Faculty Privilege: Research and the Rise of Tenure and Faculty Authority in American Higher Education

79 Pages Posted: 15 May 2023

See all articles by Scott E. Masten

Scott E. Masten

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Date Written: July 12, 2024

Abstract

Faculty at American colleges and universities possess an exceptional combination of job security and decision authority. Why some faculty should enjoy rights, privileges, and protections available to virtually no other class of employees has never been adequately explained, however. This paper makes three main contributions to the debate over tenure and university governance. First, it identifies a source of "hold-up" peculiar to academic employment. Second, it directs attention to the critical role of faculty authority over personnel decisions in securing the employment protections conventionally associated with academic tenure. Finally, the paper documents the relationship between research and faculty personnel authority over time and across institutions using institution-level publication data from 1900-1940 and 1975-2014. Estimates accounting for unobserved heterogeneity and selection in authority allocations in 1970 show substantial costs of "mistaken organization": Marginal treatment effect estimates indicate that delegation of authority over personnel decisions to faculty increased research productivity among institutions that chose to do so (a positive "average treatment effect on the treated"), whereas delegating personnel authority to faculty at institutions where administrators had retained that authority would have reduced research productivity (a negative "average treatment effect on the untreated"). Although the correlation between faculty authority and publication rates persists, evidence of selection and a causal effect of personnel authority on research productivity disappears by the end of the century.

Keywords: tenure, faculty governance, higher education, hold up

JEL Classification: I23, J41, N3, M5

Suggested Citation

Masten, Scott E., Faculty Privilege: Research and the Rise of Tenure and Faculty Authority in American Higher Education (July 12, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4445687 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4445687

Scott E. Masten (Contact Author)

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

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Ann Arbor, MI MI 48109
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