Academic tenure

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A tenured appointment is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency or program discontinuation. Tenure once defended the principle of academic freedom, which holds that it is beneficial for society in the long run if scholars are free to hold and examine a variety of views.

The modern conception of tenure in US higher education originated with the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.[1] Jointly formulated and endorsed by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the 1940 Statement is endorsed by over 250 scholarly and higher education organizations and is widely adopted into faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements at institutions of higher education throughout the United States.[2] This statement holds that, "The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition" and stresses that academic freedom is essential in teaching and research in this regard.

By Country[edit]


Academics are divided into two classes. On the one hand, professors (C2/W2 positions in the old/new system) are employed as civil servants of the state and hold tenure as a highly safeguarded employment for life. On the other, there is a much bigger group of “junior staff” on fixed-term contracts, research grants, fellowships, and part-time jobs. In 2010, 9% of academic staff were professors, 66% were “junior staff” (including doctoral candidates on contracts), and 25% were other academic staff in secondary employment.[3] Permanent research, teaching and management positions below professorship as “Akademischer Rat” (a civil servant position salaried like high school teachers) have become relatively rare compared to the 70s and 80s and are often no longer refilled after a retirement.[4] In order to attain the position of Professor an academic must usually complete a “Habilitation” (a kind of broader second PhD thesis), after that she or he is eligible for tenureship. This means that compared to other countries academics in Germany obtain tenure at a relatively late age, as on average one becomes Academic Assistant at the age of 42.[5] In 2002 the “Juniorprofessur” position (comparable to an assistant professor in the US, but rarely endowed with a tenure track) has been introduced as alternative to the “Habilitation”. However, the degree of formal equivalence between a “Habilitation” and a successfully completed “Juniorprofessur” varies across regional legislations, the informal recognition of having served as a “Juniorprofessur” as replacement for the “Habilitation” in the appointment procedures for professorships varies greatly between disciplines.

Due to the university system that guarantees the university relative academic freedom, the position of professor in Germany is stronger and more independent than, for instance, in France.[citation needed] As civil servants, professors have a series of attendant rights and benefits, yet this status is subject to discussion. For example, it is considered now to relate professorial pay to performance rather than merely to age.[6]

Arguments in favor[edit]

Many argue, among other things, that the job security granted by tenure is necessary to recruit talented individuals into professorships, because in many fields private industry jobs pay significantly more. Economist Steven Levitt, who recommends the elimination of tenure in order to incentivize higher performance among professors, also points out that a pay increase may be required to compensate faculty members for the lost job security.[7]

Arguments against[edit]

Some have argued that modern tenure systems diminish academic freedom, forcing those seeking tenured positions to profess conformance to the level of mediocrity as those awarding the tenured professorships. For example, according to physicist Lee Smolin, " is practically career suicide for a young theoretical physicist not to join the field of string theory."[8]

Some U.S. states have considered legislation to remove tenure at public universities.[9]

A further criticism of tenure is that it rewards incompetence, as once a professor is awarded tenure, he or she may coast, knowing that their removal is difficult or expensive to the institution.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure – AAUP". Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "What is academic tenure?". Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  3. ^ "buwin2013keyresults.pdf — BuWiN 2017". (in German). Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  4. ^ "Prekäre Arbeitsverhältnisse an Universitäten nehmen zu" (in German). Retrieved 2018-03-08. 
  5. ^ "Explainer: how Europe does academic tenure". 2018-02-06. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  6. ^ "Germany, Academic Career Structure • European University Institute". 2017-07-24. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  7. ^ Levitt, Steven. "Let's Just Get Rid of Tenure (Including Mine)". Freakonomics. Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  8. ^ Lee Smolin (2008). The Trouble with Physics. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-101835-5. 
  9. ^ Flaherty, Colleen. "Killing Tenure". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  10. ^ "Study links tenure criteria to long-term professor performance". Retrieved 16 October 2017. 

Further reading[edit]