The Tenure Controversy

MSCA Perspective, March 2001

This issue of the MSCA Perspective focuses on the institution of tenure in higher education. Since the current professoriate has grown up with tenure as perhaps the most potent symbol of achievement in our profession, it may seem that tenure has always been a fixture of academic life. But like all else, tenure has a history.

The debate over tenure in higher education is now intense. Not too long ago, the social values of tenure were accepted almost uniformly. As Susan Sturgeon illustrates in her historical and bibliographic essay below, it is the debate over tenure rather than the institution that is new. Only within the last five or six years have a wave of conservative policy makers and politicians set their sights on dismantling the institution for political and economic reasons. Sturgeon outlines the terms of these debates and identifies the major players in public discussions.

This issue of Perspective also includes a personal narrative by MSCA member Timothy Jay about how tenure has given him the academic freedom to continue his politically charged research in a hostile environment.

In his article, William Mahaney explains the protections contained in the current MSCA contract for members who are applying for tenure and for those who already hold tenure. Our contract requires that the evaluation be fair, with open paperwork at every stage, and provides for a strong grievance procedure. Mahaney identifies the key sections of the contract with which faculty members should be familiar and describes the support that the union can provide in difficult circumstances. The best protection, of course, is for individual faculty members to know their contract.