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The Merits Of Tenure

N.A. Halasz's summary of the tenure question (Letters, The Scientist, Jan. 6, 1997, page 13) is too simple. It may well be that those who deserve tenure don't need it, in the sense that they would be kept on by their institution even without it, but he ignores the range of psychological needs of different people. Some able people have superb self-confidence, and if they lose one job they are sure they'll find another. But others, able, even brilliant, have little self-confidence, fear for thei

Theodor Benfey

N.A. Halasz's summary of the tenure question (Letters, The Scientist, Jan. 6, 1997, page 13) is too simple. It may well be that those who deserve tenure don't need it, in the sense that they would be kept on by their institution even without it, but he ignores the range of psychological needs of different people.

Some able people have superb self-confidence, and if they lose one job they are sure they'll find another. But others, able, even brilliant, have little self-confidence, fear for their security, are less productive under the shadow of potential joblessness, and thrive and do their best work in a secure environment.

One wonders how many great works might have remained unwritten without the tenure system, replaced by shorter, less significant efforts produced to satisfy the annual examiners of productivity.

Theodor Benfey
Dana Professor of Chemistry and History of Science, Emeritus
Guilford College
Greensboro,...

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