Conservative attempts to do away with the longstanding faculty protection may backfire.

Mark McNeilly:

In many red-leaning states around the country, lawmakers have proposed modifying or ending tenure. In my home state of North Carolina, House Bill 715 was under consideration but appears to be stalled. Bills in other states have also been sidelined, at least for now. But the persistence of these attempted reforms, alongside growing conservative distrust of academia, suggests more tenure battles ahead.

The arguments against tenure run the gamut. Some policymakers worry about complacent faculty coasting by with scant contributions to teaching and research. Others worry about long-term costs, the creation of a caste system between overworked contract professors and overpaid tenured dons, and the inability to shift university resources as the interests and priorities of students change. And, of course, many lawmakers are quick to point out that few other professions enjoy the kind of protections afforded to tenured faculty.

As a fixed-term professor in a professional school, I’ve had my doubts about tenure’s value.Advocates for tenure point to its vital role in securing academic freedom, allowing faculty to pursue controversial lines of research and argument without worrying about arbitrary dismissal. Tenure also plays a role in attracting talent and allowing universities to trade off paying lower salaries to talented scholars and researchers in return for job security and intellectual freedom.

I have long been intrigued by the question of whether tenure truly works as a means of promoting academic freedom and intellectual curiosity. As a fixed-term professor in a professional school, I’ve had my doubts about tenure’s value, based mainly on the fact that I know plenty of professors with tenure who still self-censor on important topics.