The principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, which is a requisite condition for all who teach and conduct research in higher education. When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech or their publications, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities.
Society does not benefit when teachers and researchers are controlled by corporations, religious groups, special interest groups, or the government. Free inquiry, free expression, and open dissent are critical for student learning and the advancement of knowledge. Therefore, it is important to have systems in place to protect academic freedom. Tenure, understood as an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation, serves that purpose
Since its inception in 1915, the AAUP has assumed responsibility for developing standards to guide higher education in service of the common good. The modern conception of tenure in US higher education originated with the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Jointly formulated and endorsed by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the 1940 Statement has gained the endorsement of more than 240 scholarly and higher-education organizations.
A main tenet of the 1940 Statement is that all full-time faculty members, regardless of rank, are to be considered eligible for tenure. The AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure insist that, “with the exception of special appointments clearly limited to a brief association with the institution, . . . all full-time faculty appointments are of two kinds: (1) probationary appointments; (2) appointments with continuous tenure.”
The AAUP also supports tenure for part-time faculty members whose duties consist primarily of teaching or research conducted at a professional level. The AAUP’s statement on Tenure and Teaching-Intensive Appointments recommends “fractional positions, including fully proportional pay, that are eligible for tenure and benefits, with proportional expectations for service and professional development.”
Critics have mischaracterized and misunderstood academic tenure. Tenure essentially consists of procedural safeguards that help prevent long-serving faculty members from being dismissed for reasons that violate their academic freedom. Dismissal should be related to a lack of professional fitness as determined by faculty peers.
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