Join the discussion
must tenure change in an environment of an aging professoriate,
soft money, and skyrocketing costs?
tenure at Emory, visit the provost's web
more opinion on tenure at Emory visit the March/April
99 issue of the Academic Exchange.
Academic Exchange October/November
1999 Contents Page
Like Thomas Jefferson, I
hold certain truths to be self-evident. One is that academic
freedom is the cornerstone of higher education in America, the
greatest system of higher education in the world. This cornerstone
rests squarely on the foundation of tenure.
Another truth is the Second
Law of Thermodynamics, which, very loosely translated, states
that change is inevitable.
Change is good, although
many of us naturally fear it. Change is necessary for academic
vitality. We need the shifting perspectives our students and
new faculty bring to our programs.
Alternatively, the faculty
that grows old together grows stale together. Our mark as individuals
and as programs is our ability to manage change, rather than
viewing it as an inconvenience we must accommodate.
Tenure is changing, and some
might say it is slowly crumbling. We in the academy are challenged
to respond to that change. At Emory in particular, we are blessed
with a unique institutional position that will allow us to manage
these changes rather than accommodate them--if we will rise to
What has wrought this challenge?
First, the professoriate is aging, and there is no longer a mandatory
retirement age for faculty. Second, many research universities
such as Emory have leveraged themselves highly on soft money
support. Such funding is imperative to finance research, but
it is used in almost circular arguments by high-level administrators.
Soft money is used as an indicator of institutional quality in
rankings of research funding without any other attending measures
Soft money support, vital
to the mission of our nation's flagship research universities,
is also used in tenure decisions without substantial analysis
of long-term consequences. That is, although one important indicator
of future funding success may be the presence of current funding,
its long-term (over decades) predictive ability has not been
The increasing dependence
of research universities on soft money support has also had consequences
for academic freedom. In the hard money environment, academic
freedom means that the faculty can say what they want and research
their chosen topic. In the soft money setting, however, faculty
can only research their chosen topic if the funding is there
to support the research, including buying their time to do so.
We find ourselves asking, what is the meaning of academic freedom
in this soft money environment?
Change is upon us, and we
must begin to adapt tenure to this changing environment. Without
mandatory retirement, institutions may be forced to take such
drastic measures as demonstrating incompetence in its most senior
faculty in order to create vacant lines for younger faculty.
We must be careful not to subject some of our most senior scholars
to such indignities in order to sustain the cycle of academic
life. We must begin to address the meaning of academic freedom
under a new definition of tenure.
On the other hand, to America's
business leaders who are quick to dismiss tenure as a safe haven
for faculty dead wood, I counter that they should be careful
what they wish for. If the characteristics of employment change,
the dynamics of the academic marketplace will follow suit. Salaries
and tuition will skyrocket as a result if the intangible benefit
of tenure is no longer available. For instance, the salary that
a biostatistician with my years of experience could command is
considerably more in private industry than in the academic setting,
and the stock options are certainly more attractive than at Emory.
I have no answers on the
best course to take. We must face the calls for change, however,
and shape the future that is the best for preserving academic
freedom. To hide our heads in the sand would be to put academic
integrity at risk. To face this challenge will allow us to manage
change in ways that will preserve our leadership in higher education.
Vicki Hertzberg is associate
professor and chair of biostatistics in the Rollins School of
Public Health and a member of the Faculty Council of the University