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Does Academic Tenure Promote the Common Good?

James E. Bruce


Academic tenure does not promote the common good. Although tenure promises academic freedom and economic security, it delivers neither. Even worse, if tenure has any impact at all, it is almost entirely negative. Tenure helps create a narrow-minded professoriate alienated from a more intellectually diverse public. This divorce of the academy from society does not help the common good; it also does a disservice to professors and administrators themselves, encouraging a host of vices, from pride to cowardice to sloth. Furthermore, the path to tenure works against academic freedom, as political conservatives, libertarians, and people of faith face an uphill climb against entrenched interests that can be, at times, openly hostile to their positions. Surprisingly, tenure makes professors more, and not less, economically insecure. Academic tenure also makes the firing of incompetent professors almost impossible, so administrators must consider eliminating entire departments, instead. Losing an entire academic department instead of the worst professors across all departments does a profound disservice to the common good. Tenure also creates an untenured underclass desperately hoping to start the tenure track, with little likelihood of doing so.

James E. Bruce, "Does Academic Tenure Promote the Common Good?" Journal of Markets & Morality 22, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 185-194.

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