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Noah Smith

Easing Tenure's Grip Can Embolden Academia

Universities would benefit by attracting more creative thinkers.
Reunite with the rest of civilization.

Reunite with the rest of civilization.

Source: Loop Images/UIG/Getty Images

The University of Wisconsin system recently took a landmark step toward weakening the institution of tenure for academic faculty. The new policy, if adopted by the board overseeing the state's universities, would allow tenured professors to be laid off for economic reasons, or if the university decides to restructure its programs. It also would permit professors to be fired based on negative post-tenure reviews, which are conducted every five years. 

There are definitely reasons to be skeptical of such a radical change in the structure of our universities. Abolishing tenure could deter professors from engaging in long-term risky research projects. If a line of research doesn’t pan out, it could lead to a dearth of publications, which would put the researcher in danger of firing. Tenure is supposed to act as an insurance policy that allows researchers to take risks, since risky research has the potential for big breakthroughs that benefit all of society.