As Tenure Termination Appears to be on the Rise, What Do I Need to Know to Protect Myself?

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With the landscape of academia shifting beneath our feet, understanding the sanctity of tenure — and how it’s changing — is crucial for educators navigating their careers. The tenure track, once a mainstay of academic employment, has seen a significant decline. This evolution brings to the fore questions about job security, academic freedom, and the implications for faculty speech.

The Changing Landscape of Academic Tenure: Navigating Challenges

Tenure, historically a shield for academic freedom, is increasingly tested by institutional policies and public controversies. Cases like that of Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was denied tenure at UNC, and Amy Wax at UPenn, who faced severe backlash for her controversial remarks, illustrate the fine line between tenure protection and institutional accountability. We’ve also seen a rise of colleges and universities relying on misguided Title IX, or Discrimination, or Harassment allegations against tenured faculty to be the basis to terminate tenure; alleged violations of ambiguous policies can sometimes be a more convenient way to terminate a professor.

As a faculty member, what can you do to safeguard your position and your right to free speech in an environment that appears less forgiving than ever before? Here are some pivotal considerations:

  1. Understand Your Institution’s Policies: Familiarize yourself with the specific definitions and protections of academic freedom your institution upholds.
  1. Know the Limits: While tenure provides a broad coverage, it’s not absolute. Recognize the boundaries of academic speech and conduct that are deemed unprotected.
  1. Engage in Community Governance: Be an active participant in faculty governance, ensuring that due process and peer input remain central in tenure decisions. Don’t be too quick to judge allegations against others: first think “what if that were me? I’d want to be treated fairly without people rushing to judgement.”
  1. Document Your Work: Maintain thorough records of your scholarly work and interactions with students and faculty, which can provide necessary support if your tenure comes under scrutiny.
  1. Stay Informed and Prepared: Be aware of the legal precedents and ongoing discussions regarding tenure in academia. Consult with legal experts if you suspect your tenure rights are being compromised.

In an era where tenure termination is becoming more frequent and visible, the key to protection lies in a proactive approach to understanding your rights and responsibilities. For those who find themselves at the crossroads of controversy, a litigation law firm with expertise in higher-education employment law can be an invaluable ally in navigating these complex waters. We are referred to professors with questions by the Association of American Universities Professors (“AAUP”) as we have long been on the AAUP referral list.

If you are facing concerns related to a similar issue or if you have questions about your Employment situation, please feel free to contact us here. We have many years of experience handling such matters and will be able to assist you in resolving the dispute.

To learn more about these topics, you may want to review our information provided on these pages: Employment Law, Higher Education, Academic Freedom, Tenure, Faculty Appointments, Promotion Denials and Related Issues, and Contract Termination.

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