The recent blog exchange on tenure has now been picked up by Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education as well as by Professor Zero with her Modest Proposal. I thought perhaps her post might be about hungry adjuncts eating administrators, but no. Instead it's an even more shocking proposal -- tenure at hiring. Although I'm intrigued by such a proposal, I had posted previously an even more modest proposal that I would like to revisit here.
My proposal is simply that institutions adhere to a slightly truncated version of the current AAUP Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The AAUP writes:
The total period of full-time service prior to the acquisition of continuous tenure will not exceed 7 years, including all previous full-time service with the rank of instructor or higher in other institutions of higher learning.If generally enforced, I believe this one principle would solve many of the current problems with tenure. The constant escalation of tenure requirements and time to tenure is one of the chief complaints of those involved. This makes tenure into a moving target such that no one knows where to aim. It tends to make every tenure case cloudy since one can always imagine that more and better teaching, research and service could have been done, or even point to a case where more and better was actually done thus ratcheting up the standards one more notch. It also produces a tenured faculty whose own records of teaching, research, and service slowly fall behind the current standards such that committees may find themselves turning down junior faculty for tenure whose records are substantially more distinguished than some full professors in the department. This is a situation that can only end in tears -- or law suits.
If institutions restrained themselves and required no more than seven years of full-time work for tenure, these situations would not arise. There is actually a physical limit to how many books and articles can be published, how many courses taught, and how much service can be done in seven years. It may be high, but it is finite. And while some institutions may decide to push closer to this limit while others decide to provide more latitude, and while some might give more weight to teaching and service while others focus more exclusively on research, there is actually an upper limit to the amount of work that will be extracted from junior faculty before being granted tenure.
Thus, if a search committee wishes to hire that very attractive candidate with great teaching evaluations, six articles and a book contract for their position, that would be fine — just notice that the candidate has those very impressive credentials because they have been a Lecturer for five years and a Visiting Assistant Professor for three years already and so should be hired with tenure. If a committee doesn’t want to take that plunge, fine — there are many recent Ph.D.'s they can hire without any teaching experience or publications that can be hired into a tenure track job for the whole seven year probationary time. Or they can find someone in between and let them go up for tenure after two or three years instead. But no one would ever be expected to work for more than seven years, in any combination of jobs, and then be expected to spend yet more probationary time for tenure. Nor is it necessary. It is already abundantly clear what that person can accomplish in seven years. It’s on their vita.
Unfortunately, the AAUP statement then goes on to fatally weaken this otherwise admirable standard by adding that
the probationary period may extend to as much as four years, even if the total full-time service in the profession thereby exceeds seven yearsWhat this exception really means is that faculty are subject to never-ending probationary periods and that there is no upper limit to how high the requirements for tenure can go. For instance, suppose after ten years as a full-time Lecturer, one is then hired into a tenure track position and asked to spend another four years on probation; and then another four years after that if they move on to yet another institution. If after eighteen years of full-time teaching they are then granted tenure, their vita may look substantially more accomplished than any vita of someone who has been working full-time for only seven years. If their vita becomes the new standard for tenure in the department what has really happened is that the probationary period for tenure has been increased from seven years to eighteen, since it is no longer possible for anyone to meet those requirements in only seven years.
Seven years is plenty of time to demonstrate scholarly promise, to show teaching and service excellence, and to document anything else an institution might legitimately want to know about a faculty member. Seven years is enough.