Yesterday’s post mentioned that the number of tenure-track positions has been declining. But does tenure really matter or is it an antiquated system that should be abolished?
Many believe that it’s time to end the practice, complaining that it protects lazy professors or that timing of the tenure push often conflicts with starting a family. They argue the structure should change to keep the best professors productive, while making room for new PhDs with novel ideas and approaches.
I agree the system is flawed, but I’m convinced tenure matters tremendously. First, it affords faculty the freedom to teach controversial subjects and write critical letters when appropriate. But equally important, tenure serves as a strong motivating factor for many researchers to stay in academia.
Early-career scientists already subsist on meager salaries while balancing endless grant applications, teaching and advising responsibilities, committee meetings, the rigorous peer review process, irregular hours, departmental politics, running a lab, and the pressure to publish constantly. No matter how much they love their work, denying them the hope of eventually achieving job security on top of everything else would result in the loss of a the most promising individuals to industry and elsewhere.
I’m curious to hear thoughts from readers on tenure–and please note your profession. I’ve noticed a trend among friends: Faculty members in science and engineering, postdocs, and those in pursuit of a PhD tend to share my perspective, while science writers, policy folks, and non-science professors are more inclined to want to end the practice. What’s your perspective?