Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Tenure commonly refers to academic tenure systems, in which professors (at the university level)—and in some jurisdictions schoolteachers (at primary or secondary school levels)—are granted the right not be fired without cause after an initial probationary period. Tenure systems are usually justified by the claim that they provide academic freedom, by preventing instructors from being fired for openly disagreeing with authorities or popular opinion. Such systems may also have an economic rationale, similar to the rationale for senior partner positions in many law and accounting firms, in that employees who cannot be replaced may be more likely to give accurate assessments of more junior colleagues who might otherwise threaten their positions.

Academic tenure is politically unpopular in many places, where opponents charge that it removes incentives for its holders to be productive and unfairly relieves professors of the economic uncertainty felt by other workers. For these reasons, tenure was officially abolished in public universities in the United Kingdom by the Thatcher government in the 1980s, and has repeatedly come under attack at state universities in the United States. Many universities have also moved to supplement tenured professors with non-tenured adjunct professors, who teach classes on a contract basis for relatively low wages and few benefits.

How tenure is awarded

In most cases, tenure is not given immediately to new professors upon hiring. Instead, open jobs are designated eligible for tenure, or "tenure-track," during the hiring process. Typically, a professor hired in a tenure-eligible position will then work for approximately five years before a decision is made on whether he or she should be awarded tenure. The academic department will then vote to recommend the candidate for tenure based on the tenure-eligible professor's record in teaching, research, and service over this initial period. The department's recommendation is given to a tenure review committee made up of faculty members or university administrators, which then makes the decision whether to award tenure, and the university president approves or vetoes the decision.

Professors who have earned tenure at one institution are often offered tenure along with any new position (as "senior hires"); otherwise, tenured faculty would rarely leave to join different universities.

See also