College Guide


January 24, 2013 2:37 PM The Decline of Academic Tenure

By Daniel Luzer

American colleges are increasingly reluctant to hire people for tenure-track positions. According to a piece in the Huffington Post:

65 percent of provosts at public and private schools said their college relies “significantly on non-tenure-track faculty for instruction.”
Most provosts said in the survey they believe their institutions will continue at about the same pace for reliance on non-tenured faculty, and twice as many “expect greater reliance” on non-tenured instructors. For public universities, 58 percent said “future generations of faculty in this country should not expect tenure to be a factor in their employment at higher education institutions,” and 68 percent of community colleges said that to be true. The picture was slightly rosier at private nonprofit colleges, where 53 percent agreed with that statement about future faculty.

This discussion about tenured faculty, however, seems to ignore the fact that this is a labor market.

In the next few years, obviously, there’s nothing aspiring professors can do to demand that universities grant them tenure. But 58 percent of public college provost saying that “future generations of faculty in this country should not expect tenure to be a factor in their employment at higher education institutions”? Well, that’s only true as long as American universities continue to produce dramatically more PhDs than there are academic positions available.

Between 2005 and 2009 American universities spit out 100,000 new doctoral degrees, for 16,000 open jobs. No wonder colleges aren’t offering tenure to their instructors. They don’t have to.

The American Association of University Professors recommends no more than 15 percent of a college’s instructors should be non-tenure-track. About two-thirds of college professors don’t have tenured positions and, if one counts graduate students, about 73 percent of college courses are now taught people who don’t have tenure.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • AnnMaria on January 24, 2013 5:51 PM:

    Interesting. As someone who pays the full ticket for my children's college education, one factor I look at is the percentage of full-time faculty that will be teaching my (admittedly) spoiled youngster. I can't see paying $50,000 a year for them to be taught by people making barely above minimum wage, running on to the campus and dashing off again for their next part-time gig. That may be why two went to private schools and that is what I am looking at now for the next one.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on January 24, 2013 9:09 PM:

    Yeah, of COURSE admins want low-paid/zero job security/temp employees to do the teaching. Which is fine if your ambition is limited to being Walmart U, with the quality that implies.

    Accreditation needs to be withheld from the worst offenders.