Over the last several years, the discussion of tenure has been a hot topic. The American Association of University Professors describes tenure as an indefinite appointment that would only be terminated under extenuating circumstances; tenure helps give faculty more academic freedom with their work, but tenure can sometimes be a difficult and lengthy process for faculty. Institutions of higher education set their own standards for what their tenure process will be. Universities set guidelines that best fit the institutions’ needs. According to the National Education Association, only about one third of all college and university faculty are actually tenured. More institutions are relying on part-time or temporary faculty, which save money.
Faculty and administrators have debated about who is allowed to apply for tenure and who can grant tenure. While most institutions only grant tenure to full-time faculty, this limits part-time faculty and administrators. In Dugan v. Stockton State College (1990), a dean made the decision that being in an unclassified staff position does not grant someone tenure. A faculty member who switched into a staff position tried to apply for tenure but was denied. The decision was upheld by the President of the university and the appellate court of New Jersey. Another group affected by this trend is academic research librarians. Research librarians have fought to gain faculty status and equal benefits. Some educators believe that if librarians were considered faculty and could be granted faculty status there would need to be an added sense of responsibility to what they already do.
Administraitors have wondered who has the power to determine if a faculty member can be given tenure. Most institutions either leave the decisions up to the provost or presidents. In Matthews v. Oregon State Board of Higher Education (2001), the Oregon State Board of Education and Supreme Court of Oregon ruled that presidents of universities do have enough knowledge about their faculty to make tenure decisions,. Some institutions have reviewed the tenure process and tried to determine the due process steps for appealing a decision. Can an arbitrator overrule a presidents tenure decision? In the case of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania v. Association of Pennsylvania College (2015), it was decided that when an arbitrator is reviewing an appeal that they can let faculty who are denied tenure reapply if they see fit.
Nationally, state budgets are affecting many institutions in higher education, and this has some administrators questioning if tenure is still necessary in obtaining qualified faculty. The North Dakota University System has made structural changes to their tenure policy. The proposed changes would reduce the termination notice policy from one year to 90 days. Administrators believed that one year termination notices are financially unsustainable; however, given the faculty hiring cycle and the unique nature of the faculty job market, many argue that 90 days is not a sufficient timeframe for faculty to be able to successfully find alternative teaching and research positions.
For some institutions, tenure can be a costly expense. While trying to pay tenured faculty, universities often must allocate their endowment funds. Institutions could save money by using non-tenured faculty, who do not have research requirements and who handle larger course loads. Research has shown that part-time and non-tenured faculty can provide just as much support to students academic success as tenured faculty. Some of the faculty who do not have tenured status have helped the growth of graduation rates in students. While institutions see part-time or non-tenured faculty as cost-saving measures, they should enact protections that respect their contributions to our higher education experience. Tenure is a discussion that is often debated within higher education, which will continue so long as the defunding of American higher education continues and institutions find ways for cost-savings.