WASHINGTON, DC—Writing in the current edition of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni says that to safeguard academic freedom, the academy must strengthen post-tenure review. ACTA’s piece criticizes the current system for not producing meaningful evaluations and calls for trustees to undertake a “review of post-tenure review.”
“Ever since the AAUP issued its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” begins the article, written by ACTA president Anne D. Neal, “two truths have been deemed self-evident: that academic freedom is vital to meaningful teaching and intellectual work, and that tenure is necessary to ensure academic freedom. But the public is not so sure.”
ACTA’s article cites statistics from a 2006 AAUP poll that found that 82 percent of the public wants to modify or eliminate tenure and from a 2007 Zogby poll that found that 65.3 percent of respondents agreed that “a professor who does not have tenure is more motivated to do a good job than one who does have tenure.”
These sentiments, ACTA explains, became acute in the 1990s. Responding to this increased public concern, legislators in several states threatened to eliminate tenure at public institutions. In response, colleges and universities across the country implemented the system of post-tenure review.
“Post-tenure review was designed to keep tenure alive: it offered an accountability mechanism that would ultimately protect academic freedom,” the article notes. “The AAUP initially opposed post-tenure review…but in 1999, when it became clear that post-tenure review was here to stay, the AAUP shifted…toward a tactical definition of best practices: ‘Post-tenure review ought to be aimed not at accountability, but at faculty development.'”
Citing a 2002 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, ACTA observes that “post-tenure review rarely results in negative evaluations and almost never leads to dismissal for cause.” This, ACTA says, has produced a system ultimately lacking in substance.
“It is time to review post-tenure review,” ACTA concludes. “Institutions need to set clear, consistent criteria for what post-tenure review ought to do, and measure whether colleges and universities live up to those criteria….Only then will it be possible to say that the tenure system has begun to honor the AAUP’s foundational definition of academic freedom as a set of ‘duties correlative with rights.'”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards and educated the public about such issues as historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas, accreditation, and good governance in higher education.