The Role of Tenure

I enjoyed [Dominique G.] Homberger's and [A. Ravi P.] Rau's measured and carefully argued defense of research and tenure in the university ( The Scientist, 12[10]:8, May 11, 1998). I have often found myself defending the tenure system, but I would like to take a few of the authors' points and play devil's advocate.

Tenure is frequently justified as something more than a rigid seniority system; it is elevated as a defense of free and critical inquiry. Yet the tenure system offers no protection to researchers, thinkers, and teachers in the early (possibly more radical) stages of their careers. Reappointment and tenure review can, in fact, offer an easy opportunity to dismiss a colleague with unpopular ideas for a wide variety of vague criteria. The tenure system can be a tool to enforce conformity at the stage that young scholars are establishing the foundations...

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