Ohio University (OU) has seen a 3.9 percent decrease in tenure track faculty during the past five years, student-run news publication The Post Athens reported over the weekend. This has occurred as the number of non-tenured or adjunct faculty is on the rise.
The trend of decreasing numbers of tenured faculty has been observed for decades. In 2018, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 23.7 percent of faculty members at institutions across the country were tenured, and 10.2 percent were on a tenure track. These numbers pale in comparison to the 66.1 percent of faculty members not part of the tenure track system.
Non-tenured faculty are employed on contracts that generally last one to three years, which can be renewed at the end. The Post Athens reported that the increase in non-tenured faculty happened gradually, when the positions of retiring tenured were not renewed. According to the publication, many university administrations do this to save money and allow themselves greater flexibility in hiring and firing instructors.
Securing tenure is considered among most university instructors to be the ultimate goal in academia. It comes with a variety of benefits, protection against arbitrary termination, research opportunities, and greater academic freedom.
Threat to Academic Freedom?
It is with the principles of academic freedom in mind that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) believes the continuing decrease in tenured faculty constitutes a threat to academic freedom.
“Free inquiry, free expression, and open dissent are critical for student learning and the advancement of knowledge,” the association said in 2018. “When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech or research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge.”
The AAUP found that in its most recent data dive from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System in 2016, over 73 percent of instructional positions were off the tenure track. The report called these numbers “deeply worrisome,” stating that faculty members “cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge” when faced with such career insecurity.
Tenured faculty cannot be fired for teaching controversial subject matter, which plays a significant role in why the AAUP is a passionate advocate for tenure.
“For the most part, both full-and part-time non-tenure-track faculty roles are insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and inadequate due process protections,” the AAUP added.
As tenured faculty positions continue to be reduced throughout the country, academic freedom advocates are concerned that university instructors will face greater pressure than ever to limit their expression to hold on to increasingly insecure jobs.