What Is Academic Tenure? Definition, Overview, 4 Facts

Academic tenure is one of the cornerstones of academia. While not always a requirement, it does provide stability for professors and allows them to stay in the academic job market. 

What Is Academic Tenure?

Tenure in the academia guarantees continuing employment in a certain academic job unless unusual circumstances arise. When a professor achieves tenure, he or she becomes virtually hard to fire.

Despite criticism from both within and beyond the academy, there are genuine arguments in favor of granting tenure to great academics. Several countries have altered their tenure systems as attitudes on academic employment and tenure have shifted.

What Is Academic Tenure?

Tenure is frequently awarded to university academics who hold administration positions. Professors are hired on a contract basis until they are awarded tenure, at which point they can be fired at any time.

After you acquire tenure at the institution, you may be eligible for a better office, health insurance, retirement fund contributions, and other benefits.

To get tenure, academics must pass a thorough examination that covers their performance in the classroom, the lab, and the field as a whole.

In reality, while performing a tenure review, the university is frequently primarily interested in academics who can boost the university’s money and status, placing a great focus on the professor’s ability to acquire grants and publish.

This might result in subpar academics receiving tenure purely because they know how to write a persuasive tenure application, while worthy but less engaged lecturers go unnoticed.

The major reason for tenure is academic independence. Professors with tenure have more freedom to express themselves since they cannot be fired or let go unless there are compelling reasons.

Tenured professors are more prone to speak out, conduct challenging research, and question conventional wisdom.

Without tenure protections, some professors may feel compelled to toe the party line or fear losing their job. Academic tenure is said to be used to defend academic freedom and free expression, two apparently crucial ideals at many schools.

Many professional unions prioritize job security, and unions have been known to exercise influence on institutions in order to guarantee tenure for its members.

After a specific number of years on contract, the university may be forced to grant tenure or remove a unionized professor. This strategy might backfire if the school finally concludes that firing the professor is in its best interests.

What Is Academic Tenure?

For a variety of reasons, academic tenure has come under threat. Professors who have earned tenure are usually allowed to lessen their teaching burden while still keeping their job.

Some of these instructors are perceived as ineffectual or uninspired, and as a result, they may give less aid to their students.

Non-tenured academics prefer to toe the line on contentious subjects in order to boost their prospects of being given tenure.

Because tenured professors are costly to retain, they may become “white elephants” if they do not “earn their keep” through grants and important publications.

What Is Tenure for Teachers?

Professors at all levels of education are eligible to seek for and get tenure. Public school teachers in grades K-12 may also be qualified, depending on their home state’s requirements.

Teachers with tenure at the elementary, middle, and high school levels are protected against dismissal without cause. It does not guarantee ongoing employment.

When did tenure first appear?

The tenure system was created in the early twentieth century as a result of collaboration between institutions and their teaching personnel.

The American Association of University Teachers was founded in 1915 by two of the era’s most known philosophers, John Dewey and Arthur O. Lovejoy, with the objective of representing university professors nationwide. Although not originally a union, the organisation now advocates for teacher unionization.

Tenure was defined in 1940 as “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency and program discontinuation,” as part of a joint effort with the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities).

However, German institutions were the first to seriously implement the concept in the nineteenth century.

What Is Academic Tenure?

Faculty at these universities have achieved substantial autonomy over their work as a result of their devotion to study for its own sake. Academics at the very top of a tight hierarchy have the greatest amount of autonomy and authority.

The “Declaration of Principles” issued by the organisation in 1915 saw academic freedom as “essential to civilisation” and professor tenure as a “property right.” The phrase “academic freedom” refers to teachers’ rights both within and outside of the classroom.

“Freedom of research and study; freedom of teaching inside the university or college; and freedom of extra-mural discourse and activity” are among them.

The latter of these indicates, in particular, that academics can share their views on matters of public importance that are beyond their fields of expertise without fear of punishment.

Why Tenure Was First Adopted

Teachers’ tenure was established in New Jersey in 1909, making it a century-old institution. Government authorities worked hard to ensure that all children in the state had access to skilled teachers.

As a result, tenure safeguards were implemented to defend against unfair employment practices motivated by racism.

These precautions also limited administrators’ ability to exert control over their instructors’ personal life.

Prior to the widespread adoption of tenure protections, school boards could lawfully fire teachers for reasons such as opposing the war, supporting civil rights, or, in the case of female teachers, marrying.

With tenure protection, instructors were allowed to teach hard themes like evolution in the classroom, despite student objections and union demands.

When schools were integrated, tenure served to prevent discriminatory hiring practices by preventing black teachers from being fired because of their color.

Common issues with the tenure process

There are several hidden costs associated with the promotion and tenure review process. Organizations that gather data on paper must print several copies of files that might be hundreds of pages long.

Because you presumably don’t want to sacrifice a whole forest every time you undertake an audit, this isn’t the most cost-effective or ecologically friendly approach of data collecting.

If a university continues to use paper-based approaches, it will ultimately need some form of archival storage solution. Filing cabinets take up valuable floor space that could be used for anything else, like housing personnel.

What Is Academic Tenure?

Ineffective tenure and review procedures waste time for both applicants and evaluators. This is true even for firms that are only beginning to implement basic digital operations. They may believe that shifting paper documents to computers would increase their efficiency.

Using digital systems for document management offers numerous advantages over paper-based solutions, but it is not without downsides.

For example, because different administrators may keep candidates’ information in different places, you may need to ask other department heads and administrators to share data with you every time you need to check a tenure candidate’s file.

Although it fulfills its purpose, having all of your data in one spot is more efficient.

Both paper-based and basic digital processes fall short when it comes to the secrecy of important tenure paperwork. If paper files are kept in an unprotected location, they are prone to theft or alteration.

Sensitive data kept in digital files is not without danger of being compromised owing to causes such as file corruption, unintentional loss, incorrect permission settings, or theft.

Pros and Cons of Tenure

Tenure protection from unjust dismissal has become as fragile as the word suggests. Tenure regulations supporters claim that they must be maintained in order to safeguard employees from being dismissed for discriminatory or arbitrary grounds.

Some argue that civil rights legislation has rendered tenure obsolete. Others say that students have suffered as a result of the flawed tenure system. The following are some of the most famous reasons for and against tenure:


  • Teachers with tenure are protected from irate parents whose children fail to achieve academic requirements.
  • Work satisfaction rises with service length.
  • Tenured teachers are shielded from the whims of power-hungry administrators and board members.
  • Teachers with tenure are allowed to try out new techniques.
  • Rather than hiring inexperienced, low-paid instructors during economic downturns, tenure assures established educators’ continuous employment.


  • Laws and labor unions already provide adequate security.
  • Because the dismissal procedure is time-consuming and costly for school districts, low-performing teachers are frequently retained.
  • Teachers with tenure are less motivated to do a good job because they know they will be paid regardless of how well their pupils achieve.
  • Non-tenured teachers are more likely to face disciplinary action than tenured teachers.

Whom does it benefit?

Tenure benefits college academics by ensuring a permanent job at the university. Because of the teaching and research that universities provide, tenure has a favorable impact on society as a whole.

What Is Academic Tenure?

The safeguards for employees are critical. Except under exceptional situations, tenured academics are guaranteed ongoing income for their teaching and research work. The traditional retirement age has been abolished. Even the shutdown of educational institutions is exceptional.

In recent years, the benefits of tenure have diminished. Despite the fact that their budgets were significantly hit by COVID-19 during the previous year, institutions have let go of tenured instructors without alleging the extreme circumstances of “financial urgency.”

In recent decades, a new meaning of “cause” for termination has arisen. Title IX of the Federal Education Act is only one example of federal regulation that requires disciplinary action against instructors who sexually abuse their students.

Why is tenure controversial?

Tenure has been attacked for a number of economic, political, ideological, and social reasons throughout the last half-century.

In terms of business, higher education has a significant economic influence in the United States. State universities are highly regarded in the business sector. Some politicians believe that schools, like any other company, should be controlled.

Professors would have no more protection against dismissal than any other employee and might be fired without any type of official procedure monitored by their academic peers.

State Senator Bradley Zaun of Iowa has campaigned for the abolition of tenure in Iowa’s public institutions, arguing that “what occurs in our business sector should apply to our universities as well.” This attempt at improvement was a failure.

Legislators in the country’s socially conservative areas argue that professors have hypocritically exploited students’ right to free speech by, among other things, preventing them from joining conservative student political organizations.

These are not only the opinions of social conservatives. Racist remarks in the classroom have resulted in faculty members being placed on leave.

Furthermore, professors at the University of Arkansas have launched a lawsuit against the administration for modifying their tenure policy in a way that weakens protections for academics who question dominant cultural beliefs.

What is its future?

The tenure system remains in existence at American colleges, and the majority of provosts (the highest academic administrators) polled expressed a willingness to maintain it.

However, due to their lower salary, those in positions of responsibility in educational institutions have increasingly depended on nontenured professors in recent decades.

The percentage of tenured academics in higher education has dropped from 65 percent to 45.1 percent during the past few decades. One study found that when adjuncts were included, just one in four university professors had tenure.

Despite evidence suggesting a more diverse faculty and student body results in a more enriched educational experience for all, tenured professors are disproportionately white and male as compared to the rest of the college teaching profession and the general public.

Tenured faculty demographics no longer match those of their students’ classes; 75 percent of college professors are white, whereas 51 percent of the population under 24 was non-Hispanic white in 2019.

Do you believe that academic freedom is “critical to civilization”? Is it a requirement that instructors be awarded tenure?

What Is Academic Tenure?

Or does the tenure system help to entrench instructors who are substandard and outmoded in their teaching and research, impeding innovation in a critical service industry? The dispute regarding tenure will be a constant.

Eligibility Requirements for Tenure

Tenure eligibility standards vary by state, and other governments do not even provide it. When a state does have tenure legislation, the following are the usual requirements:

  1. The required period of work at the same organization is three to five years.
  2. Evaluations in the final four months before tenure were rated adequate.
  3. If all of the other requirements are met, it is accessible to both part-time and full-time employees.
  4. When the prerequisites for tenure are met, tenure is automatically granted.

You may find your state’s exact tenure requirements (if any) on the website of their department of education.

Transitioning to a digital tenure interface

If your institution is ready to shift from binders to a paperless digital system, Interfolio’s Review, Promotion, and Tenure technology is one possibility.

By centralizing all documentation on a single web-based platform, your university may be able to reduce inefficient and time-consuming paper operations.

By converting to electronic storage, you may reduce your dependency on paper and free up precious floor space that would have been taken up by cumbersome filing cabinets. It is common practice for many personnel to require access to the same collection of papers during reviews and tenure determinations.

Interfolio’s technology assists multiple parties during the tenure process. For starters, it enables more effective peer evaluations among academics by providing them with easy-to-use tools for assessing, taking notes, receiving external peer assessments, and interacting with one another.

This program minimizes administrative effort associated with tenure and review procedures by allowing the entire digital bundle to be distributed across committees and the ability to add to it.

Administrators can also assess the university’s commitment to diversity by tracking promotion and tenure results over time.

FAQs Academic Tenure

How Does Tenure Serve The Public Interest?

Education and research are useful to society as a whole, but not when they are influenced by corporations, religious groups, special interest groups, or governments.

What Is Academic Tenure?

Learning and scientific advancement are dependent on students’ freedom to ask questions, express their viewpoints, and dispute. As a result, safeguards for intellectual freedom must be in place. This is why we have tenure.

How Does Tenure Benefit Colleges And Universities?

The security afforded by tenure is priceless. Faculty members who care about their institution are better equipped to establish ties in the community, perform long-term research, and give long-term mentorship to students and emerging researchers.

Does Tenure Only Benefit Individual Professors?

Tenure protects not just individual faculty members’ academic freedom, but also the academic freedom and, by extension, the legitimacy of academic institutions. Professors are less likely to risk bringing up controversial themes in class or in scholarly works if they are afraid of losing their careers as a result.

The public interest loses when businesses, governments, or other entities utilize economic pressure to persuade academics to modify their conclusions or teaching methods. For a summary of these benefits, see Lois Cox and Katherine Tachau’s article “Top Ten Ways Tenure Benefits Students and All Iowans.”

Do All Professors Have Tenure?

The ratio of tenured professors has plummeted to around 21% of the overall academic workforce, much to the chagrin of the academic community. As a result, the number of academics who feel comfortable expressing sensitive themes in the classroom or publishing relevant research is dwindling. Teachers are often evaluated throughout and after their probationary periods.

Should All Professors Be Eligible For Tenure?

According to the American Association of University Professors, all full-time academic members should be deemed tenure-eligible, regardless of rank.

The AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure state that “all full-time faculty appointments are of two kinds:

(1) probationary appointments.

(2) appointments with continuous tenure,” with the exception of special appointments clearly limited to a brief association with the institution.

Adjuncts should be eligible for tenure, according to the AAUP. The AAUP recommends “fractional jobs, with fully proportionate salary, that are eligible for tenure and benefits, with equivalent expectations for service and professional progress” in its research on tenure and teaching-intensive appointments.

What Is Academic Tenure?

What Is An Example Of A Professor Who Needs Academic Freedom And Tenure To Do Their Work?

In 2003, civil engineering professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University discovered high levels of lead in the water supply of Washington, DC.

He spent years proving that corruption inside government institutions such as the CDC and EPA had aggravated the DC water crisis and presented a threat to children’s health.

Despite promises from state and municipal officials, he admitted in 2015 that lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s water were higher than he had previously stated. Edwards created a website to share his findings and promote government openness.

“I can’t live in a world where that happens,” he told the Washington Post. I didn’t get into this field to watch science be used to harm innocent children.

That is never a place I want to be. Academic freedom and tenure protect academics like Edwards from punishment when they risk offending powerful interests, such as those in industry or government.

What Is Tenure in a Job?

Outside of the classroom, the term “tenure” carries a negative connotation. In other situations, the term “tenure” refers to a person’s “tenure” in their current position or with their current employer.

Both long and short job tenures are prevalent, but long employment is more typical. Five years or more is considered a lengthy employment term, whereas less than two years is considered a short one.

Companies consider a candidate’s duration of service when making hiring and promotion decisions. One possible view of long-term employees is that they are trustworthy and knowledgeable. They may, on the other hand, be perceived as stale and complacent.

Short-tenured workers have the potential to be seen as both well-rounded and ambitious, and untrustworthy and maladapted. Working experience may be a good measure of how committed an employee is to their position.

What Is Tenure Status?

Teachers with a proven record of success with their students can earn tenure at every level of education, from kindergarten to graduate school.

Whether they teach in a K-12 institution or a university, tenured faculty members are held in the highest esteem for their knowledge and experience. State and institutional requirements for tenure are not uniform.

Some school districts have established new methods, such as yearly performance reviews, to guarantee that tenured teachers maintain their high quality of work after getting tenure.


Academic tenure is the guarantee of employment for a professor for a set period of time. It is based on the idea that professors should not be forced out of their position just because they have taught there for a certain number of years.

The academic tenure system is intended to protect professors from political pressures that could be used to fire them for reasons unrelated to their ability to do the job. Academic tenure exists as a form of academic freedom and was designed to protect academic freedom.

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