Our View: Tenure process flawed

Our View

In short: Tenure policies should be reconsidered because they can be unnecessary and subjective.

The University has no plans to revisit its tenure policy in the wake of the shootings at the University of Alabama in Huntsville two weeks ago. Maybe it should.

Amy Bishop likely had more concerns than just tenure when she allegedly pulled the trigger, but tenure was definitely on her mind.

Tenure is a system by which professors are protected from firing without cause after working at a university for several years. This is a title of distinction for professors and a valuable protection for professors doing important and often controversial research. Professors need some kind of protection against the whims of a university. Otherwise they might shy away from controversial research and stick with something that could be less revealing.

The problem is that tenure has become far too important and its value is often exaggerated. Very few other professions have systems like tenure where people are automatically guaranteed to keep their jobs, barring extreme situations. In other professions, people’s jobs are guaranteed by the quality of work they do. People who do their job and do it well are guaranteed to keep their job because they are an asset to the company or organization.

As James Slack, a professor at U of Alabama at Birmingham, wrote in Sunday’s Birmingham News, “a greater stigma is attached to tenure denial than being fired from other jobs.” The process of becoming tenured can yield traumatic results for those who do not succeed. Slack said those who are denied tenure not only find it harder to get jobs, they often have to pack up and move their entire lives to go to those new jobs.

Rejection of tenure is not even a simple matter. As Slack noted, the judgment of whether or not a professor gets tenure is purely subjective. Personal politics and opinions can play heavily on whether or not someone gets tenure. Simply, the future of a person’s career is dependent on the opinions of a few others.

The pressure to gain tenure can be unnecessary. Professors should not have a few years to gain tenure before they become academic outcasts. They should be secure in their jobs as long as they can do them, and only that long. People in other careers are constantly held accountable to their work, and must maintain a high quality of it in order to maintain a high position.

Our View is the consensus of The Crimson White’s editorial board.