The Tenure Test

By Cathy A. Trower    //    Volume 20,  Number 6   //    November/December 2012

The Tenure Test

See the full article here.

As colleges and universities confront severe financial constraints and intense market pressures, many governing boards have been captivated by the promise of new business models touted to be more efficient, productive, and adaptable. Among the trustees’ targets for reform, academic tenure usually hovers near the bull’s-eye. Lifetime appointments strike most board members as anachronistic arrangements and strategic constraints, whereas most professors regard tenure as essential to academic freedom and economic security.

Too often, the arguments and counter-arguments are either uninformed by data or fueled by erroneous assertions. With a nod to “Dragnet”’s Sgt. Friday, Richard Chait, professor emeritus of higher education at Harvard University School of Education, and I present here “just the facts” in the form of a 15-question tenure test. (The answers may be found at the bottom of this page.) We offer only data, not conclusions or recommendations; that is for boards, administrators, and faculty to determine locally. However, the quality of these conversations may be enhanced by fundamental information, comparative data, and national trends.

1. How much money in salary and benefits does a tenure decision represent, on average, at a research university over a 35-year career?

A. $3.5 million

B. $5.4 million

C. $7.2 million

D. $9.0 million

2. Under the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), tenure can be revoked for all of the following reasons except:

A. Chronically poor performance

B. Academic program discontinuation

C. Insubordination

D. Institutional financial crisis

3. What percentage of public four-year colleges and universities offer tenure?

A. 60%

B. 75%

C. 91%

D. 99%

4. What percentage of private four-year colleges and universities offer tenure?

A. 60%

B. 75%

C. 91%

D. 99%

5. In a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, what percentage of college presidents “would prefer that a majority of faculty work under long-term or annual contracts?”

A. 28%

B. 47%

C. 55%

D. 69%

6. In a 2008 national survey, what percentage of faculty agreed that “tenure is an outmoded concept?”

A. 10%

B. 18%

C. 25%

D. 32%

7. Of nearly 1,400 tenure-track faculty hired in 1997–98 by 10 flagship public universities, what percentage ultimately achieved tenure?

A. 42%

B. 53%

C. 71%

D. 84%

8. In a 2005 survey by the Modern Language Association (MLA) of English and foreign language departments at 734 institutions, what was the success rate for faculty actually considered for tenure?

A. 60%

B. 75%

C. 90%

D. 97%

9. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time tenured faculty nationwide increased by what percent?

A. 6%

B. 12%

C. 18%

D. 24%

10. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time tenure-track faculty nationwide increased by what percent?

A. 10%

B. 20%

C. 30%

D. 40%

11. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time non-tenure-track faculty nationwide increased by what percent?

A. 29%

B. 49%

C. 69%

D. 89%

12. In 2007, what percentage of full-time faculty at four-year colleges and universities had tenure?

A. 45%

B. 55%

C. 65%

D. 75%

13. Compared with 1997, the percentage of full-time tenured faculty:

A. Declined 13%

B. Declined 3%

C. Increased 3%

D. Increased 13%

14. Check the word that best summarizes studies of the correlation between:

a. Tenure status and student evaluations of teaching.

___ Positive

___ Negative

___ Inconclusive

b. Tenure status and research productivity.

___ Positive

___ Negative

___ Inconclusive

15. How many states have implemented post-tenure review for faculty at public colleges and universities?

A. 20

B. 28

C. 37

D. 44


1. C. $7.2 million in current dollars based on a salary in 2011-12 of $80,300, benefits at 35%, and a 3.5% annual increase. The financial commitment at a baccalaureate institution would be about $6.0 million at an average salary of $67,000.

2. D. The stated standard for dismissal for adequate cause is “incompetence.” In practice, institutions rarely revoke tenure for any reason.

3. C. 91%. 99.5% of public doctoral institutions, 98.6% of master’s institutions, and 72% of baccalaureate institutions have tenure systems.

4. A. 60%. 84% of private doctoral institutions, 66% of master’s institutions, and 47% of baccalaureate institutions have tenure systems. Among for-profit institutions, 1.5% offer tenure.

5. D. 69%. Support by college presidents for long-term or annual contracts varies by institutional type: 67% at four-year private colleges, 48% at four-year public colleges; 87% at two-year colleges.

6. D. 32%. 37% of women and 28% of men responded affirmatively.

7. B. 53%, 56% of men, 48% of women. These are success rates for cohorts that started the probationary period together, not the success rate just for faculty actually considered for tenure. (See #8 by comparison.)

8. C. 90%. The success rates did not vary between 1994 and 2004. Similar to data from the study at flagship public universities (see #7 above), the study estimates that 55-60% of a given cohort actually earn tenure.

9. A. 6%. Numbers ranged from -2% at public master’s institutions to 23% at private master’s institutions. Private research institutions added 17%; baccalaureate institutions 14%; public research institutions 2%; community colleges 10%

10. B. 20%. Numbers ranged from 9% at private master’s institutions to 57% at community colleges. Public master’s institutions added 34%; private research institutions added 19%; baccalaureate institutions 16%; public research institutions 10%

11. D. 89%. Numbers ranged from 45% at baccalaureate institutions and community colleges to 156% at private research institutions. Public research institutions added 95%; private master’s 93%; public masters 83%.

12. A. 45%.

13. A. Declined 13%.

14. Inconclusive in both cases; no definitive relationships have been established, positive or negative. Different aspects of different studies—almost all focused on relatively small samples or particular disciplines—can be cited to support either contention.

15. C. 37. A 2000 study reported that 48% of private institutions have post-tenure review. According to a 2002 review by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “the firing of tenured faculty members as a result of post-tenure reviews is extremely rare.” Of several thousand post-tenure reviews at a handful of flagship public universities, less than 1% deemed the faculty member’s performance to be unsatisfactory.

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