Inside Higher Ed, Case Against Tenure:
James Wetherbe, Richard Schulze Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business, is the rare academic who doesn’t want tenure. He thinks so little of tenure, in fact, that he’s been waging a four-year legal battle against the notion that professors must assume it to advance their careers.
Wetherbe had little success in his first lawsuit alleging that he missed out on promotions and was otherwise retaliated against for his anti-tenure views; it was dismissed in 2014 on the grounds that the professor’s comments against tenure up until he lost out on a deanship and an honorary title weren’t substantive enough to support his claim of a First Amendment violation.
But a second lawsuit alleging continued retaliation for his speaking out against tenure may proceed to trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has reinstated Wetherbe's new complaint against a dean at Texas Tech, reversing a lower court’s ruling that tenure is more of an individual working condition than a matter of public concern and therefore not protected speech. His case was bolstered by news articles about his first complaint and additional opinion pieces he’s written since 2012, including one in the Harvard Business Review (It’s Time for Tenure to Lose Tenure):
At no other time in history has the American higher education system been in greater need of radical change. The place to start: abolishing tenure.
Originally established in the late 1700s to protect academic freedom at religious schools (which are less than a fifth of the 4,703 U.S. colleges today), tenure has morphed into a guaranteed “job for life,” a benefit no longer enjoyed by any other segment of the U.S. workforce. Even the United Kingdom did away with tenure in the late 1980s when then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher implored the nation’s colleges to become more productive. (Tenure does exist in some form in other European universities, as well as Chinese and Indian schools.) While not all of academia’s problems can be laid at tenure’s doorstep, tenure has hamstrung colleges’ ability to fulfill their two fundamental missions of advancing knowledge and disseminating it. ...
Tenure could be replaced with contracts similar to those in the business world. Merit-worthy professors could be offered multiyear contracts that give them time to prove themselves; full professors could enjoy rolling contracts that provide reasonable amounts of job security. As in business, the contract can be bought out if the professor does not perform. Since resigning tenure 20 years ago at the University of Minnesota, I’ve been on one-year rolling contracts.
In a recent Gallup poll, nearly two-thirds of 1,081 college and university provosts said they preferred long-term contracts to tenure. This would free up resources to staff according to what the outside world needs, both in graduates and in innovative ideas.