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Don't Abolish Tenure; But Make It Conditional

Before the end of this year, the British government will have compelled the country’s universities to curtail the time-honored system of offering tenured employment to their staff (The Scientist, June 27, page 21). The Thatcher administration, whose massive parliamentary majority makes this step inevitable, believes that “jobs for life” can no longer be justified. The universities and many opposition politicians, especially those in the House of Lords, have strongly conteste

Alexander Kohn

Before the end of this year, the British government will have compelled the country’s universities to curtail the time-honored system of offering tenured employment to their staff (The Scientist, June 27, page 21). The Thatcher administration, whose massive parliamentary majority makes this step inevitable, believes that “jobs for life” can no longer be justified. The universities and many opposition politicians, especially those in the House of Lords, have strongly contested the move as a threat to intellectual freedom.

It is an important question, with implications for many other countries. As I see it, however, the issue is by no means as black and white as it has been painted in Britain. Consider first the age at which scientists can be offered security of employment until retirement. Throughout the world, this tends to happen at about 40, when individuals become candidates for associate professorships (or positions of equivalent rank in research...

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