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Tenure Not for Life, Court Rules

An appeals court dismisses the case of a tenured law professor who was challenging her 2006termination.

Cristina Luiggi

Earlier this week (August 6), a federal appellate court ruled in favor of Michigan’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School over the firing of a tenured law professor—a move that some believe is a challenge on the concept of tenure itself, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

Lynn S. Branham, former associate dean and professor at the Michigan private law school was fired in December 2006 after taking a leave of absence due to illness and refusing to teach a class she felt was outside her area of expertise. Branham challenged her termination in a lower court, citing a guideline from the American Bar Association that states, "tenure means a lifetime appointment or a guarantee of continuous employment."

However, both the lower court and the appeals court ruled in favor of the employer, concluding that Branham’s contract did not specify that the word “tenure” meant she had the right to...

"This is a horrible, horrible decision for anybody who teaches," Branham's attorney Alan F. Blakley told The Chronicle. "Any college or university who wants to abuse faculty can hang their hat on this. They can change the definition of tenure to mean pretty much nothing."

The court's decision "is very important to institutions of higher learning because it confirms that 'tenure' is a contractual concept which takes its meaning only from the language of the particular employment contract and from nothing else," James Robb, associate dean for development and alumni relations and senior counsel for the law school, told The Chronicle.

 

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