Change in Higher Education -- Why is Tenure Disappearing in American Universities?


Recently after reading my hub about the process for promotion and tenure at the university where I work, one of our HubPages authors, Paul Kuehn, asked me a couple of questions. Here is my expanded response.

Paul's Comment --- I never realized that the [promotion and tenure] process was so detailed. When I went to college, I thought it was simply "publish or perish" to gain tenure. Is this process for getting promotion and tenure the same in other countries like England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand?

My Response --- It is definitely a lengthy, detailed, and strenuous process. I wish I could answer your question about England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but unfortunately, I don't know anything at all about P&T processes in other countries. It may actually be quite different. Perhaps those of you on HP who have experience in those nations will address this question.

And I should qualify that the promotion and tenure process which I described applies to a particular small private university in the southeast and may not represent the average faculty experience. Large state and private universities do have "publish or perish" processes and policies. At those institutions, 75% of tenure is based on publications and 25% on teaching and service.

These “publish or perish universities are also institutions where some of your children are students in classes held in lecture halls with 100 to 400 seats. Tenure track faculty may teach one or two of these classes (graduate student assistants grade the exams and papers) and devote the rest of their time to research and publication, which they have to do if they want to retain their position. I would not want to go to college there and I would not send my children, but obviously, lots of people do.

The other extreme with respect to tenure can be found at medium to small sized state colleges and universities, both public and private, many of whom have been slowly eliminating tenure over the past thirty to forty years. There are two major reasons that I am familiar with which are often given for the shift away from tenure in higher education.


(A) There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and resentment in the United States about what academics actually do, how much what we do is worth, and how much we are paid. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say. Well, those who "can" do and those who "can't" teach. Or the number of times I have heard some ill-informed person pontificate publicly. Well, they teach five classes a semester, so they are in the classroom a whole 15 hours a week, and we pay them WHAT?

Yes, I stand in front of my students 15 hours a week and I meet with them 5-10 hours a week in my office, and I spend about five hours a week in academic meetings and writing various reports. And we can all add, so I get a fabulous salary (I did a hub about the common misconceptions about college faculty salaries) for working 25- 30 hours a week. (It is best to be amused by, rather than irritated by people who think like this. If they have never worked full-time for a college or university, they are speaking from outside the system and probably don’t know any better.)

Whether in or out of the office, faculty must also spend many hours a week devising the guidelines for and grading exams, reports, essays, research papers, group projects, and daily quizzes. Faculty read books, take detailed notes, prepare lectures for their classes; they design brand new courses occasionally and shepherd them through a lengthy academic approval process; most faculty serve as mentor to one or more student organizations; we organize on-campus conference, plan academic colloquia, locate and bring civic, academic, and religious speakers to campus; we work on our own research projects and present papers at local, state, and national conferences. A recent independent study found that American faculty on average work between 45 and 50 hours a week, obviously some only put in 40 hours and some (often tenure track) put in 55.


To return to reason (A), academics are well - respected in Europe, to a large extent they are disrespected in America. Some scholars believe this can be traced back to our early colonial history. We all study about America the great land of opportunity where hard-working business entrepreneurs could succeed, and indeed the colonies were and America still is that place. But as our text books tell us, in order to succeed the colonies had to break away from aristocratically-ruled England where only the aristocrats had access to higher education.

Throughout Europe the aristocratic upper class (who by and large inherited their property and wealth and were not capitalists) was the educated class and of course, both resentment and disdain developed in America for the spoiled, lazy, educated, inheritors of titles and lands. When our fore fathers chose to specifically eschew the use of titles, the die was unintentionally cast which would lead to distrust and derision for those who make their living by the life of the mind, as opposed to by honest common labor. There has been a continuing strain of anti-intellectual rhetoric in American politics and business. Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in America" has been around for quite a while, but Hofstadter is a well-respected historian and he and others address this issue in great detail.


(B) Finances, everything comes back to money doesn't it? As state budgets have been squeezed and as educational funds for higher education from Washington have diminished (not necessarily as a discrete number of dollars, but as a percentage of budgets), colleges and universities have not surprisingly been desperately looking for ways to cut costs. Of course, as is true of most businesses, a major portion of any college or university budget is employee salaries and benefits. But you have to have professors and teachers in the classroom, don’t you? (distance and on-line learning is another whole topic and it has been written about on HP by both supporters and detractors)

True, but class sizes can be increased, if the structure of the building permits expansion of class-room size, and in many cases the buildings do. So, often this is a major area where university administrators and college presidents make cost reductions. Their desire to eliminate faculty may be stymied by the regulations which govern promotion and tenure, which are spelled out in detail in the Faculty Handbook, a document which is binding. Not being able to fire tenured faculty at will, based on their personal discretion poses a difficulty for some academic presidents. [Reason 1 -- Why academic administrators and Boards of Trustees may work to minimize or eliminate tenure.]


On the other hand, if administrators do not choose to increase class size (substantial academic research has demonstrated that large classes to not benefit students and often decrease learning and retention), they can change how they staff classes. Classes can be staffed with full-time (FT) faculty who receive both wages and benefits or with adjunct (PT) faculty who teach part-time, often at two or more locations, who only receive wages.

In the southeastern United States, adjunct faculty are generally paid 1500 to 2500 dollars per course. So, adjuncts teaching five classes per semester will make between 15 and 25 thousand a year. No benefits, no medical, no retirement, no contract – they are hired on a semester by semester basis - and they all have a Masters degree in their discipline and many of them have earned a PhD as well. [Reason 2 -- Why academic administrators and Boards of Trustees may work to minimize or eliminate tenure.]

The employment of large numbers of adjuncts to teach a class or two here and there at different colleges, is detrimental to both adjuncts and students for a whole host of reasons beyond the scope of this hub. Utilizing more adjunct instructors and fewer full-time professors does indeed save money, but to accomplish that goal university presidents often have to weaken or even dismantle the tenure process.

Tenure does protect faculty who have spent years at an institution and have remained productive at a very high level in the areas of Teaching and Advising, College and Community Service, and Research, Conference Presentation, and Publication. However, tenure also protects our students and insures that they receive a quality education from faculty who will be there to work with them semester after semester.


Much learning is based on continuity and building relationship, things that students cannot achieve with adjuncts who may be here today and gone tomorrow. I say this with the utmost respect and concern for adjunct instructors; they are not itinerant instructors by choice. Ninety-five percent of them hope to secure a permanent position somewhere. I have personally known many excellent and dedicated educators who were adjuncts rushing between two, three, even four locations to teach courses. Sometimes this sort of teaching schedule and regimen continues for many years. Some adjuncts never secure a full-time position.

I do not sympathize with adjunct faculty because I merely imagine their struggles, exhaustion, and frustration; for two years at the beginning of my career I was an adjunct instructor driving all over the metro Atlanta area to teach courses. By teaching thirteen – fourteen courses a year (8-10 is standard), I earned around twenty-three thousand a year and was able to take care of my three children. Adjunct teaching ought to be for the young, the strong, and preferably, the unattached.


More by this Author

Comments Are Welcomed and Appreciated 28 comments

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

Phdast.. I was going to start my comment as quality vs Quantity.. how many years do you put in.. but then I realized the grading system.. and the tenure battles in court.. and the right it gives to academic freedom.. then I thought about who gives back to the Universities.. but the tenured.. they have more to gain to see a college flourish.. so why is tenure disappearing.. I thought it was economics.. but you really put some thought into my head this morning.. bless you Frank

eHealer profile image

eHealer 4 years ago from Las Vegas

Hello PhDast, This country has the most bizarre values of any developed countries. In the Scandinavian countries, teachers are held in high esteem and considered a force in shaping ideas and educating people of all ages. I taught at a University on the west coast, and I can't say I felt very appreciated either. The US is currently 22 in science. Our young people can't afford a college education. We do not hold learning in a high priority and are becoming less and less able to compete in global markets. Great hub and you have opened my eyes even wider. The question by Paul is excellent and makes strong points. Thank you for sharing!

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

You explain it well and make many good points. However, though the factors you mentioned are big ones, I think there are some additional factors to the resentment of the tenure system.

The current economy inflames the envy of most people in most businesses at all levels (who may also have very good reasons for needing continuity in their job) for those who don't have to worry about the loss of a job, tomorrow. Envy is wrong, but it is also usually understandable.

On the other hand, there are some people in any job who need to be fired because they aren't doing the job. Even those who put in all the work to become tenured do not guarantee that they will continue to work hard. When you are in a job which you know is secure because you do such a good job you would be very difficult to replace, you have little respect for those who are protected by tenure, but shouldn't be.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Frank - You are so right, there are all sorts of ways to look at it, many different perspectives. Economics matter, but your are right, it is the tenured faculty who have the greatest vested interest ib seeing to it that the institution is strong and healthy., One topic I did not discuss is that President's often want to get rid of tenure, so a huge balance of power will shift to their office. I also didn't discuss the issue of :academic freedom." Fodder for another Hub, I think. Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comments.

arb profile image

arb 4 years ago from oregon

Great hub as always Theresa! Never been a fan of tenure, although it has its upside, I suppose. Thanks for the summury of both sides of an issue not understood by the average outsider. Voted up and across of course.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Alan. Would you mind sharing with me the reasons why you are not a fan? The anti-tenure people I have run into before knew very little about higher education and the tenure system and made a number of incorrect assumptions about what tenure is and how it works.

They often assume that college tenure is like primary and secondary education tenure - grated for simply being a warm body in a classroom for a certain number of years. I am completely opposed to that myself! But you don't rant, you are not illogical, you don't have an axe to grind...I would like to hear what your concerns and misgivings about the system are?

BTW, I forgot to mention in the hub (the more I think about it, there's a lot I didn't mention) most colleges-universities have a cap; no more than 55 or 45 or 35% of the full-time faculty can be tenured at any one time. This is to prevent a situation where 80% of the faculty cannot be fired; that high a percentage of tenured faculty could become an overbearing force in the institution. There are lots of interesting checks and balances in a healthy institution; of course not all institutions are healthy. :) Theresa

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

You present a good argument in support of tenured faculty. They do provide security and quality due to experience, knowledge and its application. As an adjunct professor, I can attest to the salary posted and the demands placed upon having to teach long hours. I would love to become a permanent staff member -- especially leading to tenured.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello eHealer. Thank you for your pertinent comments. It is totally weird that America values education and educators so much less than other developed countries. I too worry about our young people' future and the strength of our technology and economy. Paul did set me up perfectly with some great questions. :) Thank you for reading and for your encouragement. :)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi aethelthryth. There definitely other factors I didn't mention, hoping to cover them in another hub. The envy and frustration is certainly understandable, but it existed long, long before our current economic crisis. Though, I do think the bad economy makes people more resentful and envious.

There is a great fear that faculty would slack off after they are tenured...and of course, there are a small percentage who do. But really, a person works incredibly hard for 8 to 12 years, for a very average salary, you know they love teaching and research, otherwise they would go into business and make two or three times as much... Is it really likely that the year after getting tenure they are going to slack off and become lazy, disinterested faculty?

One, I think people equate the college tenure system with the secondary school tenure and they are very different. Two, tenured faculty who stop performing can be motivated when everyone receives a raise each year except them. :)

Thanks for your great and interesting comments.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Dear teaches - Bless you for teaching as an adjunct. I know the pay is terrible and the hours difficult, but we need, the styudents need good teachers in their classrooms. I feel quite certain you are one of them. Keep your eyes open for a one-year visiting insturctoship. Even if its not exactly what you want or whewre you want to be. Often before starting a tenure-trach search, institutions will hire someone on a one-year conract.

Even though it is not permanent, there are two benefits. Having an entire years to put on your resumemakes you much more desirable, and every once in a great while a one year position converts to a three year position or even a tenure track faculty line. Good luck, good luck, good luck.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Thanks for the advice and encouragement, phdast7. I will look into this as it sounds like a good option.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

You are so welcome. :)

Just reread my comment. Wow! When I am in a hurry I cannot spell at all, even simple words! I answered your comment between classes today and I seldom do that. Thank heavens, people would soon think, " why what a fibber she is, clearly she is hardly educated at all." :)

arb profile image

arb 4 years ago from oregon

Hi Theresa, in answer to your question, I am a fan of honest industry. Reward for a job well done. The risk of not doing a job well is turnover and eventually you get a cast made up of deserving contributors. The natural attrition of employees is rooted in performance (usually) and that benefits the student who is paying for the best education and the best teacher that money can buy. The only viable protection a teacher deserves rest in a job well done. My two cents. It has seldom brought me anything more.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

In every foreign country pictured here teachers of all levels are revered. As you stated, only in this country are teachers of all levels disrespected. When I taught in Germany, I walked on hallowed ground. Here, in America I was considered union trash. Part of the problem here in America is linking teaching with unions. We are seen as blue collar workers, not professionals. That is part of the problem. Tenure is needed at at all levels of education to ensure freedom of thought, opinion, and teaching. Otherwise we would all be teaching to the administrator's thoughts, opinions, and teaching methods. If we want freedom of education, we must have tenure. I would not want to teach without it. But, tenure should be difficult to get. I had to have a master's degree to obtain it and three to five years teaching in the classroom that were strenuously evaluated. I had to write essays and goals about my profession. I just didn't waltz into tenure. No one does that I know of. I also had to acquire some pedigree. I had to be a highly qualified teacher - in other words a master teacher otherwise I could not teagh my subject. I had to have 30 semester hours in the subjects I taught, aw well as five years teaching experience in each subject I taught. I taught two different subjeccts. English and Spanish. I only had 18 hours in Journalism, so I was not permitted to teach it as I was not highly qualified in that area. At one time I had taught it, but the requirerments changed and became much more stringent and I could not longer teach it unless I obtaineed 12 more semester hours in the subject area. Teaching is no longer the "cake job" that so many of the public think it is. So, Theresa, I have enjoyed this article very much and I admire and value all the work you do teaching at the university level. Thank you!

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 4 years ago

When people hear the word tenure, they often think of teachers who are protected from being fired regardless of their performance. But as you pointed out, things are not so simple, and the concept has evolved for a variety of reasons. But unfortunately, the word often becomes one more tool for teacher bashing.

I am an adjunct professor out of necessity, and I don't see things changing any time soon. My only hope for a full-time position is to move somewhere where few people want to live, which I have little desire to do. Fortunately, I make more money than the salaries you describe in the southeast, and we have been able to get by. But I don't have much opportunity to do much at the colleges where I work other than teaching.

cprice75 profile image

cprice75 4 years ago from USA

I believe that the decrease in tenured faculty has corresponded to an increase in the number of administrators. Those folks have to bring in the six-figure salaries, so the money paid for those who actually do the work of educating has to be cut. At my orientation a couple of years ago, the graduate dean introduced a brand new VP for something or other in a brand new position. IMO--too many deans and VPs of some obscure program that most students will never see or deal with. Also, when the brand new VP started talking, I wondered how students got anything out of his classes. They say, those who can't do teach. I say, those who can't teach become administrators.

ib radmasters profile image

ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California


The average non government, non union, non teacher in the United States is working under an At Will Employment Contract. This is the opposite of Tenure, and why should teachers or anyone else get job security. Especially when most of the country doesn't have jobs, are losing their jobs, have their hours and pay reduced, and many don't even get decent benefits.

There are many workers in the US that are working 60-80 hours a week just to keep their jobs.

In my opinion, education today is out of step with industry. And industry is where they get their jobs, unless they go to the government, or teaching.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Suzette - You told the other half of the story, which is wonderful because I never worked in a state or secondary education system. And I think you are so right, tenure should be very hard to get, not a reward for years served. And it was designed to, and still does, protect teachers from supervisors who may not approve of their politics or field of study.

When those outside of education complain; it seems they do not see any or do not value the distinctions between education and business; tenure is not simply about position protection, in the US it also serves to balance both the time spent obtaining credentials and the eventual salaries of different professions. I know you of all people know this, but I am going to try casting it in formula fashion for a change. Thank you for your comments and for teaching our children all those years. ~~ Theresa


BANK LOAN OFFICER B.A./B.S. (4 years) median salary $54,000

ENGINEERS B.S. (4 years) "STARTING SALARY" $67,000

COMPUTER SYS ANALYSTS B.S. (4 years) median salary $75,000

SALES MANAGERS B.A./B.S. (4 years) median salary $97,000

MARKETING MANAGER BA/BS (4 years) median salary $108,000


UNIVERSITY PROF MA/PhD (6-10 years) median salary $58,000


***These statistics (with citations, so you can go to the original information source) and more are available in the hub “Just How Filthy Rich Are those Arrogant University and College Professors anyway?”

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Your chart and statistics are great . Thank you for posting this. Most people don't realize really what our salaries are like. Of course "teachers only work nine months". In the summer, K-12 teachers are taking more courses, teaching summer school ( I've done that a few times) or traveling with students overseas ( I've done this many times and these are not vacations for me- they are work and responsibility 24/7.). I have done this because it opens up the world to my students.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

ib --

"The average non government, non union, non teacher in the United States is working under an At Will Employment Contract. This is the opposite of Tenure, and why should teachers or anyone else get job security."

~~This is absolutely true. Perhaps the difference might lay in the median levels of compensation and the radically different amounts of time and money expended in acquiring the necessary education. NOTE: See my response to Suzette Naples which contains a graph comparing professions, education levels and pay scales.

"In my opinion, education today is out of step with industry."

~~You perceive this as an unfortunate negative. I perceive it as a fortunate positive.

"And industry is where they get their jobs..."

~~ Not so much anymore. Many industries in the United States have collapsed or disappeared completely...many of them outsourced to foreign countries with the enthusiastic approval of top management and CEO's, while the already enormous gap between their compensation and that of the average worker continues to widen.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Freeway Flyer - Thanks for the feedback; it is good to hear from someone on the inside of the situation. Sadly, you are right, the word tenure is an excuse to bash teachers, like union has become an excuse to berate workers. I am not saying that there aren't problems with unions, but people forget why they developed in the first place -- to address the horrendous and unfair conditions that factory workers faced in 19th century Europe. But you are a historian -- you know all this.

I am glad that the adjunct salaries are better where you live and that you are getting by, but I am sorry that there aren't enough full-time positions for well-trained and enthusiastic teachers like you. I hope something will open up for you someday. Theresa

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

cprice -- I definitely think there is a correlation there and administrative positions multiply all the time wile faculty numbers often stay the same. I also think a lot of money is being diverted into fancy cutting edge tot he detriment of faculty salaries. I don't hate technology, but it shouldn't take precedence in an educational budget. Teachers who are good at what they do and who can motivate students should be the top priority.

I have served on numerous search committees and I often recommend that the 3 or 4 candidates we bring to campus give their "guest Lecture" in a classroom with a blackboard and chalk. The really great teacher will have no problem with it and will still give an engaging and interesting lecture...and that is who I want to hire. So far no one will follow through on my suggestion.

I love the revamped saying, "Those who can't teach become administrators." I think there is truth in that. :).

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Suzette - I hope the chart will catch the attention of a few of the "negative toward teachers" crowd. I am so glad you said something about "summers off" I have explained to many friends and acquaibtances that the type ofworkmay change, but there is still a lot of work to be done every summer. Teaching is not a free or easy ride. Have a great weekend. Theresa

RednecksForObama profile image

RednecksForObama 4 years ago from deep south

Bottom line. The USA has the best schools in the world. Bar none. People come from everywhere to study here and rip off our ideas. It is foolish to fall prey to insidious propaganda against our over worked, underpaid, an less than appreciated teachers. One teacher equals thousands of well educated, productive members of society.

President Obama is just like me. He knows education is the key. He sent Ms.Rhee packing from Washington DC. He hugs the kids and puts em' on his knee.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Well, first things first, Welcome to Hub Pages - take it slow, learn as you go, and enjoy reading and writing (Hint- some of the best people to follow are the ones who write really thoughtful comments - and people are more likely to follow you after you have read and commented on two or three of their hubs.).

Second, I went to your profile page and really liked what I read; we have very similar concerns and beliefs - And Obama needs a second term and America needs him in the White House.

Third, I hope you are not attached, because I want to propose. :) Any man who can write what you just wrote about the importance of education and teachers, has got to be a good man. :) Seriously, that was a great comment and you were right on target.

Take care and have fun. :)

mercuryservices profile image

mercuryservices 3 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

Theresa, I am all for tenure. For one thing, the academic journey to a full time position is a long one and the security of a tenured position is a nice reward for all that work, in my opinion. Also, professors with tenure have more freedom to speak their minds on controversial issues. Even though America is anti-intellectual to some extent, if someone with credentials speaks out or takes a stand on social or political issues, people still listen. Maybe the anti-war movement of the 60s would have been stifled without help from the so-called "Ivory Tower." Thanks for this hub, it was thought provoking as usual.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Alex. Quite a few friends and acquaintances over the year have been intensely opposed to tenure for a variety of reasons. If and when you can get them to calm down they usually know almost nothing about the actual process and how it works. University tenure is quite different from k-12 tenure. Their system is very different.

America is rather anti-intellectual -- thank you for saying it -- and with the nature of what many professors do -- we discuss religion and politics and philosophy and science, there is a need for some protection. I was also hoping to make clear that academics trade huge salaries for intellectual freedom. If I had a PhD in Chemistry or Business, I would be making 150 to 200 thousand a year, not 45,000 after an 18 year career ( I make a little more than that but only because I teach extra classes and have very long hours).

Your comment about the 60's anti-war movement and the Ivory Tower folk is very intriguing. I never looked at it that way before. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. (Thought-provoking is a fine compliment in my book) :) Theresa

S Leretseh profile image

S Leretseh 3 years ago

Academia in America is now inextricably linked to liberalism i.e. the Democratic party. In the mid 60s, almost 80% of the college student body in America was white Christian males. And deservedly so. It was this male group that was responsible for creating ALL the political and economic arenas in America. Today, females equal about 60% of the student body...and white Christian males are down to about 23%. About 60% of all students are also on gov't loans. Not uncommon for a student today to graduate with a debt load of 25K. Ridiculous.

The democratic party, since early 1960, has established itself as a de facto enemy of white Christian males --thru the Civil Rights Acts ('64, '65, '68 ). Academia should have questioned the legitimacy of these 'new' social engineering laws. Instead, they sold out to the DEMS. In 1965, LBJ created the Gov't Guaranteed Student Loan Program. No question in my mind this was a scheme to buy the allegiance of academia. It worked. 66% (some put it in the high 70s) of academia admit they are democrats.

Schools of higher education should not be linked to the gov't (federal, state). In California's UC system, only 25% of the revenues to run the university system comes from tuition. Guess who satisfies the rest of the budget... YUP, the state. And what political party runs the state of CA? YUP, the DEMS.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article