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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ten·ure /ˈtenyər/

origin:
Late Middle English: from Old French, from tenir 'to hold', from Latin tenere

noun:
1. Guaranteed permanent employment, especially as a teacher or professor, after a probationary period
2. the act, right, manner, or term of holding something (as a landed property, a position, or an office); especially : a status granted after a trial period to a teacher that gives protection from summary dismissal

verb:
1. Give (someone) a permanent post, especially as a teacher or professor
2. (as adjective, tenured) Having or denoting a permanent post, especially as a teacher or professor

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I learned yesterday that I have been granted tenure, so as of July 1st, I will no longer be an assistant professor, but an associate professor. For those unfamiliar with "making tenure," it is somewhat analogous to being promoted partner in a large law or accounting firm (although it generally doesn't pay as well). The logic behind tenure is that it guarantees the right to academic freedom: in theory, it protects teachers and researchers when we dissent from prevailing opinion, when we openly disagree with authorities, or when we spend time on unfashionable topics. The idea is that by giving scholars the intellectual autonomy to conduct research as we see fit (and to report our conclusions honestly), unique and original ideas are more likely to arise. To paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, we are more likely to think great (deep) thoughts.

To believe that it always works that way would be naive, of course. Reaching tenure can be difficult, and in some institutions, it can get caught up in the politics of the university. I know of a case of where an assistant professor in the social sciences who was up for tenure, not only met the typical requirements for being granted tenure (numerous publications, excellent teaching, the ability to attract funding, service to the university, etc.), but he exceeded them. In fact, he exceeded the output of most of his colleagues. However, the committee reviewing his candidacy did not recommend him for tenure. Why? He was a political conservative (not to mention a Roman Catholic), and in some social science circles that is the unforgivable sin. Luckily, the school's President overrode the committee and awarded the assistant professor tenure.

Luckily, I don't work in such an environment. The political leanings of my colleagues range across the ideological map, which not only makes discussions interesting, but also, I think, increases the likelihood that unique and original ideas will arise.

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