Updated: Jun 14, 2022
by James (Jim) Klein President, Texas Association of College Teachers
I hope you and your family are in good health and spirits. I wish to further discuss the concept of tenure as it remains a topic under scrutiny by state officials. As I mentioned in an earlier address, tenure does not provide permanent employment. Tenured faculty members can be dismissed from their positions, but tenure, if understood by all correctly, requires that the institution explain the reason(s) or cause(s) for the dismissal and provides a mechanism by which the faculty member can appeal the decision to dismiss, typically before a faculty committee selected by the faculty or at random.
The means by which a tenured faculty member may be dismissed as well as the appeal process should be clearly laid out in your institution’s faculty handbook or policy manual. Examine these documents if you have not done so recently. If your institution’s policy language regarding tenure is lacking, urge your Faculty Senate or Faculty Council to address this with the administration. The handbook or policy manual details the terms of interaction for those associated with the institution. Consequently, it should be a collaborative document created by all parties associated with the institution, not something dictated to faculty and others.
Tenure serves the common good because it serves the concept of academic freedom, the idea that the classroom instructor and/or lab or archive researcher should conduct their work free from outside influence. In 1940 higher education faculty from around the United States, recognizing numerous examples of outside (political) influence in higher education in German-occupied Europe and in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, created the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The Statement, created by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and endorsed by 250 professional academic associations, stipulated that a system of academic tenure provides a means of defending academic freedom (both within the classroom and outside it via public statements).
While tenure provides a professional atmosphere and a measure of job security, it also carries an expectation of responsibility for those who have earned it—a responsibility to speak on behalf of those who do not have this level of job security. This includes adjunct and term faculty, but also college and university staff who quite often are at-will employees and thus might jeopardize their employment by speaking on legitimate wrong-doings at the institution.
We in higher education need to increase our efforts to inform the general public about academic freedom and the system of tenure that defends it. I urge you to make a presentation on this topic to local community organizations such as a Rotary Club, the Junior League, the Chamber of Commerce, or the local chapter of the NAACP, LULAC, or GI Forum. You know best your local community and local institution, but contact TACT if you need resources or guidance for this work. The attack on tenure in Texas is an immediate crisis and TACT is responding to that crisis, but the misunderstandings about tenure represent a deep seeded problem that requires a long term approach at the same time. Join us in this work—we are stronger together.
James (Jim) Klein President, Texas Association of College Teachers
Professor of History, Del Mar College