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Week of January 21, 2013

Faculty Perspectives

Legal precedents and codified rules and moral principles of academic tenure

Today’s university and college boards should look towards the following morals to govern our universities and colleges.

Moral principles:

Moral law is defined: “The law of conscience; the aggregate of those rules and principles of ethics which relate to right and wrong conduct and prescribe the standards to which the actions of men should conform in their dealings with each other.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition pages 1008-09 (West 1990). 

In 360 B.C., Plato reported in his books The Republic that Socrates said: “democracies love freedom.” In 399 B.C., at his trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates argued: “Are you not ashamed that you give attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?” He asserted: “one ought to be free to teach, to inquiry, to express an opinion and search for truth.” 

In 1785, Immanuel Kant in his book Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals wrote: “There are certain things one always had a ‘duty’ to always do, irrespective of the consequences of doing them. People should always tell the truth. Also, it was important to find out what our ‘moral duty’ is, and that this could be done using cold hard logic (reason).”

In 1954, during the era of McCarthyism in the United States, Albert Einstein said: “Academic freedom is the right to search for truth and publish and teach what one holds to be true. This right also implied a duty, he asserted: One must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”    

The issue:

I am a simple, common citizen who is passionate about education and tenured professor at a public university for 49 years. I have seen colleagues mistreated by governing boards and their administrators for a number of years and I am concerned about present and future tenured professors in the United States being in danger of having their university employment, wages, and benefits cut or terminated for any reason or no reason at all. Because their governing boards have not published a document containing codified rules with supporting case law authority describing academic tenure’s protections for their universities and tenured professors.

In fact, I have read more than 50 tenure polices from the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. Such as; Harvard, Princeton, John Hopkins, MIT, Yale, Columbia, Duke, Dartmouth, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, California, Cornell, Stanford, and the list goes on. I did not find one policy that contained codified rules with supporting case law authority describing the definition, meaning, purposes, terms, conditions, and protections of academic tenure.

For 215 years, since the first reported case involving tenure Bracken v William & Mary College, 5 VA 161 (Virginia Supreme Court 1797), the courts have ruled academic tenure as being ill-defined, ambiguous, and amorphous. See, Radolf v Univ. Connecticut, et al., 364 F. Supp. 2d 204 (D. Conn. 2005). Based on my findings, the courts are 100 percent correct.

The solution:

Do you love your teaching job in higher education? Is educating, mentoring, and counseling young adults, children, grand-children, and great grand-children to be honest and productive citizens your passion? Are you concerned about the future of education and future professors? You have the legal precedents, codified rules, and moral principles at your disposal to give future professors the respect, appreciation, and rewards they deserve for serving the educational needs of society and the community. 

Now is the time for you to exercise your voting power to utilize these tools to do something to uphold the truth and do what is necessary in order to maintain a free republic and civil society capable of sustaining and defending itself from the oppression and arbitrary whims of federal politicians and congress, state governors and state legislatures, and governing boards and their administrators. 

The faculty of each university and college can with specificity and particularity create their own meaning of academic tenure based on legal precedents and moral principles. I believe the faculties of democratic and mature universities and colleges can exercise their voting power to set in place a document describing academic tenure. 

If you want a rock solid, quality educational program at your college or university and want the best and brightest educators teaching students, then the protections of academic tenure are absolutely necessary.  

The naysayers:

Cynics say it is too difficult to get rid of tenured professors. It is also very hard to become one. The probationary period of six-10 years of employment insecurity is unique among professions in the United States. Nevertheless, governing boards with written codified rules in place with supporting case law authority should make it relatively simple and easy for a judge or judge and jury to terminate a tenured professor. The court wants to see a document containing codified rules with supporting case law authority approved by the governing Board. Otherwise, academic tenure is meaningless!!!

Governing boards and dissenters of academic tenure argue that tenured professors become lazy, sleuths, stodgy, and plodding deadwood. However, surveys show clearly that tenured professors publish more, serve on committees, write letters of recommendation, prepare students for board examinations for license, and teach more than their non-tenured colleagues. On the average they work 52 hours per week. Recent studies indicate that research is valued too much, and good teaching too little. There should be a greater emphasis on good teaching in promotion and tenure decisions and there should be other rewards for good teaching as well. A few bad apples does not make the whole barrel bad.   

Critics of academic tenure say: the tenure system is too costly given the financial uncertainty facing colleges and universities today. How can we afford a system that so limits flexibility in hiring and firing faculty? Financial concerns run high where state funding and external funding have become unprecedentedly volatile.

Governing boards have top heavy administrations with highly paid administrators. Are department chairs worth $200,000 to $300,000? Are deans worth $300,000 to $400,000? Are general counsels worth $400,000? Are health care systems CEOs worth $600,000 to $700,000? Are university presidents worth $1,000,000? When colleges and universities were first created administrators and presidents were paid less than professors.

Governing boards spend millions of dollars of the public’s money buying up real estate and building big fancy buildings, which end up with unused space and no faculty and no students in them. Have governing boards lost their sense of priorities and the mission of the university to educate the citizens of the state? The question is not whether the governing boards have the money to pay their tenured professors it’s where they want to spend the public’s money. Have universities become greedy corporations that exploit professors and students for money? Where does affordable education fit in this equation? Are universities so big that the people of the state that created them can no longer afford them?

The reality:

Universities and colleges were not created to coerce non-tenured and tenured professors into making money. Professors are hired to educate, counsel, advise, coach, mentor, and mold our future presidents, judges, doctors, nurses, legislatures, teachers, engineers, researchers, bankers, merchants, etc., and ordinary people into honest and productive citizens. It appears that tenure is here to stay because no one’s come up with a better plan. As professor Charles Doran of John Hopkins University puts it: “Tenure, like democracy, is not a very pleasant or even a comfortable system — until you consider the alternatives. When you look at the alternatives, it’s the best we have.”   

A template of the codified rules with supporting case law authority can be viewed online at:


In addition to a property right of life time employment protected by due process, or until retirement, or resignation, academic tenure protects a professors right to: (a) disagree with popular opinion; (b) express negative views about their institution; (c) research unpopular topics; (d) disagree with a students’ scholarship; (e) challenge the administration on new curriculum and quality; and (f) challenge the administration on changing students’ grades. Tenured professors are not perfect but they are teachers who care about their institutions and students.

Keith Yohn, D.D.S., M.S.
associate professor of dentistry
University of Michigan
Dated: January 07, 2013.

The Faculty Perspectives page is an outlet for faculty expression provided by the Senate Assembly. Prospective contributors are invited to contact the Faculty Perspectives Page Committee at Essays are the opinion of the author. The chair this year is Bob Fraser. Submissions are accepted in electronic form and are subject to review by the committee. Essay lengths are restricted to one full printed page in The University Record, or about 1,500 words.


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