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May 31

No. 31: Career Coach: Does tenure protect a PI who loses project funding?

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Does tenure protect a PI who loses project funding?

Reader Question: I've heard that if a tenured PI loses funding, he or she can face a salary cut, lab shutdown or similar measures. Is this true? If so, of what value is tenure to a PI?

Expert Comments:

This is a common and important question. I will restrict my answer to a discussion of universities and colleges in North America.

Tenure was established to insure academic freedom. There are several famous cases in the late 18th and early 19th centuries where faculty members were dismissed based on objections raised by powerful members of the board of trustees or other benefactors of the university who were unhappy with the claims about controversial issues being articulated by a particular faculty member.

Tenure thus meant that a faculty member had job security that was independent of any intellectual stance he or she adopted.

The principles of tenure now generally accepted by most institutions in North America were laid down by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in the early 20th century. Most academic institutions that adopted these policies had, as part of their mission, the teaching of undergraduates. These schools therefore had a reliable source of income from student tuition (along with endowment income and/or state support) to support a faculty of a particular size that would teach these students.

At institutions of this sort, unless there is a state of financial exigency due to, for example, an inability to attract a sufficient number of tuition-paying students or a faculty member engaging in egregious unethical behavior, a tenured faculty member can assume that he/she can adopt a wide range of scholarly positions based on the results of their research without a concern that their position might be terminated because they have offended a powerful person connected to the university.

The problem with the meaning of tenure raised by the person asking the current question is probably based on the fact that they are at an institution or academic unit where salary support is linked primarily to grant support rather than to another revenue stream such as tuition or endowment income.

Tenure therefore means that the faculty member in question cannot be dismissed based on a particular intellectual position he/she takes on any issue and that he/she has job security — as long as the revenue stream needed for salary support is present.

However, if this academic unit does not have sufficient endowment income or other revenue streams to cover a PI’s salary in the absence of outside grants, then these institutions may well have a policy to reduce salary and take other cost-saving measures if grant support decreases.

This kind of policy ideally should be clearly explained to faculty members at the time they are appointed.

Expert comments by Dr. Gregory Ball, Dean of Research and Graduate Education, Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (43)
Prof Emeritus
written by Lee Smith, June 01, 2010
It was my understanding that a person could not be singled out based on financial exigency, but rather a whole unit would have to be eliminated, e.g. a department.
Associate Professor
written by RKS, June 01, 2010
I am a researcher in a medical school affiliated with a private university. The majority of research here is paid for through NIH dollars: a model similar to most universities. In my opinion, for all practical purposes tenure means very little these days, except perhaps when a researcher is closing in on retirement and unable to compete successfully for grants. The majority of researchers are paying a significant portion of their salary from NIH grants. When these grants disappear, there is a greater burden on the university to maintain the salary...they can only do this for a limited period. Hence, the university generally reduces the salary to a base figure on which the researcher can live on. However, the university will inevitably take away the lab space and perhaps even the office. The researcher is forced to spend much more time teaching and performing administrative duties etc. Basically, the researcher is now doing something they don't have as much interest in doing--at least this is not what they had in mind when they signed up to be scientists. The only time the researcher is going to accept this is when there is no option, i.e. close to retirement and too late to start a new career. I for one, would prefer to start a new career if the granting gods make it clear that I should not be a scientist....I will not wait for the university to take away my lab space and start delegating jobs to me that nobody else wishes to do. So what good is tenure ?
written by joan engebretson, June 01, 2010
I think that the teaching mission is still very important in tenure. Thus, the faculty still has a role and is of value to the university even if their grant is not funded. Thus, they are still teaching, so are not "dead wood". Many universities allow for advancement to associate and professor on clinical or research tracks. THese are good for faculty who do not have a significant teaching role. Tenure is reserved for those who exhibit good scholarship according to Boyer's model which includes teaching, publications and discovery. So a tenured person who is currently not funded can still add to scholarship of teaching and perhaps one of the other areas of scholarship.
When did tenure come to be about celebrity status?
written by Anonymous, June 01, 2010
Given the description in this article about the history and purpose of tenure, I am wondering when the tenure evaluation process came to be more about celebrity status than science or scholarship? That is, it seems to me that many Universities use the tenure review process to get rid of faculty who have not achieved minor (or major) celebrity status in their field, despite solid empirical or theoretical work that contributes to the advancement of the field.
Professor w tenure
written by jbb, June 01, 2010
In our research based institution, tenure is a guarantee of a position and a minimal salary but neither current salary, job description or space. Agree w RKS above. However it would be virtually unheard of that loss of a single grant would be the cause for immediate draconian measures. It generally would be an impetus for detailed discussion and planning with a department chair or section chief.
written by BKN, June 01, 2010
The ability of universities to effectively fire tenured faculty members by gross reduction in salary has been addressed many times in federal courts. It basically comes down to the tie between salary and academic roles being clearly defined in the faculty member's letter of appointment. If 70% of salary is indicated as being sourced from grant income, that much may be taken away when grants are not renewed.

With no such clear definition of the sources of salary, then major changes in salary are still permissible in private institutions but are considered to be "constructive discharge" (firing without going through the prescribed procedures for firing tenured faculty members) in public institutions. An example of the former occurred at Northwestern University several years ago when salary was reduced to zero, and space, including office space, was taken away, yet the university claimed that the faculty member still had tenure and the court agreed. Similar cases in public institutions have been decided in favor of the faculty member.

I am not a lawyer, but play one on television.
Contribution = Job Security
written by Just one more opinion, June 01, 2010
Tenure is an antiquated idea that served it's purpose in the days before labor laws were put into effect. Now, intitial employment and continued employment is based upon mission contribution. The limited resources available to institutions should be used to support those who are willing to contribute to the mission of education, service and research. It's no secret going in that if you want to work in research, you'd better be able to secure grant funding. That's the harsh reality. If you are unsure about funding, you'd better find yourself another mission-related role that will add value to your continued presence, should you have a gap in research funding. A salary is what you earn, not an entitlement because you happened to be on the good side of the academic hierarchy when your turn for review came around. Assurance of academic freedom of opinion is a good thing, entitlement to an unearned salary when institutions are struggling financially isn't.
tenure issues
written by abc, June 01, 2010
It depends on the department. Some (e.g. med-schools, teaching institutions) expect you to bring much of your salary from grants. Others require you to only bring in summer support, so that grant-lessness means you lose 3 months' salary but you can take time off during those 3 months, or consult elsewhere.
tenure is like social security for incompetent professors
written by Dr. Professor, June 01, 2010
The question no one seems to want to address is, why should the most educated in our society be guaranteed a job for life? What other job (other than the 9 supreme court justices) is like that. The most educated should be the smartest and most able to find a job, so why should this group be so insulated from the rest of society that needs such job security that much more? As one with tenure, i know it won't protect me if the admins decide to cut my salary. I may have a title, but no salary, and maybe that's what tenure should mean for all faculty in the future.
written by Soontobefullprofessor, June 01, 2010
Tenure is absolutely a medieval term. It has no signficance and thus I am not sure what the difference is between tenured and non-tenured stream faculty. Both are valued equally because all are independent contractors; and, independent contractors must secure their salaries from (grants) and contracts. Contracts can mean different revenue streams in different schools of higher learning. Teaching, caring for patients can provide revenue streams as well as falling into an endowed chair from a rich friend or grateful alum or patient.

I wouldn't have so much trouble with the current system if the Deans, Chairs, and the huge bureaucracy of faculty who come to work in such offices (and do NOT generage a dime of revenue) are the foxes watching the hen house. This seems a bit hypocritical. Furthermore, I am not sure why people have to push so much paper through so many committees today to attain (as one writer said--'celebrity status' when tenure is essentially meaningless and the ranks of faculties vary even within schools of the same institution and even within the same school of the same instituion!
When the prestige research universities get all the funding and slam the feds with enormous indirect costs to support their own bureaucracy and return next to NO indirect costs back to faculty members the contracts that faculty sign are meaningless and are not legal documents. Grant funding should be attained by productive faculty but making productive faculty whose grant falls in the wrong hands on occassion be nailed to the wall doing more service, teaching, and in some cases more clinical work--is solely an act of greed by universities. It's time we face facts, high-powered research universities are giant corporations the only difference there is no regulation and faculties have been undergoing a slow death-of-academic-empowerment by overpaid directors, deans, and chairs who are very comfortable feeding at the trough!
Odds against us?
written by female physician-scientist with two toddlers, June 01, 2010
Is there any hope for a young woman with young family and young career on a tenure-track position for "making it?" The challenges are many (for men and women), but the odds seem against "us" and wonder if it's possible to be a successful grant-based scientist and mother and clinician. Very few of that kind of phenotype out there. Antiquated or unrealistic phenotye to aspire to?
professor of 30 yrs ready to retire
written by microbiologist, June 01, 2010
dear odds against us---

your husband needs to step up to the plate. as a female you should not be more than 50% responsible for your childrens' upbringing. i am a male and 'sacrificed some portion' of my career to be a good dad and make sure my kids made it successfully to adulthood. my wife on the other hand was too busy becoming a celebrity to be bothered. she knew i would do it. maybe like your situation? i got tenure and became a 'low level celebrity' but certainly could have gone farther if i did not consider parenting as job 1. so its not female/male---its about good parent or not.
written by Anonymous, June 01, 2010
The Dean did not answer the question. Yes, a tenured PI can face lab shutdown due to loss of funding. Additionally, he can face lab shutdown on a whim, with or without loss of funding (A nominal excuse could be "we need the space for other higher priority activities"). Other measures that can be imposed on a faculty member who loses funding, or else who is simply on the losing side of a political fight, include (a) lousy teaching assignments, (b) downgraded office space, (c) no salary raises. (I don't know about salary cuts: someone else will have to answer that.)
written by anonymous, June 01, 2010
A few years ago my university instituted "post-tenure review". The criterion for dismissal was changed from "professional incompetence" to "unsatisfactory performance". In short, tenure was abolished except in name. So be careful of generalizations.

Faculty in medicine, law, business, and some areas of engineering and social sciences may well be able to compete for jobs outside of academia. But why would an intelligent person choose to pursue an academic career in the humanities without some assurance that he/she will not be fired by caprice at age 50 by the dean of the moment?
Women faculty with children
written by Professor, June 01, 2010
Dear Odds against us,
It can be done. I know, I've got three children, I'm tenured, and my husband is also faculty. However, you always have to know that you are competing against people who really do this 24/7 -- and that is what you are being compared to. Add that to the fact that tenure decisions come about when your children are little, and my non-tenured time was the most stressful time of my life. I never want to live through that again. Before anyone says it's because I've slacked off: I have more grants and put out more papers now than I did before getting tenure. But add small children and fierce competition for tenure together and it's not surprising that none of my female grad students have any desire to go into academia -- they all say they never want to be as stressed as I am. This is with my husband who really achieves close to a 50/50 with child rearing -- I don't know what I would do without him.

Just keep your family #1 in your life. Remember that they actually need you, unlike your administrators, who may like you but don't really care about you as a person, just your ability to keep bringing in grants, writing papers, etc. Yep, you may not go as far in the academic arena as someone else, but believe me, as someone sitting at a university that just fired multiple tenured faculty for no real reason other than they felt like it, it's not worth draining all of the good things in your life for. Hang in there.
Women faculty with children
written by Associate Professor w tenure, June 01, 2010
Dear Professor and Odds against us,
I completely understand your predicament. I'm a female faculty member with one child, but it's still a lot of work even with one child. You're absolutely right that you are always competing against those who do this 24/7, so it's imperative to have a husband or partner to help so that you can pursue your career. So I work three times as hard as many of my colleagues when at work. I learned to type really fast, read papers quickly (skim unless you need to really know the paper), and get the lab or clinical work done fast and efficiently. I try to take as many coffee and lunch breaks as possible. Sometimes I just tell myself, I have to slow down because I can't keep this up. I'm now 47 years old and wonder if my health, and the health of my family, will still be good in 10 years' time.

I know that it's very important to keep your family #1 in your life, but sometimes I feel that people at work are your family too, in a once removed kind of way. Your work colleagues really need you. I'm thinking of all the administrators, faculty members, students that I have had the privilege of interacting with over the years. All of them are very important, and very dependent on you for your contributions - whether it's teaching in classes, attending committee meetings, or publishing papers to enhance the status of your department and institution. And when you rise up and meet that challenge, you are satisfying the requirements for tenure. Every little bit that you contribute makes it easier for your institution to justify maintaining your tenure. Tenure is actually very important at our institution based in Canada. It dictates where your salary will come from (in our case, an endowment fund) when your salary support runs out. It is a financial and physical endorsement of your previous contributions to the university in the hopes that you will continue to work in this manner in the future. I think that tenure (or whatever term is used) should be deeply respected for what it does to maintain the knowledge base and experience of faculty members at universities.

As for the tenured faculty that face a lab shutdown, this is extremely rare and usually there is some form of negotiation between the faculty member and the department to determine a compromise in space sharing. If you work in an institution where a tenured faculty member has had all space removed from him or her with no reasonable justification for it (e.g., they stopped teaching, writing grants, and publishing), then maybe you need to lodge a protest at the highest level in the institution, or look somewhere else for a position. It is unacceptable for institutions to simply turf tenured faculty members without reason. So make sure to resist this kind of activity. Keep up the good work and effort!
Tenured professor of 17 year at private med school
written by Anonymous, June 01, 2010
I am disappointed to see that many of the comments ignore the fact that tenure still has a generally accepted meaning, as defined by the AAUP. One can argue about the merits of tenure for academic scientists, but that's not the essence of the problem. The problem is that some institutions have chosen to change the meaning arbitrarily from the conventional one, signifying a permanent position, to an honorific, a title that can be bestowed or removed based on extramural income. If the latter is the way an institution uses the awarding of tenure, the institution is being intellectually dishonest and unprofessional. It should use a different term so there are no misconceptions. Additionally, a medical school that uses tenure as an honorific puts its medical student teaching responsibilities at risk. Why should a PhD at a medical school teach when extramural grant support is the only thing that insures continued employment?
written by Female Professor, June 01, 2010
I just received "tenure" at a major medical school university. None of your comments thus far reflect the reality of the flat-lining of the NIH budget in the last 8-10 years, the well-known problem of NIH being much more likely to fund grants from "older" established PI's than early investigators, and the host of other discriminatory practices in grant funding (including gender biases). I would never recommend academia to a grad student - male or female. The university mission these days, at least at large schools, appears to be making money. And that do it by the largely unpaid labor of their faculty - who receive no compensation strictly for teaching or community service from the university despite those being two of three fundamental requirements of tenure. Let's get real folks. Academia as we once knew it, is dead.
To be or not to be - that's the question (for those still in the tenure track)
written by Just recently tenured at UConn, June 01, 2010
Tenure is pretty much meaningless once you are tenured. The real meaning is BEFORE you get tenure. Then it means to be fired immediately (more or less) in case you shouldn't get tenure. For someone who has spent years (decades) on his/her career development and usually parents of young families this means a lot. In the present funding crisis there are many excellent new faculty that are simply not able to get grant funding and will face the "firing experience" soon. Reading through this board, I get the impression that many of the tenured faculty seem to have forgotten.
Associate professor with tenure
written by Underpaid , June 01, 2010
The premise of tenure was/is a good idea; however, there is a downside to having tenure as well as an upside. The downside is that I could be making two to two and a half times the salary in private industry for the research work I do. Why do I stay in academia? I often wonder. I love my students, teaching, and research and have been relatively successful in obtaining grant money. I now have two little children under the age of three and have decided to take advantage of my tenure and stay home with my children one to two days a week with the children while my wife works (in part to keep her job). Do I feel guilty? Somewhat. However, if I had accepted the industry offer rather than my institution's offer, then I could be retired by now. So no, I don't feel guilty (at least too guilty). The tenure system artificially depresses the salaries that colleges and universities need to pay faculty. Thus, I figure while my children are at home, I will cash in on my permanent status, and then when they are in school full time, I will become more productive. If I did not take this attitude, then I would prefer tenure being abolished and my salary be made more competitive with the private sector.
Professor Emeritus
written by Susan Tripp, June 02, 2010
Tenure must exist independent of grants because it has to protect professors of history, which can be controversial, and of classics, which does not bring in grants.
written by Anonymous, June 02, 2010
I'm a "tenured" faculty member who has lost NIH grants due to the extremely competitive funding climate. I'm still working very hard but have lost salary and lab space while my institution continues to recruit many new faculty, all of which need multiple grants to pay their own salaries. I agree that tenure shouldn't support complacency, but I don't think it's fair when administrators collect large raises for hiring more faculty than the institution can support. Senior and junior faculty both get squeezed when tenure is only a hunting license for grant dollars. Lodging a protest is not feasible when the institution's business plan is to use faculty indirect costs to recruit ever more faculty, all of whom must generate their own salaries plus ever more indirect costs. The root of the current problem with academia is institutional greed.
Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus (a former Dept Chir and a Provost
written by J.D. Roberts, June 02, 2010
This matter should be discussed and written down in the initial appointment or listed in a faculty handbook available to all faculty, Alternatively, tenure appointments should not made when the appointment requires outside funding of salary and research support as a condition of continued appointment.

I favor the last option.
Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus (a former Dept Cahir and a Provost)
written by J.D. Roberts, June 02, 2010
This matter should be discussed and written down in the initial appointment or listed in a faculty handbook available to all faculty, Alternatively, tenure appointments should not made when the appointment requires outside funding of salary and research support as a condition of continued appointment.
written by Sonny Ramaswamy, June 02, 2010
I appreciate Dean Ball's response.

In addition to what he said, this is what happens at the large land grant universities I have been associated with during the last several years.

Tenured faculty are seeking higher percentages of their salaries as direct costs on grants. At some land grant institutions, this has become a way of substituting for diminishing state dollars.

Today faculty on 9-month positions can seek summer salary supplements from grants or in many cases, have converted from a 12-month appointment to a 9-month appointment, keeping their original salary, and can seek grant support to supplement their salaries, thus giving them the chance to enhance their salaries. In a few cases around the US, faculty have been forced, because of recent budget cuts, to convert to 0.75 FTE positions, and so have to seek grants to supplement salaries.

If the grants do not get funded, then they lose the supplemental salary. That's basically the only consequence, as far as I know. I have not heard of one, single case where a tenured professor was let go because they did not get their grant funded.

In and of itself the inability to get a grant does not result in loss of lab space, etc. at land grant universities, but if indeed if there are years of inability to seek extramural support, then the reason for having a large lab is not there, and indeed they might be reassigned to smaller space - this is only fair.

However, the individual, if already tenured, does not lose tenure, unless performance is below expectations for a number of years in all of their areas of responsibility, and only gets worse, despite help offered to remediate. At most land grant institutions in America, one really does not lose tenure per se for not getting grants, other than at institutions that do have very strong post-tenure review. The one institution with a strong post-tenure review that I was associated is Kansas State University. Even there, just low performance in grants could be offset by better performance in other areas, including teaching, and thus the individual is protected.
Ex-assistant Professor
written by Anonymous, June 02, 2010
I was recently denied tenure b/c the tenure review committee thought my publication record was too low to "...be assured of future funding." the committee commented that the quality of my research was "...unusually high" and that my teaching was strong (in fact, I frequently receive some of the highest ratings on my department). Thus, the tenure decision came down to whether my colleaugues thought I would be able to get more grants. It turned out that they were wrong, and less than two months after being denied tenure I was awarded a new grant (2 years, $100,000). But, there was no provision in the tenure review procedures for admitting their mistake, and I am now out of a job.

What does this have to do with academic freedom?
For "Odds Against Us"
written by Duffy, June 02, 2010
Just to help you know that it is possible, I've been a single parent for most of my career. I am now a tenure track assistant professor at that major place in the northeast. How did I do it???? By ASKING FOR HELP. Even if it means eating rice/beans for the month, get a housekeeper, a reliable child transportation person and get your husband to help.
If you want it, you can do it...............
written by David, June 02, 2010
Tenure is, and should be, a completely separate issue from salary. In many medical schools, tenured (and untenured) faculty members have a total authorized salary, and a portion of that salary which is guaranteed, usually based upon teaching activities and other contributions to the university. That guaranteed percentage may be as low as 20-25%. The remainder of the salary must be raised either from clinical revenues or from grant support. If a PI loses funding, and a component of soft money salary disappears, then that professor earns less for the period in question. Tenure SHOULD NOT be a guaranteed full salary for life. In my opinion, tenure is an outmoded concept, and should only apply to protection from unpopular opinions that are not necessarily in sync with high level administrators who might want to fire the person. It should not allow a faculty member to rest on his/her laurels, never again seek any outside support, show up from 11AM to 3PM, and teach only what he/she wants to. The criteria for continuing after tenure should be just as demanding as the criteria for obtaining it in the first place. In every other responsible professional position, the person either has a contract with fixed terms and expectations (metrics), or is an "at will" employee who can be dismissed at any time. It is time for academia to modernize their medieval thinking and adjust to the realities of the economy we now face.
written by established prof , June 02, 2010
Over a 30 year career at several major "land grant" universities, I have seen a dramatic shift. When I started a grant was an "input" variable - merely something to get your research done, and it was the research that was the all important, evaluated "output" variable. Now grants are more like the "output" variable, something on which your evaluation rests (with the corollary that the papers produced carry less weight and some scholarship output -"books," "conceptual pieces" simply do not count). Indeed, I know more than a few professors who are professional grant getters and produce little scholarship. Universities love them while almost despising those who try to remain scholars. I know. I have lots of grant money and resist pressure from deans etc. to get more (yes they see me only as a cash cow)because I insist on getting good, and lots of, papers out regarding the research. Deans etc don't like this and are making threatening noises even though I am by far the most productive grantsman and scholar in the college! What have our universities become ?
written by Anonymous2, June 02, 2010
I think tenure is still important for the reasons it was initially instated (and not necessarily to protect faculty on essentially soft money). Being in faculty governance where often contentious discussion ensues with administration I have always felt secure in the protection provided by tenure. So the tenure system does not just protect those from being fired based on unpopular beliefs or political positions; with a confidence of protection from capriciousness it encourages activism for the greater good.
assistant professor
written by early career, June 02, 2010
As an MD assistant professor on the tenure track, tenure has value to me because (1)I will get fired or switched to a clinician educator track if I don't get it (2) it means the university and I agree on what my job is -- primarily research as opposed to lots of patient care and (3)researchers on the tenure track get priority for bridge funding and other research resources.
written by BS, June 02, 2010
Universities, particularly medical schools, use tenure as a carrot to attract high caliber researchers to the faculty, yet they purposely obfuscate what the meaning of tenure is. I have been a tenured professor at a major medical school for over 15 years. At my school, tenure is linked to a "a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession of teaching attractive to men and women of ability". If one recieves continuous and adequate grant funding, then tenure is never "used" as salaries are adequately covered. It is when a faculty member loses funding that he/she needs to take advantage of tenure to ensure that they have financial security to stay on and continue to compete for funding. Those who look at this as nothing more than a handout are dead wrong. Remember that during all the years that the faculty member was funded, he/she covered a good percentage of his/her salary/fringe benefits and, moreover, supported the school through indirect costs. In most cases, at least in my experience, medical schools make money with their research faculty, despite the nonsense you hear from administrators. Why then shouldn't a productive researcher recieve some financial security when times get tough? It is the job of administrators to maintain the financial integrity of their schools while still maintaining its mission. I would think that the mission would be better served by cutting the relatively high salaries of administrators than those of the faculty. Finally, I think that all those faculty members who have written here against the idea of tenure should voluntarily give up if they have it or decline it if it is ever offered.
assistant professor
written by Drew, June 02, 2010
Those who eschew tenure sometimes forget the risks of taking/teaching an unpopular position on the road to discovery that a PI may take. Consider mentioning any position as a matter of discussion or debate, particularly in a today's politically charged environment, that may even slightly influence your ability to get promoted or garner external funding (let alone a paycheck). Would you be more inclined to risk your promotion/paycheck if you didn't have tenure versus if you did? I would wager that, in the main, non-tenured faculty are reluctant to weigh-in on even the most innocuous debates if it poses a risk to their growth/retention.

Having said that I will quote a frequently used contactor's saying "You can do anything if you've got the moeny". Sadly so, with or without tenure, PI or No-I.
"tenured" full professor
written by recently fired, June 02, 2010
Great set of comments, colleagues!
As one of a couple dozen recently fired tenured faculty I would like to inform you that the comments "changes", "written by established prof" are compelling.
At this university the Curricular Review criteria for firing tenured faculty in response to the almost 7% reduction in the state portion of our university's total funding appear to have been exactly the same as the criteria FOR promotion and tenure. That is, the tenured faculty who were fired have the best refereed journal article publication records as well as excellent teaching and good extramural funding productivity. We have been told to 'leave our grants with the U or send the money back.' Huh? Meanwhile, faculty who teach but neither publish nor do research were retained. Faculty with extramural funding who do not publish were also retained. As the "changes" author notes, true scholars seem to be despised. Why? Firing the best scholars is neither good for students, stakeholders, society at large; nor is it a profitable business move. So--why?? Quantity trumps quality? I have to agree: "What have our universities become?"
Tenured Professor
written by Anonymous , June 02, 2010
I think it is ridicules that nobody is commenting on the fact that those who bring NIH dollars for their research bring more than 50% of that dollar amount to their universities (private) as Indirect Costs. I am not sure who exactly is enjoying this money -- I do not. But this money, or part of it, should be kept to support the PI’s FULL salary on rainy days.
Retired Tenured Professor and Department Chairman
written by Fred, June 02, 2010
Grant Overhead funds are necessary to defray the costs of laboratory space (construction, maintenance, heating and cooling, etc., etc.), library services, campus police etc., required for space and services utilized for and by grant supported research. That's who is "enjoying this money". Only a single message in this series refers to the cutbacks in public funds for public universities. These reductions in funding are huge. They have resulted in major increases in tuition costs for students to the point where students incur debts of more than $100K as they graduate. Non-tenure track faculty supported by grant funds are becoming a luxury that Universities can no longer afford at the same levels that became routine during the last decades of the twentieth century.
Tenured Associate Professor
written by K.A.S., June 03, 2010
If indirect costs pay for facilities, library services, and campus police, what exactly does tuition pay for? There has never been any maintenance of my lab in 7 years; I couldn't even get new carpet when I moved in even though the existing carpet was badly ripped and stained. I also highly doubt that the cost of heating and cooling requires the ~$46,000 in indirect costs I have brought in each year for the past 5 years. I also know that a very small portion of tuition dollars is going to pay my salary. A standard size class at my private university generates $112,116 in tuition dollars (35 students, 5 credit class, $640 per credit hour), of which I receive ~$12,000 to teach it (adjunct faculty, by comparison, receive $3,800 to teach the same or even larger classes). Perhaps I am naive, but this seems to leave an awful lot of money left over to pay for things like facilities, library services, and campus police. Perhaps some of that money is paying the salaries of administrators? At my institution, the department chair neither teaches, applies for grants, or publishes papers. Same for our Dean. Why are these folks never considered when there are budget cuts?
PhD who went back to clinical practice after graduation
written by Anonymous, June 03, 2010
The comments posted here are very enlightening and confirm the suspcions and "baby" insights that I learned by graduation. I'm glad I returned to clinical practice and am self employed. I don't regret having earned the PhD, but it is a shame I'll never use it for research. When I started graduate school I was very energetic and was enrolled in an institute that had not gone R1 NIH dollars yet. By the time I graduated I could see that the research world was the most ugly hateful competitive backstabbing bone grinding work that ever existed that was also whimsically based on government ideas of what was important. Government rarely gets anything right and certainly hasn't a clue as to what knowledge building and exploration is about. My dissertation was "seminal work" and it received no government funding because it did not fit into their agenda. As for the person who posted about job security of the brightest and most well educated. Well, I hate to tell you this but I was told I was "overqualified" in all my job interviews after graduation when I souhgt work outside the academic setting---so unless you lie about your credentials or become your own boss, I can understand why PhD need some job security.
I consider myself lucky to have landed on my feet after earning the PhD. I'm not in an ugly work place forfeting my health in my older years and I am happy that I had the experience of earning a terminal degree. It made me a better thinker, even thouhg it costed me $75,000.
written by WHSMITH, June 04, 2010
Many of the above comments are accurate and correct, so I can only write 'amen'.
There is one factor concerning the present meaning of tenure that is not mentioned.
In the overpopulated, unsustainable world in which we live, the meaning of ‘tenure’ will not be an interesting question for much longer. The question will become what will you do when universities are shuttered permanently?
Why would there be tuition paying students to support universities in the approaching energy deficit driven implosion of society? Education will decline more dramatically than other aspects of our social structure since it is so heavily dependent upon the excess capacity of society. Research will practically cease, Knowledge will decline. ‘Practical' skills will be sought by our youth. This is already happening with many young men.
So, ask not what tenure can do for you, but what you will do after tenure and after universities suffer their impending decline?
Old Professor
written by ALS, June 07, 2010
One aspect that hasn't been addressed is the incompatibility of career-long tenure with US law that prevents forced retirement at any age. A major reason that universities are seeking to reduce their commitments to tenured faculty is that they cannot predict the magnitude of their future financial commitments. I think that tenure is worth preserving because of its academic freedom provision. If a set retirement age were reinstituted for university professors or if tenure were to be granted for a limited number of years (e.g., 30 years), there would be less pressure to reduce salaries or get rid of "unproductive" (in the university's view) faculty members in their 50's and 60's. Once the tenured period ends, faculty members and universities would be free to negotiate contracts for set terms (e.g., 5 years). In fact, some schools use rolling 5-year contracts for all their faculty. These lead to a surprisingly stable faculty.
Do you have a contract?
written by Been There, June 07, 2010
I went through this. My tenure is contractual. my salary is N dollars guaranteed by the university. Although I am expected to contribute to that salary via grants, nowhere does it say that I lose that portion of my salary and my position if my funding dries up. We had go through a legal process, and to the university's chagrin, my contract is valid and enforceable. Unfortunately the new hires no longer get such a contract, yet they are offered "tenure".
Non-tenure faculty, an academic orphans
written by Seasoned, June 07, 2010
I was a non tenure track research assistant professor in a research university. What I faced was to get support from in house research support provided to PIs so that they can generate crucial preleiminary data for big external grant application. I was told to my face that preference is given to tenure-track faculty becasue univerity considers them as an assest (!). Some of them were denied for the tenure, left the university, and allmost $200 K start up money is GONE !....
The tenure system is flawed but it's better than the alternatives.
written by Sincerely, April 17, 2011
I agree with just about everything in the entry entitled Professor which was written by BS on June 02, 2010. In my view, all citizens have an investment in the tenure system because all citizens need a place to exist where scholars can and do take scholarly stands on issues of the time.
I also agree, though I wish I didn't, with the earlier statement written by Underpaid on June 01, 2010:
[t]he tenure system artificially depresses the salaries that colleges and universities need to pay faculty.

On the whole the tenure system is flawed but better than the alternatives.

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