for lower tier universities. As costs rise, universities with smaller endowments and less incoming cash than big name schools will simply not be able to cover the costs of a) retaining top talent; and b) covering the large benefit packages of tenured profs. For professors in the sciences, there is less cause for concern, as they are more easily capable of producing income for their schools (through grants and research). However, professors in the humanities will face more pressure, as their work and services are not as greatly in demand as their counterparts in the sciences. Moreover, I feel that the concept of "publish or perish" will be more and more the case, where senior professors who are taking in much, relative to their younger counterparts, will have to in some way justify their pay and benefit packages.

While I can not claim to be familiar with the pertinent figures on this matter, I am somewhat familiar with the general operations and aims of universities, on current and historical bases. As much as schools are centers of intellectual growth and debate, like firms, they too look at finances as the bottom line.


ginsbu said...

The present trend is to reduce the number of full-time faculty, tenured or not, in order to reduce costs. (Naturally, a reduction in the overall numbers of full-time profs will result in a reduction of the numbers of tenured profs over time.) The savings to be had by not offering tenure to full-time profs are tiny in comparison to the savings to be had by hiring part-time adjunct faculty to handle teaching.

This trend is opening a gap between teaching and research faculty, where the numbers of full-time faculty who dedicate themselves substantially to teaching undergraduates are dwindling. Increasingly, part-time adjuncts are taking over the primary burden of teaching undergraduates, freeing full-time faculty to concentrate on research and graduate students. I think it is unlikely indeed that tenure will be diminished among faculty teaching grad students and doing research, as academic freedom concerns are strongest there.

What these trends will do to the quality of universities, and undergraduate education in particular, remains open.

Zev said...

I agree Ginsbu.
Dan, the issue you might conflate is that tenure = "the costs of a) retaining top talent; and b) covering the large benefit packages of tenured profs." Tenure just means, to my knowledge, that the University cannot fire the individual without massive amounts of cause. How much schools are willing to pay tenured profs is seperate.

Where the two issues do converge is that tenured profs (ie full profs) do make more than assistant profs. It might behoove a school to get rid of tenure just so that they don't need to hire full profs--but that seems only indirectly related to the issue of job security.