... you can all stop talking now about whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea for higher education as a whole, because it is no longer a common institutional practice. It remains at top tier universities and colleges as a perk, as something that makes their jobs attractive to desirable employees. Like all the perks and features that make skilled people want to work for Google or the bonuses that make Goldman & Sachs the place to be for an investment banker. As such, I expect some version of it to remain at the institutions which can afford it.
You can argue against tenure in these terms if you’re against incentives in general. I don’t see too many critics of tenure with a consistent view along those lines. You can argue against it if you think it is a poor incentive for attracting the people that elite institutions should really want, but then you’ll have to tell me who they ought to want instead, why they should want them, and what alternative incentive would attract them.
Where I do feel protected by tenure is with regard to institutional policy and action, in the autonomy I have to shape my courses, participate in governance, enforce what I see as due diligence, have opinions about administrative policy. If you look at institutions without tenure, or with very weak tenure protections, it’s clear that this is the domain where faculty need strong security of some kind. When faculty blow the whistle on profligate presidents, refuse to cooperate with corrupt collegiate athletics, disagree strongly with the dictates of administrators or trustees, defend the integrity of their departments or curricula, they are often the targets of direct and sometimes strikingly crude retaliation. When those faculty are contract or adjunct faculty, they often get shown the exit.
When it works, tenure doesn’t just protect faculty whistleblowers, but also motivates faculty to be good custodians of their institutional future. We could use that in every workplace. Both British Petroleum and the United States as a whole would be better off if the workers at Deepwater Horizon had been able to voice their concerns not just to the top of their corporate hierarchy but to all stakeholders and concerned parties, including the public.
Others' thoughts on Burke on tenure?