Tag Archives: AAUP

A Faustian Bargain for Academic Freedom

From: The Chronicle of Higher Education – Issue Dated Oct. 3, 2008.

Is tenure related to academic freedom? Does it come at too high a price? Should we be thinking past tenure? Here’s what Roger Bowen, former president of the State University of New York at New Paltz and general secretary of the American Association of University Professors from 2004 to 2007, has to say. What do you think?


The historic institution of tenure is rapidly becoming history. The American Association of University Professors, for which I served as general secretary, has for almost a century advocated for tenure as the chief guarantor of a faculty member’s academic freedom. But today tenure and academic freedom are viewed less and less as crucially intertwined.

Academic freedom has widely been embraced as the central value of the academy because it is correctly regarded as a necessary condition for developing new knowledge. Tenure, on the other hand, has been gradually eroded, for largely economic reasons. Tenure is, in fact, expensive, while academic freedom is not. Awarding tenure can be a multimillion-dollar commitment for a college, with no guarantee of a financial return, while endorsing academic freedom costs no money at all.

I have enjoyed earning tenure at three institutions. At the first one, I regarded tenure as my guarantee of job security. In the second and third instances, I viewed it as an appropriate reward for an academic who happened to be holding administrative positions. Not once did I think at the time of winning tenure, “Ah, now my academic freedom is ensured!”

Only on the third occasion did I fully appreciate tenure’s promise of guaranteeing academic freedom — not because my own was being threatened, but rather because the academic freedom of the faculty I served as president was being attacked. That I was in a situation where academic freedom was threatened even once is unusual. The AAUP annually receives about 1,000 claims that the academic freedom of a faculty member has been abridged, but that number is modest, given that a half-million or so professors teach nationwide. While it may be assumed that many professors who believe their academic freedom is under assault do not report the problem, it may also be assumed that, generally, most colleges embrace the principle of academic freedom as essential to their educational missions.

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