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Anyone with enough interest in academic tenure to glance at this article knows what tenure is.
Are you sure? Here are two rather varying definitions. The first, by a former president of Yale University, Kingman Brewster, is from the best brief statement about tenure in a research university: "The practical fact in most places, and the unexceptional rule at Yale, is that tenure is for all normal purposes a guarantee of appointment until retirement age." The second, by Duke law professor William W. Van Alstyne, is found in the best general defense of tenure: "Tenure, accurately and unequivocally defined, lays no claim whatever to a guarantee of lifetime employment. Rather, tenure provides only that no person continuously retained as a full-time faculty member beyond a specified lengthy period of probationary service may thereafter be dismissed without adequate cause."
Both definitions are close to the truth: President Brewster's as a realistic observation, Professor Van Alstyne's as a cautious scholar's synthesis. We will have more to say about their apparent differences. The conventions and legal status that both address affect all but a very few of the nation's accredited universities and four-year colleges. This article will say little or nothing about two-year community colleges. While two-year institutions account for almost 40 percent of post-secondary enrollments, their practices range from a tenure system following the higher education model, to the public school model of granting tenure routinely after the teacher has served for two or three years without running into difficulties, to no tenure system at all.
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