The tenure positions in American higher education

    30 January, 2013

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report in Special English.

    In American higher education, the number of positions that offer the job security of tenure has been shrinking for years. Tenure is meant to give professors greater freedom to teach, write or study subjects that may not be popular or politically correct.

    But critics say tenure can also limit the ability of schools to dismiss unproductive faculty numbers or problem employees. Another complaint is that it can restrict the ability to make changes in programs or make the best use of limited budget.

    The number of tenure positions at colleges and universities in the United States has been decreasing since the 1970's. John Curtis is the director of Research and Public Policy at American Association of University Professors.

    "We now are at point for only about 25% of faculty members at colleges in the United States either have tenure already or is (are) in a position that will lead to consideration for tenure."

    The association believes that no more than 15% of college teaching positions should be held by those without tenure. It says this will protect independent thought and freedom of speech. In other words, at least 85% of faculty members should have tenure or be able to seek it.

    But a survey released last week found that many colleges and universities plan to operate with even fewer tenured professors. Instead more classes will be taught by temporary employees. The study was done by Gallup and the online publication Inside Higher Ed.

    The survey asked more than 1000 college and university officials about their hiring plans. More than 58% of chief academic officers at public universities agreed that future generation of faculty should not expect tenure. More than 53% of those at private schools also agreed with that statement.

    The survey found that both state and private institutions plan to offer fewer tenure-track positions. They plan to fill more positions with adjunct or visiting professors and lecturers. Teachers in higher education are often not even permanent part-time employees. They may be employees to teach just one class. And John Curtis says they worry about be rehired each time the course ends.

    "They are really continually concerned that if they do something that is considered controversial, they simply won't be rehired."

    Tenure rights grow out of years of disputes over freedom of academic expression including on religious issues. Permanent employment was seen as a way to give professors greater security to argue with administrators and other powerful people. A series of court cases over two centuries slowly defined the rights and conditions of tenure.

    And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.