The Contradictions of Tenure

I’ve been blogging for almost ten years.  I’ve no idea how many posts I’ve written on this and other blogs, but has to be well over a thousand.  Not surprisingly, as my views have evolved, there’s now tons of evidence that I contain multitudes.  And like a moth, I’m drawn to write repeatedly about tenure, without tons of evidence of consistency. Here is a sample.


-Tenure may promote bold research.  (At least for Charles Nesson.)
-But requiring tenure through accreditation is possibly a bad idea.

-Giving professors tenure to avoid status competition is expensive.

-Of course, it’s impossible to figure out if tenure is a worth it unless you have a theory of the University.

-Global competition requires innovation, which the ABA makes difficult.

-Arguments about John Yoo’s tenure are funny.
-Tenure doesn’t actually cause bad scholarship. (Which Jeff Harrison calls a “strange defense of tenure.”)
-Tenure may enable innovative teaching.
-Schools mix tenure and promotion standards in diverse ways.
-We should count blogging when evaluating tenure, but it sure is hard to figure out how.
-I got tenure.

-Skills education trades against tenure.
-We should have merit pay.

-The ABA Standards that require tenure are a part of a trend that increases costs and possibly law student debt.
-Requiring tenure through accreditation standards is definitely a bad idea.

It’s possible to see this as self-interest in action.  After I got tenure, I took a harsher stance on whether it is a good thing, and a much stronger position against linking it to accreditation.  But I prefer to think of this as an evolution.  The post I wrote about John Yoo still reflects my views accurately.  Tenure creates individual, institutional and social costs. It also generates individual, institutional and social benefits.  It’s super hard to weigh those costs and benefits, and I don’t think that all schools would or should come to the same answer.  Behaviorally, I no longer think that tenure actually makes people bolder or more intellectually adventurous (though it doesn’t hurt).  Tenured professors tend to be more institutionally conservative, which might (or might not) be a good thing.  In sum: I contradict myself because the subject is complex.

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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