by Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
Teacher tenure is one of the most contested issues in the world of higher education. On Feb. 7, a Missouri lawmaker proposed a new bill eliminating tenure to promote transparency among public colleges (the bill would also require schools to publish certain metrics on degree cost and expected job outcomes) and ensuring that tenured teachers don’t abuse their job security.
Tenure is a concept unique to higher education; no other industry promises virtually interminable employment for life. Nearly all other jobs have some mechanism of performance reviews to ensure an employee is maintaining professional standards.
Many students are unclear on what tenure really is, as the term has no universal definition and varies from college to college.
Asbury issues contracts on either a one-year or three-year basis, meaning all instructors are subject to review and renewal in those intervals. Full-time professors and associate professors may apply for tenure after three years at Asbury, meaning nine years of teaching is the minimum experience required to apply (six years to earn the full-time title plus three additional).
Additionally, tenure candidates write a “Faith and Learning” paper, an assignment designed to “demonstrate the faculty member’s ability to think integratively [sic] through the lens of the faculty member’s academic discipline and his or her informed biblical understanding including the broader Wesleyan theological context.”
According to Asbury’s faculty handbook, the point of tenure is to give professors “freedom of intellectual inquiry in teaching, research and publication, and a voice in the formulation of the academic policies of the University,” essentially stating tenured professors are protected from being terminated as a result of their intellectual opinions, even if said opinions are unpopular with administration.
However, the line between controversial opinions and dangerous ideas is thin but distinct. Some professors could hide toxic inculcation or harmful speech under the guise of unique opinions with little to no consequences. The most consequential justification for tenure is also found within the handbook: “A subsidiary purpose of tenure is to protect against dismissal without sufficient cause,” raising the bar for termination for these tenured professors.
Students can benefit from this arrangement; tenure can prevent talented teachers from jumping ship for a more glamorous school and bigger paychecks. But being a professor at Asbury University was never meant to be a top-dollar position; many of the instructors here are alumni who returned not for the glory but for their love of this community.
In all of the faculty handbook, there’s only two rules that would prompt the dismissal of a tenured instructor: breaking rule 400.2.1.D and violating Community Standards or breaking rule 400.2.1.M and “engaging in any outside activity which will interfere with assigned duties or which might bring reproach upon the cause of Christ or the University.”
Should a situation arise where a tenured professor violated Community Standards or broke said rules, I have no doubt Asbury’s administration would resolve the situation. But it’s time for our faculty to go further and tighten up the tenure guidelines to ensure there’s no room for our instructors to forget their pedagogical responsibility to this school and the academic community as a whole. Promising permanent employment has the distinct opportunity to incentivize sub-par teaching without penalty. With four-year degree costs exceeding $100,000, it is prudent that tenure be removed or revamped to ensure professors are constantly motivated every semester to maintain the high educational and professional standards of Asbury University.