Nobody Deserves Tenure

Chester E. Finn, Jr. – Nobody deserves tenure, with the possible exception of federal judges. University professors don’t deserve tenure; civil servants don’t deserve tenure; police and firefighters don’t deserve tenure; school teachers don’t deserve tenure.

With the solitary exception noted above—and you might be able to talk me out of that one, too—nobody has a right to lifetime employment unrelated either to their on-the-job performance or to their employer’s continuing need for the skills and attributes of that particular person.

Tenure didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai or over on the Mayflower. Though people occasionally refer to its origins in medieval universities, on these shores, at least, it’s a twentieth-century creation. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) began pushing for it around 1915, but tenuring professors didn’t become the norm on U.S. campuses until after World War II (when the presumption of a 7-year decision timeframe also gained traction) and it wasn’t truly formalized until the 1970’s when a couple of Supreme Court decisions made formalization unavoidable.

In some states, public-school teachers began to gain forms of job protection that resembled tenure as early as the 1920s, but these largely went into abeyance during the Great Depression and were not formally reinstated until states—pressed hard by teacher unions—enacted “tenure laws” between World War II and about 1980.

The original rationale for tenure at the university-level, articulately set forth by the AAUP, was to safeguard academic freedom by ensuring that professors wouldn’t lose their jobs because they wrote or said something that somebody didn’t like—including, on occasion, donors who paid for their endowed chairs. This justification gained plausibility during the post-war “Red Scare” and McCarthy era.


  1. doug

    I come from Canada where teachers do not have tenure but, of course they do have due process for firings and progressive discipline.

    What Finn wants is a system with no safeguards where the principal can say, "this is your second time late in 20 years. You are fired."

    Diane Ravitch has pointed out that basically the same system exists in the USA. Before due process, principals fired one teacher so they could hire a relative, fired religious or political minorities etc.

    Due process is not tenure, it is human rights in action. Management needs to prove that the teacher is unfit, not just suspect it.

  2. Rachel

    I agree. Tenure is a horrible practice that has been abused consistently. As an education professional, I would much prefer to have to earn my contract than have it handed to me year to year.

    While there is a measure of security in knowing that my job is not on the line at the end of every school year, I have seen far too many teachers kept on because they have tenure; teachers who no longer have any business working in any school district.

    Another negative side effect is that any teacher without tenure can be fired (i.e. not given a renewal on his/her contract) without right to due process. So, not only do we protect those who should have been terminated years ago but we throw our new generations to the wolves in order to meet the budget.

    Bring back due process and get rid of tenure.

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February 5th, 2011

Staff Reporter

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