Should Tenure Be Changed?

In the September edition of"Perspectives," the monthly newsletter of the American Historical Association, AHA president Lynn Hunt suggests that tenure be reexamined.

She suggests, to begin with, that tenure be limited perhaps to 35 or 40 years."Why," she asks, should our right to work be guaranteed for life," especially when so many young historians are out of work?

She adds:

Until recently, I myself never questioned the tenure system. I'm sure there are those who will bristle at the mere thought of raising the issue, fearing that such questions just play into the hands of the enemies of academic freedom. But there are reasons for rethinking the tenure system, even beyond the problems created by the abolition of mandatory retirement. Two reasons concern me in particular. First, the tenure system is not very friendly to women, especially those women who want to start families. Their childbearing and child-raising years coincide with the very time they are expected to come up with an unassailable tenure dossier. Second, the pressure to defend the tenure system has had its own predictable but nonetheless unfortunate consequences: tenure, once granted, is almost never withdrawn, and as a result, various forms of bad behavior have not only been tolerated but de facto encouraged. The tenure system has fostered a kind of anarchic individualism that has sapped any collective ethos of responsibility.

Ms. Hunt concludes by saying she does not want to eliminate tenure."I am suggesting that we start to think about what works and what doesn't under the current system and the ways in which it might be improved."

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