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Tenure Reform Moves in Universities

March 16, 1997

* Your March 10 editorial attacking academic tenure in California's universities is shortsighted and potentially damaging. The biggest budget cuts in the history of American universities have yielded increased class sizes, outdated and inadequate equipment, understocked libraries and professorial salaries well below the national average for major universities. Hundreds of outstanding professors were eased out in early retirement packages, with no plans for ever replacing them. Now, you want to make the UC and Cal State systems even less attractive for the professors who remain. Among other things, tenure amounts to a fringe benefit that costs nothing, yet makes the job more attractive.

Tenure has never meant that professors could not be removed at all, but only that they cannot be removed without serious cause. Mechanisms have long been in place for the removal of incompetent or corrupt professors. Dismissals do occur--rarely, to be sure, but how often are other professionals like judges, physicians or lawyers dismissed?

The fact that dismissals are rare is not because universities are tolerant of incompetence. Hiring is rigorous to begin with, involving national and even international searches in open competition. Tenure is not given automatically, but only after several years of teaching, and extensive peer review involving both internal committees and outside referees. Continued advancement in the system requires more such reviews.

In recent years, professors have been vilified for teaching courses in gay studies, feminist theory and evolution, or for supporting abortion rights; and for teaching traditional Western civilization courses, or for opposing affirmative action. Tenure has enabled professors to withstand attacks for taking unpopular stances, whether the attacks come from the right or left.


Department of Theatre

UC Riverside

* You say that there is no such thing as job security anymore and that the public has a lack of sympathy for those who supposedly have it. I would hope that The Times would address the issue of job security. It seems to me that the lack of job security is due to corporate greed.

One wonders if you would write an editorial about newspapers' 1st Amendment rights being reformed if the public demonstrated a lack of sympathy for newspapers' exercise of their 1st Amendment rights. Tenure is also important for a democracy. The academy is about the only institution left in the U.S. that is not controlled by large corporations. If tenure were eliminated, corporations could and probably would control the academy. If a tenured professor does something that a large donor doesn't like, the professor is protected by tenure. Without tenure, the temptation to get rid of the "troublemakers" would increase.


Fountain Valley

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