The Case Against Tenure
Academic tenure is designed to protect teachers who dissent from popular opinion, openly disagree with authorities, and/or research unpopular subjects. Proponents say tenure fosters a more open academic environment where teachers are free to posit new ideas and give honest opinions. It prevents teachers from sticking to the “safe” position for fear of reprisal from their employer.
That’s what tenure is intended to do. What it actually does, is protect teachers like Curtis Robinson.
During his 18 years teaching disabled students in Paterson, Robinson hurled classroom chairs, punched a boy in the chest for failing to do his homework and shoved another kid against a blackboard until he cried, staff and students said.
Robinson still insists he had a gift with children. But he admits that using cocaine after school early in his career sometimes made him “preoccupied.”
“Immediately after work, I’d have a line or two,” he told The Record in August. “I been teaching so long, you can function with your eyes closed.”
Granted this is an extreme case, but the point is the same—tenure has had the practical effect of creating job security for bad teachers. It protects incompetence, laziness, and misconduct. Proponents of tenure will argue that there is a system in place to fire those teachers who demonstrate the above inadequacies. However, that system is extremely costly, and often comes at the expense of funding of other positions or other programs. For instance, the state of New Jersey spent more than $100,000 and four years in the quest to fire Curtis Robinson. That’s in addition to the $120,000 they had to spend hiring a substitute, and the $283,864 they had to pay Robinson in wages during the legal battle.
This is not a system that works. There are better ways to protect academic freedom.