There’s a good debate in the WSJ on whether or not to abolish tenure for college professors.
I come down mostly on the side of the anti-tenure person. In my view, the system of tenure is good intentions gone wrong. The person arguing for tenure writes: “Tenure doesn’t guarantee that every faculty member is courageous, but it protects those who are.” No, it doesn’t. His logic is flawed. Faculty members who have tenure have the opportunity to be courageous and challenge the system if they see fit, but that doesn’t mean that it is granted to faculty members who do that. In fact, there is an inherent reason not to give tenure to rebellious faculty.
Sure, a person seeking to do radical research or something might play “within the system” long enough to get tenure, and then start working on their crazy, status-quo challenging ideas. And Mitt Romney might grow a beard, wear a tie-dyed shirt and change the National Anthem to “Purple Haze” if he gets elected, but it’s not likely. The care and scrutiny which goes into making the tenure decision only defeats the supposed benefits of academic freedom and “risk-taking” it was meant to encourage.
Besides the fact that tenure doesn’t actually solve the problem it is supposed to solve, there is also the problem of the incentives. Obviously, there is a degree of comfort that comes with tenure that carries the potential to lessen, rather than heighten, the vigor with which the professors pursue their work. This of course will not be true of all individuals; only some, but still it remains a flawed incentive structure.