The War on Tenure
44 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2022 Last revised: 23 Apr 2023
Date Written: March 14, 2023
Legislative attacks on faculty tenure are proliferating at an alarming rate. Politicians seeking to abolish or restrict the practice argue that tenure encourages bad behavior and impedes warranted terminations, granting undeserving academics “jobs for life.” But does tenure really facilitate—much less incentivize—such undesirable outcomes? This Article marshals an original and unprecedented dataset of “tenured-terminations” as well as existing social science research to show that the likely answer to both questions is No.
Instead, the data suggest that tenure is largely operating as it should: as a form of “just cause” employment where cause for termination is difficult but not impossible to find. University narratives explaining terminations overwhelmingly allege classic bad acts for which termination seems warranted, indicating that tenure is most often breached for good cause. Conversely, most terminations occur at public institutions, undermining political claims that tenure hampers these institutions’ ability to fire bad actors. Further support for the view that tenure is functioning well lies in case law and in previous scholarship, which this Article synthesizes with legal analysis for the first time. Tenure thus offers reasonable job security to workers whose exit options are surprisingly poor relative to their high threshold investments and ongoing financial costs, and it does so without excessively restraining university-employers. As the Article shows, there is little empirical or legal justification for the accelerating war on tenure.
[21 Apr. 2023] This paper is a work-in-progress and, as such, subject to further revision. I will be posting a revised version in early August. Please send inquiries or potential data points for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org
[14 Mar. 2023] An earlier version of this paper was posted under the title "Tenured-Terminations." Although the current paper is considerably different, it draws from the same underlying original data.
[21 Sept. 2022] I am continuing to revise the data set and results, and will post an updated version of the paper once this process is complete.
Keywords: faculty tenure, academia, at-will employment, just cause, academic freedom
JEL Classification: K31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation