What’s wrong with guaranteed-job-for-life tenure?
James C. Wetherbe
In business, adding competitive value is key to ensuring jobs and customers. Lifetime job security is the antithesis of competition. The ultimate benefactor of competition is the customer. Without competition, organizations devolve into the equivalent of the local department of motor vehicles, where a “socialistic monopoly” on issuing licenses creates painful inefficiencies.
After nearly 40 years in and out of academia, I have discovered that tenure can have the same kind of debilitating effect on professors. I came to disdain tenure and the way it protects subpar, complacent performance by the few who make the majority look bad. It was more about job security—guaranteed-for-life unless you do something really heinous. During the 13 years I had tenure, I grew weary of the sarcasm and wisecracks about it from business people with whom I consulted.
So I resigned tenure 20 years ago from the University of Minnesota. In 2000, I returned to my alma mater, Texas Tech University, as a chaired professor who had voluntarily rejected tenure. A dozen years later, I was a finalist to become the next dean of Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business. Simultaneously, a committee reviewed my work and proposed that my name be sent to the Board of Regents to receive a Horn professorship, the highest faculty award at the school. I was ultimately rejected for both positions, I have strong reason to believe, because of my views on tenure—decisions that led me, reluctantly, to sue the university.