Faculty isn’t fixed on need to get tenure
Published: Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 8, 2011 10:09
It is a concept most of us have heard at least once during our academic career. Maybe it was by eavesdropping on your teacher's conversation at lunch during the sixth grade. Or maybe it was last week's lecture in your government class. But what is it exactly?
In a nutshell, tenure is a protection earned by professors once they have proven their skills and abilities in teaching. Once a professor is granted tenure, it protects them from being fired for unjust reasons, such as their personal opinions, or grudges held by the administration. It also grants professors freedom in their lessons and research, allowing them to teach what otherwise might be unpopular and controversial.
Most colleges and universities throughout the United States offer tenure to their faculty.
FGCU, however, does not.
One might say we are a grand experiment. A university, especially a public university as large as FGCU, that doesn't offer tenure is almost unheard of. But why would we eliminate tenure?
Tenure is a controversial concept in the world of politics. Critics say that granting tenure undermines education, by allowing tenured teachers to "slack off" due to their guaranteed job security. Tenure is also said to make eliminating underperforming teachers a difficult and tedious process.
So, instead of tenure, FGCU adopted a different approach: three-year continuing contracts.
Under this system, a professor's employment is upheld given that he or she successfully meets goals that are reviewed annually. If not, the professor is placed on one-year probation in order to improve.
So how do professors feel about tenure's absence here at FGCU?
Apparently, many are not all that concerned.
According to Dr. Terry Busson, tenure and the lack thereof has made little difference here due to FGCU's leadership.
"We have always had a president and provost who were academics and respected the need for open discourse even if they didn't always agree with what was being said," Busson said.
He also goes on to credit the faculty's union for being instrumental in protecting the staff from being attacked for their beliefs or outspokenness.
For Dr. Howard Smith, the lack of tenure isn't an issue.
"Lack of tenure in and of itself isn't enough to help or hinder me in my work. In a system like ours, you have to have confidence in a basic proposition: If you are helping the organization succeed in its mission to provide an excellent education to our students, you will be recognized and rewarded for that accomplishment."
However, when it comes to the entire concept of reforming tenure, as is being done here at FGCU, Smith has his doubts.
"I've always thought that reformers should focus their energies on the parts of the system that can yield the greatest benefit at the lowest reasonable risk and cost. That may be tenure, but I don't think the decision is based on reasoned analysis or any data that I have seen," Smith said.
"My own feeling is that the best value isn't to be found in reforming tenure, and that there is considerable risk in this approach, but I admit that I don't know.
"I think, based on my experience in higher education and elsewhere in private and public management, that there are far more effective reforms that will generate greater returns without nearly as much conflict and adversarial posturing," Smith said.
"There's a lot we can do together as faculty, student, administrators, and politicians to improve the university system in Florida. I think as a starting point if we clearly establish common goals based on improving student achievement, and cooperatively focus on the highest value improvements, we can be successful together."