Tenure decline part of deeper college trouble

Friday, January 17, 2014

Like tweed jackets and same-sex dorms, academic tenure is fast becoming a relic of the past

In 1975, almost half of all teachers at U.S. colleges and universities either had tenure or were in line for tenure; by 2011, that share had fallen to one-fourth. Now, almost two-thirds of instructors are part-time adjuncts, most of them poorly paid, or graduate students.

Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of tenure, which protects professors from summary dismissal. The more pressing question is whether the system that is replacing it makes sense for students or society as a whole.

Students go to college to learn, obviously, and society benefits from both the training they receive and the research they help conduct. The issue, then, is not how to save or end tenure. It’s how to restore teaching to its rightful position in U.S. higher education.

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