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To Tenure Or Not To Tenure: New Data and Analysis Examines One of Higher Education's Most Asked Questions

The tenure question has been and remains a controversial topic on campuses and off, sparking debates that have been more marked by anecdote and impressions than supported with data. Defenders of tenure have asserted that well-qualified faculty will not work at institutions without a conventional tenure system. Advocates of reform argue that alternative arrangements may benefit not only individual professors and institutions, but the academy as a whole.

Richard P. Chait, professor of higher education and director of the Project on Faculty Appointments at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has been researching the workings of the tenure system throughout his career and has emerged as a well-known critic of tenure.

In his new book, The Questions of Tenure (Harvard University Press), Chait provides the first major comprehensive study of the tenure system. The institutions he studies are as varied as the American academy itself, including prominent research universities, liberal arts colleges, and both prestigious and marginal schools. Chait has organized the book by frequently asked questions about tenure-offering answers based on an extensive research project that he directs.

The Questions of Tenure is broken down into ten essays, with each essay focusing on a frequently asked question about tenure. The book addresses such basic questions as:

  • How do tenure-granting policies work and vary?
  • How is academic freedom safeguarded at institutions without tenure?
  • What exactly constitutes unsatisfactory behavior and what are the grounds for dismissal?
  • How do term contracts and other alternatives to tenure work?

The ideas in each essay are reinforced with data and analysis. Most answers to the questions Chait and the contributors pose are not a clear cut 'yes,' or 'no,' but rather, 'it depends.' They show what great variability exists in the definitions, practices, and consequences of tenure. Chait also uses case studies and interviews that he and his colleagues have conducted with faculty and administrators.

About the Editor
Richard P. Chait, a professor of higher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, studies the management and governance of colleges and universities. The Project on Faculty Appointments, which he directs, has been collecting data and studying various aspects of faculty work life such as promotion and tenure policies and practices. Chait is an expert on terms and conditions of faculty employment, including promotion and tenure procedures, academic freedom, and faculty evaluation. He also studies the roles, responsibilities, and performance of boards of trustees, and has written on faculty work life. Chait was recently selected by the Fulbright New Zealand Board of Directors as a Fulbright U.S. Distinguished American Scholar.

Contributors to The Questions of Tenure include: James P. Honan, lecturer on education at HGSE; Cathy A. Trower, senior researcher for the Project on Faculty Appointments at the HGSE; and Phillip G. Altback, the J. Donald Monan, SJ, Professor of Higher Education and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

For More Information

Contact Colleen Lanick at 617-495-1284 or colleen_lanick@harvard.edu, or Margaret R. Haas at 617-496-1884 or margaret_haas@harvard.edu.