On the Imposition of Tenure Quotas

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This statement was approved by the Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and adopted by the Association’s Council in October 1973.


Many institutions of higher education have had to consider ways of accommodating the number and composition of their faculty to a static or declining financial situation. The Association has developed criteria applicable where a reduction in faculty positions is contemplated because of financial exigency or discontinuance of a program.1 This statement will concern itself with institutional policies designed to shape the overall composition of the faculty by limiting the number of tenured positions, and especially with those policies that establish a fixed maximum percentage of faculty who may possess tenure at a given time.2

The Association, while recognizing the concerns that motivate such quotas, opposes them. They are an unwise solution to the problem they purport to solve, and can have grave consequences for the institutions that adopt them. Moreover, they are not compelled, for other more nearly satisfactory alternatives are available.

Recognizing that tenure best protects academic freedom, but that it is usually undesirable to afford tenure automatically upon an individual’s joining a faculty, the American Association of University Professors has supported the employment of a stated maximum probationary period, of sufficient but not excessive length, during which the academic qualifications and performance of newer faculty members can be evaluated in terms of institutional standards and expectations. Indeed, it is principally to provide each institution with a reasonable opportunity of assessing the skills of probationary appointees in terms of its tenure standards (and the availability of others whom it may also desire to consider for tenured appointment) that this Association has not favored policies of automatic tenure. However, to continue the service of faculty members beyond the maximum probationary period, while withholding tenure, presents an unwarranted hazard to their academic freedom.

Accordingly, institutions may properly set high standards for tenure, but they subvert the functions of tenure standards if they provide that, no matter how clearly nontenured faculty members meet any stated academic standard (and no matter how well they compare with the tenured faculty and all others whom the institution is able to attract to that faculty), the system is such as to require their release from the very positions in which they have served with unqualified distinction. Holding faculty members in nontenured service, and then releasing them because a numerical limit on tenured positions prohibits their retention, has the effect of nullifying probation. All fulltime appointments, excepting only special appointments of specified brief duration and reappointments of retired faculty members on special conditions, should be either probationary relating to continuous tenure or with continuous tenure.3 To make appointments that are destined to lead to nonretention because of a fixed numerical quota of tenured positions, obviating any realistic opportunity for the affected individuals to be evaluated for tenure on their academic record, is to depart from a basic feature of the system of tenure and thus to weaken the protections of academic freedom.

A variation to nonretention because of a tenure quota, one which Committee A finds wholly inimical to the principles of academic freedom which tenure serves, is the policy adopted at a few institutions of withholding tenure from admittedly qualified candidates who have completed the maximum probationary period but retaining them in a kind of holding pattern, perpetually more vulnerable than their tenured colleagues to termination of services, unless and until the quota eases for them and they, too, are granted tenure. If they have fully earned an entitlement to tenure, there can be no justification for continuing them in a less favorable and more vulnerable status than their tenured colleagues. 

Committee A, accordingly, opposes the adoption of tenure quotas for the following reasons:

  1. If combined with the possibility of additional term contracts beyond the period of maximum probationary service plainly adequate to determine the individual’s entitlement to tenure, the system indefensibly extends conditions of jeopardy to academic freedom.
  2. Probation with automatic termination of appointment is not probation; those whom quotas affect by automatically excluding them from consideration for tenure essentially are reduced to a terminal class of contract workers rendered incapable of full and equal faculty membership irrespective of the nature of the service they have given and irrespective of the professional excellence of that service.
  3. In designating a portion of the probationary regular faculty as ineligible to continue, in order to cope with needs of staff flexibility and financial constraints, a quota system is a crude and unjust substitute for more equitable methods of academic planning.

Committee A, in registering its concern over the fixing of a maximum numerical percentage of tenured faculty, does not suggest that an institution should be unconcerned with appointment policies which will permit it to bring new members into its faculty with some regularity. A sound academic program needs elements not only of continuity but also of flexibility, which is served by the continuing opportunity to recruit new persons and to pursue new academic emphases. It is desirable for a faculty to include those recently arrived from the seminars of our graduate schools as well as those who are well established as scholars and teachers.

Such considerations of flexibility are often adduced in support of tenure quotas. But this misses two central points. First, the system of tenure does not exist as subordinate to convenience and flexibility. The protection of academic freedom must take precedence over the claimed advantages of increased flexibility.

Second, imposing a numerical limit on the percentage of tenured faculty disregards a range of other ways to attain a desired mix of senior and junior faculty. Indeed, it imposes an inequitable burden on a vulnerable portion of the faculty in a facile response to issues of academic staffing that should reflect far more comprehensive planning. Establishing fixed quotas may deprive the profession of a large part of the generation of scholars and teachers who currently populate the nontenured positions at our colleges and universities. It would be preferable by far to employ a variety of other measures—some affecting tenured faculty, others affecting probationary and nontenured faculty, and still others affecting prospective faculty members—to ensure that the necessary burdens of financial stringency and lack of growth are shared to some extent by all academic generations. 

While opposing the imposition of tenure quotas, Committee A recognizes that the general proportion of a faculty on tenure can have an important long-range bearing on the nature and quality of an institution of higher education. Given a situation in which there is small prospect for significant growth in the total size of the faculty, considerations that merit attention include:

  1. The desired distribution of tenured and nontenured faculty should be viewed as a long-term goal rather than a short-term solution. The ratio of tenured to nontenured faculty is itself the dynamic consequence of a complex of academic decisions and developments, each of which can be reconsidered. These include: (a) the rate of growth of the institution and its faculty; (b) the fraction of those appointed initially to tenured or probationary positions; (c) the use of visiting faculty members; (d) the use of graduate assistants; (e) the average length of the probationary period of nontenured faculty members who ultimately achieve tenure; (f) the fraction of nontenured faculty members who ultimately achieve tenure; (g) the institutional policy on retirement; and (h) the age distribution of the total faculty.
  2. A satisfactory long-range plan may well imply that, along the way, the proportion of the faculty on tenure will at first increase and then, as the force of the plan takes effect, decrease. Just as the end of growth in the size of the faculty leads to a gradual increase in the proportion of those tenured, so the gradual aging of the present faculty will ultimately lead to a tendency for the proportion to decline. Most changes in academic personnel policies require some lag in time before full implementation and impact, and there is nothing disastrous in a temporary bulge in the percentage of faculty members on tenure. On the other hand, long-range injury to an institution may result from rigid and hasty application of any single presumed remedy, such as the imposition of a fixed quota.
  3. It should be recognized that, in the short run, reducing the proportion of a faculty on tenure produces very little benefit by way of flexibility. It is only over a period of several years that a change in the proportion acquires pertinency. If an institution finds itself, at the beginning of development of a long-range plan, at or near a preferred distribution which it wishes generally to maintain, it may well be sensible to choose consciously to exceed the desired distribution temporarily while the steps necessary to return to that distribution take effect.
  4. Equity and institutional morale demand that the probationary faculty not be made to bear all or almost all of the burden of satisfying the desired tenure ratio. Attractive accelerated retirement opportunities for senior tenured faculty present one possible alternative. Additionally, consideration may be given to planning carefully the proportion of teaching and research done by fulltime and part-time tenured and probationary faculty, teaching assistants, and temporary appointees.

Foreclosing promotion to a tenured position because of a numerical quota is unacceptable. Stricter standards for the awarding of tenure can be developed over the years, with a consequent decrease in the probability of achieving tenure. But it is essential to distinguish a deliberate change in standards, retaining a positive probability of an individual’s achieving tenure pursuant to welldefined criteria and adequate procedures for evaluation and review, from a situation in which the granting of tenure, for reasons unrelated to the individual’s merits, is never a realistic possibility.

 

Notes

1. See Regulations 4c and 4d of the Association’s “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 10th ed. (Washington, D.C., 2006), 24–25. See also the Association’s statement on “The Role of the Faculty in Budgetary and Salary Matters,” ibid., 149–52, and “On Institutional Problems Resulting from Financial Exigency: Some Operating Guidelines,” ibid., 147–48. Back to text.

2. The report and recommendations of the Commission on Academic Tenure in Higher Education, published in 1973, called for “policies relating to the proportion of tenured and nontenured faculty that will be compatible with the composition of [the institution’s] present staff, its resources, and its future objectives.” See Faculty Tenure (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1973), 45–51, particularly the commission’s recommendation on pages 50–51. Back to text.

3. See Regulation 1b of the “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” Policy Documents and Reports, 22. Back to text.