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Tenure refers to a legally secure position, an “indefinite appointment” at an institute of higher learning (AAUP, 2019, p. 1). Of course, extenuating circumstances may enable the educational institution to sever the contract and terminate the tenured faculty. One of those extenuating circumstances would be financial exigency: an unavoidable and unfortunate situation in which the institution experiences severe budget shortfalls and must completely reconsider reallocating resources in order to remain viable at all. A similar extenuating circumstance that may legally permit the termination of a tenured faculty member would be the restructuring of the institution to the degree that whole departments were eliminated, thus eliminating all associated faculty within that department. Other extenuating circumstances that would legally permit the institution to terminate tenured faculty would be serious legal or ethical violations. Otherwise, though, tenured faculty enjoy greater job security and benefits versus their non-tenured colleagues.
According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP, 2019), tenure has been embedded in higher educational policy since 1940. Tenure has remained the cornerstone of higher education, promoting broader values related to academic freedom and freedom of speech (Eastman & Boyles, 2015). As Curnalia & Mermer (2018) point out, “tenure makes it safe for faculty to try new pedagogies and explore new lines of research; formal academic freedom protects faculty who advocate on behalf of their students, their universities, and their communities,” (p. 129). Although critics of the tenure system point out that the vast majority of university and college faculty do not enjoy the protections of tenure including its attendant academic freedoms and job security, tenure remains a critical component in protecting the integrity of higher education.
However, the means by which to protect academic freedom and ensure labor rights could be currently under threat. The vast majority—70%--of all faculty appointments are currently not on the tenure track at all (Curnalia & Mermer, 2018). University administrators face mounting pressure to keep their institutions financially viable, which further undermines their ability to expand opportunities for tenure. Conflicts of interest have also plagued university administrators attempting to balance the need for remaining financially solvent with their commitments to ideals like academic freedom.
Preserving Institutional Rights
Lofty ideals like academic freedom need not always conflict with institutional rights to manage financial exigencies, but often do. Administrators will occasionally face uncomfortable or compromising situations involving decisions such as whether or how to terminate tenured faculty for financial reasons. In situations like these, tenured faculty have some legal rights such as due process. Part-time and untenured faculty do not enjoy the same legal rights, and may not even be entitled to collective bargaining. An increasing number of faculty members are hired on a contract or contingency basis.
Organizational culture has become a significant issue related to faculty rights. Faculty, particularly tenured faculty, have a vested interest in shared governance models of organizational structure (Curnalia & Mermer, 2018). Shared governance implies that…
…and to collective bargaining.
The Collective Bargaining Process
Integral to the exercise of labor rights, collective bargaining is a process by which administrators and faculty negotiate terms with the ideal outcome of a win-win situation. As with shared models of governance in academic institutions, collective bargaining implies the equal legal status of all parties. According to the AAUP (2019), collective bargaining remains far more common and accessible in state funded educational institutions due in part to landmark legislation that seriously undermined faculty rights in the United States: National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) v. Yeshiva University. This landmark case resulted in a dramatic decline in the power conferred to faculty, which were subsequently treated as subordinate members of the organization vis-a-vis administrators (AAUP, 2019). The impact has been to antagonize faculty and administrators, creating an even greater need for collective bargaining to minimize the chances of abusing the right to declare financial exigency in order to silence staff or terminate a tenure contract.
Organizations like the AAUP and also labor unions continue to represent and advocate on behalf of all faculty, including part-time and contingent faculty. Institutions of higher learning are fundamental features of any democracy. The advancement of research does depend on strong and fiscally wise management, but decisions made by administrators should never place profitability over the values inherent in higher education. Faced with financial exigency, universities and colleges have a wide range of options. Solutions can be reached more efficiently and…
Alleman, N.F. & Haviland, D. (2017). “I expect to be engaged as an equal”: collegiality expectations of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members. High Educ (2017) 74: 527. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0062-4
American Association of University Professors (AAUP 2019). Tenure. Retrieved from: https://www.aaup.org/issues/tenure
Curnalia, R. M. L., & Mermer, D. (2018). Renewing our commitment to tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance to navigate challenges in higher education. Review of Communication, 18(2), 129–139.doi:10.1080/15358593.2018.1438645
Eastman, N. J., & Boyles, D. (2015). In defense of academic freedom and faculty governance: John Dewey, the 100th anniversary of the AAUP, and the Threat of Corporatization
Mitchell, M., Palacios, V. & Leachman, M. (2015). States are still funding higher education below pre-recession levels. Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy, April 2015, Article 71. Retrieved from: https://thekeep.eiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1524&context=jcba
If both parties agree, another alternative dispute resolution method may be used. Specific reasons must be in writing for any decision to terminate the tenured faculty member. The post-tenure review process is mandatory when an administrator is faced with deciding whether to terminate a tenured faculty member with allegations of dating an 18-year-old student and receiving evidence of phone records and witness documentation of the faculty member being seen with
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