Lee Altman ’93 provides this discussion of “Tenure Issues in Higher Education“.

Schapiro and McPherson offer a solid examination of tenure from an institutional efficiency perspective, but I do not see explicit mention of tenure as the great non-monetary equalizer of postgraduate life. Doctors, lawyers, M.B.As can point at their paychecks and proudly display their degrees. By contrast, professors can point to their job security and “academic freedom” as the rewards for their years of preparation. For institutional efficiency, tenure’s greatest value may be in equalizing perceived professional status with other careers requiring advanced degrees.

According to the government-sponsored national 2002 Survey of Earned Doctorates, the median years spent in graduate school is 9.0 for the humanities, and the median age for earning a doctorate is 34.7. Prior to finding a tenure-track slot, it is common for candidates to spend years in postdoctoral fellowships, adjunct or non-tenure positions. While it is harder to find statistics on the median age of professors receiving tenure, 40+ years seems a fair estimate.

Where does the real value of tenure lie? Does it primarily serve the needs of institutional efficiency? Is tenure the paramount motivation for enduring many years of arduous doctoral and post-doctoral preparation? Are liberal arts colleges more or less friendly to tenure systems, with their focus on quality of teaching? And can colleges like Williams maintain their quality of education, if tenure declines nationally as an institution?

Good questions all.

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