Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 4, 1997

Expert: More change ahead for tenure

by Linda Charles
Times have changed for tenure, and while higher education has responded to these changes, more are needed.

That was Richard Chait's message to participants of the annual Faculty Conference March 21-22 in Grinnell.

Chait, professor of higher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has conducted extensive research on academic administration and trusteeship. He recently served as a consultant on academic tenure to the boards of regents in Arizona and Minnesota.

"Tenure has become the academy's version of the abortion issue," Chait said.

Higher education has become more diversified and susceptible to market forces since tenure was created, he said. The nation also has changed, with many unemployed or underemployed.

"For tenured faculty to enjoy guaranteed lifetime security, when no other segment of the economy shares that assumption or enjoys that perk strikes many a layperson as an inexplicable anachronism at best, and an arrogant offense at worse.

"It is difficult to overstate the public relations problem that tenure presents as an entitlement afforded to individuals, perhaps stereotypically viewed by citizens at- large as hypersensitive and privileged in every other quarter of society."

As tenure has come under attack, higher education institutions have responded, Chait said. Some have responded through resistance to change, but the dominant response has been tacit accommodation to new realities.

The traditional faculty career no longer is typical, as some institutions have reduced the number of tenured faculty and others have eliminated tenure entirely. Many institutions have provided more flexibility to faculty to shape their careers.

Institutions are beginning to change the tenure criteria, adopt post-tenure reviews and extend probationary periods, Chait said.

What still needs to be done, he added, is to revamp the tenure process, revise standards for dismissal due to dis- continuation of programs or financial hardships and provide more flexibility in the tenure process (for example, offer financial incentives to forego tenure).

Chait also said academic freedom should be separated from academic tenure. Under the current system, only tenured faculty enjoy academic freedom. He called for all faculty to have that privilege.

"However much we might wish otherwise," Chait said, "there are simply too many pressures -- internal and external, political and economic, professional and personal, institutional and individual -- to abide business as usual.

"The circumstances may not demand a revolution, but conditions surely suggest change."

Iowa State homepage

Inside Iowa State,, University Relations
Copyright © 1997, Iowa State University, all rights reserved
Revised 4/3/97