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Colleges at the Crossroads

Taking Sides on Contested Issues

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Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis and Pietro A. Sasso

Focusing on crucial issues in higher education, this book challenges readers to go beyond taken-for-granted assumptions about America’s colleges and universities and instead critically examine important questions facing them in today’s troubled world. Each chapter presents divergent perspectives, that is, "pro" and "con" views, in the hope of stimulating reasoned dialogue among students, faculty, administrators, and the public at large. Readers will explore how internal factors in the academic community often interact with external social, economic, and political influences to produce conflictual results. They will see that academe is hardly value-neutral and inevitably political. This book urges them to transcend strident political persuasion and instead engage in the careful analysis needed to make colleges better.

The text provides in-depth appraisal of key topics of controversy: the purposes of higher education, liberal education, academic freedom, political correctness, tenure, shared governance, faculty workload, admissions tests, student learning, Greek life, the worth of college, equity and social justice, athletics, student entitlement, technology and distance instruction, and college amenities. The book will appeal to students, faculty, staff, and all those interested in the future of higher education. It is especially useful for courses in contemporary issues in higher education, foundations of higher education, higher education and society, college student development, and the organization and administration of higher education.

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7. The Contingency of Tenure (David Shiner)

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7.  The Contingency of Tenure

DAVID SHINER

In the introduction to his 1973 book The Tenure Debate, Carthage College professor Bardwell Smith penned the following words: “Some at present are predicting that the incidence of tenure will climb to 75 or 80 percent in the near future.”1 Smith did not identify the “some” who predicted that increase. That proved to be fortunate for them, as they could hardly have been further off base.

The incidence of tenure in higher education had already begun its decline at the time Smith was writing, and it has resolutely continued in that direction ever since. According to the United States Department of Education, well over half of all college and university faculty members nationwide were tenured or on the tenure track in the mid-1970s. By 2007, that number had fallen to 31%.2 According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the percentage of tenure-track faculty members has dipped even further in the past decade; and there is no evidence that a reversal is in the offing.

The persistence of this trend has led some observers to predict the eventual demise of tenure altogether. Among their number is Daniel J. Ennis, English professor at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. “[W]e are reaching the end of a long cycle,” Professor Ennis writes in an aptly titled article, “The Last of the Tenure Track.” “Today some institution somewhere has,...

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