For many within the community college and university systems, tenure, an academic system in which professors are granted the right not to be fired without just cause after an initial probationary period, is an example of what America is all about: freedom.
The American Association of University Professors states, “Tenure is a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.” The association continues, “Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.”
Tenure was established to assist teachers in exposing students to a wide variety of ideas and beliefs.
Yuba College student Javier Leon agrees. When asked if he believed tenure was a good idea, he said, “Yes, because colleges should be a free market of ideas.”
Not all students agree, however. Derek Hodges thinks tenure is a bad idea “because it gives teachers a sense of ease. It allows them to relax and not feel the pressure to perform.”
According to Professor David Rubiales, a Yuba College professor and the previous president of the AAUP California Conference, “The primary purpose of tenure is to protect what we call academic freedom. Academic freedom is the right of a professor, and the responsibility of a professor, to state what he or she believes is a valid conclusion based on research or investigation of some academic nature.” Rubiales continued to explain that tenure was established to “protect faculty members from arbitrary actions by administrators or trustees.”
It is difficult for professors, said Rubiales, to share views and beliefs that might be viewed as unpopular, unless they have tenure. “Can you really have an academic discourse in a classroom if the professor is afraid that what he or she will say will lead to their dismissal?” asked Rubiales. “How can you have a debate or any kind of inquiry of an intellectual nature when people are afraid of retribution?”
The AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, ninth edition, states that all “full-time teachers and investigators who are appointed to the rank of instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, and professor should have the rights and privileges appropriate to their rank, including tenure, or the eligibility of tenure after the appropriate probationary period.”
According to the AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, “During the probationary period a teacher should have the academic freedom that all other members of the faculty have.” However, just because those professors “should” have those rights, does not mean they will. Faculty members with tenure are more adequately secured in their rights and have less of a chance of being let go, for any given reason.
In many ways, tenure may be more beneficial for students than the professors themselves.
“It allows students to get a variety of viewpoints, often many different ones,” said Professor Susan Ramones. “It allows professors to try new methods, and I think students really benefit from that. Professors that are trying those new methods are trying things that are going to help actual learning, not memorizing.”
“Students are benefited because they have a professor who can speak to truth rather than to fear,” explains Rubiales. “Do you want a professor who is speaking [in] truth, or a professor who is speaking [in] fear?”
According to Ramones, with tenure professors have the freedom to make the learning process much more fun and effective. Tenure gives professors academic freedom, said Ramones, and allows them “to use different techniques and explore different topics without the fear of the administration.”
Professor Ramones is aware, however, of the negative repercussions that sometimes come with tenure. “Tenure can be misused,” she said. “I think there are certain people who end up with tenure and think they don’t have to work hard anymore or keep being better teachers.”
This is exactly the concern of Yuba College student Derek Hodges. He believes that tenure results in teachers “not giving students the time and passion that they paid for.”
But other students disagree. “(Professors with tenure) can make a challenging curriculum which is beneficial to the students,” said Yuba College student Jackie Santos. “It makes it so that the students actually have to pay attention and learn what’s being taught since teachers don’t have to worry about their jobs in reference to what they teach.”
In community colleges, professors are continually evaluated after tenure has been acquired, to ensure that the privilege of tenure is not abused.
“Tenure is really important for the community,” said Professor Salvador Soto. “Some people misunderstand. They think that once you get tenure, you’re not going to have to worry about anything. Of course, you are going to have to worry about doing your job. If you’re not doing your job with due process, a teacher can be removed.”
The AAUP states, “Tenured faculty are already subject to dismissal for incompetence, malfeasance, or failure to perform their duties.” Tenure is by no means a one-way ticket to easy street.
The process of acquiring the status of tenure is exhausting and precise. “At this college we have a tenure process that is four years long,” explained professor Rubiales. “Every new faculty member is evaluated by four different people, each year, for four years. It’s very vigorous.”