Higher education should consider changing the tenure system drastically to make academic careers less rigid, particularly for professors raising young children, the leaders of 10 research universities said in a report issued on Thursday.
The report, "An Agenda for Excellence: Creating Flexibility in Tenure-Track Faculty Careers," was sponsored by the American Council on Education and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It says universities should consider:
- Giving young professors up to 10 years -- instead of 6 -- to earn tenure.
- Allowing faculty members to work part time for up to five years at a time.
- Granting multiyear leaves to professors for personal and professional reasons.
- Creating postdoctoral jobs to help people who have "stopped out" of academe after earning their Ph.D.'s, perhaps to raise a family, to re-enter their careers in higher education.
My take on tenure is that it pledges "academic freedom," to only those who don't need it. That is, those without tenure tend to publish and conduct research that allows them to recieve tenure. It's a catch 22. If you do research that is considered cutting edge, it is likely that it won't be published. So, you do research that gets published, and thus conform to the norms of your field. Is that academic freedom? I think not. Those who need tenure the most, the new faculty starting their careers at the cuttting edge of the field, don't get it.
The real trouble with academic tenure as an important academic principle and philosophy has become inextricably linked as a defacto personnel policy. That is, if the faculty don't like you, they don't fire you, you simply get a "no tenure" decision. Challenge either one and the faculty become testy over the matter becuase they feel threatened.
There is a better way. I call it faculty free agency. More on that if you are interested.