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c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
Tenure: The Gift of Academic Freedom

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with learning? I do. It was a moment in

my 4th grade class taught by Mr. McClain and he was describing in lively detail the story of

Pickett¶s Charge in the Civil War. It was more than the story that drew me in, it was the way he

was telling it. There was excitement in his voice, his eyes, radiating from him in that tiny

classroom and being soaked up like rays of sunshine to his entranced studious pupils. Mr.

McClain was the teacher who inspired me to really learn, to value the feeling that knowledge and

understanding brings. Mr. McClain, I know now, was a teacher with academic tenure. Chances

are, the teacher who inspired you the most was under academic tenure, too.

Academic tenure is defined as ³a guarantee of the permanence of a college or university

teacher¶s position, awarded upon successful completion of a probationary period, usually seven

years,´1 though tenure is awarded at all levels of schooling, not just university levels. Tenure is

designed to provide job security because it is based on the principle that a teacher cannot be fired

without just cause. It is also created to enforce academic freedom and protect a teacher¶s position

in the workplace to allow the creative learning process to flow between teachers, like Mr.

McClain, and students. In the recent months, tenure has come under fire from state legislators in

New Jersey, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, and Nevada, specifically, who are calling for the

elimination or complete breakdown of the system of tenure.2 Academic tenure, however, has

been a staple in the American education system since the 19th century and teachers around the

³Academic Tenure Definition.´
Dillon & Gabriel. ³G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher Tenure.´
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c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
nation have benefitted greatly from the policies and stability that tenure provides in the otherwise

ever-changing environment of education.

The central critique with academic tenure is based around teacher incompetence and the

reward system that tenure provides. At a rally earlier in the year, Governor Chris Christie of New

Jersey stated, ³Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for

excellence, and no consequences for failure«The time to eliminate teacher tenure is now.´3 This

bold statement launched an attack on academic tenure that has become focused around the

failings of uninspiring teachers instead of their qualifications and competence. Taking into

account states such as California and Maryland who automatically grant tenure to teachers after

two years in the classroom, it is clear that a change in the tenure system is needed when

academic boards require little to no strong evaluations based on teacher competence in the

classroom.4 Slight changes, however, are the key to revamping the system of tenure, not the total

elimination of the process.

Academic tenure has become embedded in the American system of education since its

beginnings and with good reason. In university settings, especially, the institution of tenure

protects the immediate, most basic function of higher education which is the constant exchange

of ideas and the exploration of controversial topics in order to find truth or validation in these

ideas. Providing academic freedom to professors, holding tenure enables them, and subsequently

their pupils, to challenge conventional or popular wisdom without the fear of reprisal. Academic

freedom is defined in dictionaries as the ³right of scholars to pursue research, to teach, and to
Ellis. ³States Tangle with Teacher Tenure.´
Merrow. ³It¶s Time to Debate Teacher Tenure.´
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c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
publish without control or restraint from the institutions that employ them.´5 This freedom,

which tenure provides, is an essential part of not just academia, but American society, as well. Its

foundations are drawn from the 1st Amendment of our Constitution and to revoke tenure would

be eliminating this academic freedom that is fundamental to every citizen¶s right of free speech.

Expanding beyond simple dictionary definitions, however, academic tenure is an

important program in practice as well as design.The program enables university faculty to create

an efficient employment policy for hiring as well as maintaining quality professors because it

eliminates the need to negotiate individual contracts each year with each individual professor, a

process that could take vast amounts of time and money. An extensive overview of academic

faculty at a university the size of Penn State would be detrimental to making any other changes

in the university field because staff would be confined to constantly reviewing professor

contracts. The program of tenure also helps administrations plan for future budgets, which is

instrumental to a school facing major budget cuts, like Penn State currently is because the

university can accurately estimate how much money will be needed to spend on maintaining

their current faculty members.

Also more than just an economic program that promises stability for budget balancers

and contract negotiators, academic tenure creates a sense of community in the faculty because

tenure prevents a rapid overhaul of entire faculty systems. Such overhauls would result in

inconsistencies within educational programs where continuity is the basis of an enhanced and

effective learning environment. This stability in staff results in a loyal university-wide

community that maintains connections to each other through the core of experience. This core of
³Academic Freedom Definition.´
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c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
experience also relates to the mentoring system used at many universities. Experienced

professors and teachers are valued in education programs based on their ability to relate to and

guide new teachers through the beginning processes in order to give them a solid foundation to

begin their career on. The lack of tenure would eliminate these mentoring programs because

more experienced and highly-qualified professionals would choose tenured systems that promise

job security over a system that has no benefits or protective agents at all.

To begin an entire overhaul of the current system of tenure, which said state legislators

believe is needed to create a new system of education completely, is not feasible based on the

vast amounts of teachers who are already under tenure, as well as those new teachers who truly

deserve it. Already, many states have educational laws that give circumstances for the

elimination of teachers based on moral grounds. In Maryland, ³teachers may be dismissed or

suspended for immorality, misconduct in office, insubordination, incompetency, or willful

neglect of duty.´6 In Pennsylvania, a ³teacher¶s certificate may be revoked for incompetency,

cruelty, negligence, immorality, or intemperance.´7 These two laws include mentions of

removing a teacher based on their competency, which is a major point in the argument of the

anti-tenure faction. Making changes to the system of tenure begins at a testing level, by

³devising a system where nobody will ever get into a classroom who isn¶t competent.´8 When

less-than-suitable teachers are eliminated from the sphere of education entirely, there would be

no reason to eliminate the program of tenure, which would be rewarding the correct teachers
³Teacher¶s Rights: Encyclopedia of Everyday Law.´
³Teacher¶s Rights: Encyclopedia of Everyday Law.´
Dillon & Gabriel. ³G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher Tenure.´
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c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
because they earned their place in the classroom. Teacher unions have acknowledged the

existence of problems with the tenure system and efforts have been made to enhance the system

as is, such as the American Federation of Teacher¶s reform program in Colorado that allowed

administrators to remove tenured teachers who were constantly rated as ineffective.9Programs

such as the one instituted by the American Federation of Teachers are efficient solutions to

combating the negative stereotype of tenure because as ineffective teachers are let go, the

program of tenure is still securely kept in place.

There is no one way to achieve an overhaul of the tenure system because many small,

shifting changes can be progressively made that would equal a great difference between current

education programs. In addition to stronger teacher qualification programs which would

eliminate further questions about teacher competence, another way to maintain the program of

academic tenure while still giving it a facelift would to implement ³surprise´ check-ins with

public school systems every three years for teachers that have been granted tenure. This

approach would promise that teachers would not fall below the mark and become ineffective

because they would be consistently keeping school portfolios and resumes up to date, as well as

test scores. An alternative solution to eliminating the program of tenure is based around the idea

of limiting the number of those who receive it. By awarding tenure to the cream of the crop,

universities could increase the competitive edge in academic settings which would encourage

and provide even more incentives for professors to reach their academic goals in due time and

inspire their students to do the same. This process of awarding tenure could be defined by

Dillon & Gabriel. ³G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher Tenure.´
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c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
university-created benchmarks that measure the success of the classes taught by the professors, it

could be measured based on student responses to the professor¶s material and teaching style, or it

could be a mixture of the two. In any case, alternatives exist to completely eliminating tenure and

I am in support of the exploration of these alternatives before drastic changes are made to the

education system nationwide.

In the end, education is not about money or fame. Becoming a teacher or professor means

that the educators you see before you each day in class have promised to devote their lives to

inspiring you and encouraging you to challenge conventional wisdom in favor of creating your

own path. They are able to do this based on protective academic tenure that allows them to be

controversial, to break the rules, and in some cases, shatter the tall glass ceiling acting as a

barrier. I urge you to again think back to the moment you fell in love with learning, with

knowledge, and the moment you felt the thirst for more begin inside of you. No matter how you

fell in love with the well of understanding that lies in all of us, it was academic freedom that got

you there.
c c c
c c Shannon Ratliff
April 15, 2010
LA 101H Mateer
Persuasive Essay
Works Cited

1.c Ellis, Rehema. "States Tangle with Teacher Tenure - Nightly News -" ` 

     ` . 7 Mar. 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.


2.c Gabriel, Tripp, and Dillon, Sam. "G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher
 . 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.



3.c Merrow, John. "It's Time to Debate Teacher Tenure."


  !" !. 24 Dec. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.



4.c "Academic Freedom Definition."  #

%. Farlex. Web. 11 Apr.

2011. <>.

5.c "Academic Tenure Definition."  #

%. Farlex. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.


6.c ³Teachers' Rights: Encyclopedia of Everyday Law."

! !

&  "   `

 Web. 11 Apr. 2011.