Should College Faculty Really Control Tenure?


If you listen to most professors (those who have tenure, anyway), the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”

They regard themselves as the “talent” of the operation and therefore entitled to choose all the new talent. Outsiders, especially trustees, ought to sit quietly by and let the experts do their thing.

But does that serve the interests of the college or university best? In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson argues that it does not. She quotes Duke professor Michael Munger, who observes that, “The faculty gain nothing from improvements, and they lose nothing from mistakes, since costs are being paid by the endowment, and by the diligent and selfless efforts of the trustees and the president.”

Perhaps the worst problem with faculty control, Robinson points out, is that the existing faculty members usually want the new faculty to be intellectual replicas of themselves. Thus, academic departments suffer from groupthink, but the professors don’t see that as a problem. The cost of academic monoculture is borne by the school as a whole, not themselves.

Robinson maintains that governing boards should move to reestablish their authority over tenure for the good of the institution. She concludes, “The recent controversy surrounding Nikole Hannah-Jones presents a unique opportunity to examine tenure processes, practices, and criteria across the UNC System. The UNC Board of Governors should use this opportunity for meaningful reform to benefit students, North Carolina citizens, and the university as a whole.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.





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