Recently the issue of  ‘tenure’ was discussed in LC: Probation & ‘tenure’ – right to terminate for unsatisfactory performance after the word ‘tenure’ was used by a Labour Court judge in Makubalo v Council for Higher Education [2010] JOL 25063 (LC) and it was suggested that the use of the word should be avoided in South Africa.

There is an article about this issue today in the National Law Journal Law – Faculty upset over ABA’s proposed tenure shift.

The following definition of ‘tenure, in education’ appears in the Free Dictionary.


“Tenure, in education, a guarantee of the permanence of a college or university teacher’s position, awarded upon successful completion of a probationary period, usually seven years. Tenure is designed to make a teaching career more attractive by providing job security; by protecting the teacher’s position, tenure also tends to enforce academic freedom (right of scholars to pursue research, to teach, and to publish without control or restraint from the institutions that employ them. It is a civil right that is enjoyed, at least in statute, by all citizens of democratic countries).

Those who argue against the institution of tenure claim that the security it provides often results in a lessening of the diligence and efforts of some teachers, that it sometimes provides permanent positions for incompetent teachers, and that it tends to close off opportunities for younger teachers.   A tenured teacher may be dismissed for adequate cause, provided that the cause is established in proceedings with all the precautions of due process.   Financial exigencies of an institution may also be recognized as justification for terminating appointments of tenured teachers”.

There is a further definition of  ‘tenure’ in what appears to be the same site.

“Tenure commonly refers to life tenure in a job and specifically to a senior academic‘s contractual right not to have their position terminated without just cause”.

Here are some further extracts from that website:

“Under the tenure systems adopted as internal policy by many universities and colleges, especially in the United States, Canada and Australia, tenure is associated with more senior job titles such as Professor and Associate Professor.   A junior professor will not be promoted to such a tenured position without demonstrating a strong record of research, teaching, publishing a thesis and administrative service.   Typical systems (such as the Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure) allow only a limited period to establish such a record, by limiting the number of years that any employee can hold a junior title such as Assistant Professor.   (An institution may also offer other academic titles that are not time-limited, such as Lecturer, Adjunct Professor, or Research Professor, but these positions do not carry the possibility of tenure and are said to be “off the tenure track.”)

Academic tenure is primarily intended to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics.   Thus academic tenure is similar to the lifetime tenure that protects some judges from external pressure.   Without job security, the scholarly community as a whole might favor “safe” lines of inquiry.   Tenure makes original ideas more likely to arise, by giving scholars the intellectual autonomy to investigate the problems and solutions about which they are most passionate, and to report their honest conclusions”.