Monday, November 21, 2011

Costs of tenure in higher education

Welcome to guest blogger. Elaine Hirsch! She joins us today to explore the costs of tenure in higher education. 

Attaining tenure as a professor usually takes seven years at most American universities. During these seven years, the individual reaches levels of increased responsibility and higher rank as specified objectives are met. These objectives include teaching, publication, receipt of grant funding and significant research contributions to the world of knowledge of that particular field of study. Commonly, these position titles begin with the level of instructor or lecturer, followed by assistant professor, associate professor and once tenure is reached, professor. At the end of the specified period of time, the individual seeking tenure is reviewed by a committee and tenure is either awarded or not. Pay during the seven years leading to the awarding of tenure is usually nominal and not much more than that of a high school teacher or community college teacher, who are not required to have doctoral degrees and not required to apply for and receive grant funding or publish research. If the individual is not awarded tenure, he is usually asked to resign from his position, explains the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Additional Requirements for Tenure
Some educational institutions require additional activities beyond the usual research, publication and teaching demands for obtaining tenure. Tenured professors usually have at least a master's degree in their field of study. Medical schools such as the University of North Carolina School of Medicine require tenure track professors at the medical school to complete community and state service such as volunteer medical work, as well as evaluation by patients, undergraduate and graduate students and assistants, colleagues and university administrators. The hours spent meeting these requirements can detract from time that could otherwise be spent earning income, but could lead to a higher income in later years if tenure is awarded.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average earnings per year was $108,749 for professors, $76,147 for associate professors, $63,827 for assistant professors, $45,977 for university instructors, and $52,436 for college lecturers. Based on this information, tenured professors earn more than twice as much in yearly salary than untenured professors just beginning on the tenure track. However, untenured and tenured professors can expect to earn more at privately run independent universities and less at public universities.

An interesting point brought up in The Atlantic was the risk involved with hiring a tenured professor. The article brings up the fact that hiring a professor on contract only holds the contract terms' liability, while hiring a professor on tenure holds unlimited downside, given the professor holds onto the position for their entire time as a teacher. Furthermore, hiring contracted professors provide universities with the option to downsize given a financial downturn (which is very relevant in today's educational landscape). With the higher risk involved with tenured professors, however, comes greater potential benefits. Providing tenure to a successful professor will allow the program to continue to reap the benefits of employing a valuable teacher without worrying about the professor leaving. Financially, the university will be able to reap dividends from a tenured professor if they continue to perform at a high level.

Tenure Track Employment
The proportion of tenured professors at a given university varies by field of study. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that universities are offering fewer tenured professorships as the need for flexibility of instructors increases and the university budgets decrease due to decreases in government funding. Untenured professors may have more flexibility in moving to different colleges and universities, while tenured professors are allotted more academic and professional freedom; most universities stipulate in the tenure contract that employment is thereby guaranteed for life with rare exceptions of abhorrent or scandalous behavior. Untenured professors may have difficulty maintaining employment at desirable high levels of pay, but may have less difficulty in obtaining lower ranked positions such as that of instructor or lecturer.

Meeting the requirements for tenure is not an easy or quick process. However, the professional rewards of tenure are many and include a generous salary and professional freedom not available outside of academia. Untenured professors, while earning lower salaries, have greater flexibility and work-life balance.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and video games. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

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