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Tenure on Trial: Case Studies of Change in Faculty Employment Policies

reviewed by C. Dean Campbell & William G. Tierney - 2003

coverTitle: Tenure on Trial: Case Studies of Change in Faculty Employment Policies
Author(s): William T. Mallon
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 041593219X, Pages: 208, Year: 2001
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William T. Mallon observes in his introductory chapter that many statements in the literature about tenure policy change are not founded in research, but in conjecture (p. 43).  He then undertakes a workmanlike study of four institutions that includes how each institution endured change and what cultural factors instigated change.  In the opening chapters, Mallon proposes that institutions have adopted tenure in a collegial fashion, wherein deliberation occurs collaboratively across the institution.  He proposes that institutions, however, currently tend to eliminate tenure in a top-down fashion, whereby the president, trustees, and administration by-pass faculty governance and approval.  Mallon predicts that the popular loosely coupled theory of organizational change applies only to institutions that adopt tenure and not to those that eliminated it. 


The book is based upon Mallon’s dissertation done while he was a graduate student at Harvard University.  Of consequence, the chapters tend to move through well-worn territory.  He points out, for example, that the origin of American tenure, Lehrfreiheit, the freedom for faculty to conduct research and teach without restraint or reproach from the institution, originates from the original German research university and was later adopted into the 1940 AAUP statement on faculty rights (p. 16).   The statement emphasizes tenure as a vehicle for academic freedom, job security, and shared governance.  Not surprisingly for someone struggling to complete a dissertation, the author also has a theory chapter where he discusses the relevance of seven organizational change theories that explain decision-making and change processes at postsecondary institutions.  He continually revisits the relevance of the loosely coupled model throughout the analysis later in the book.  


It is common knowledge that strong cultural values distinguish the academic profession.  If tenure is the norm in higher education then so are its complements: academic freedom, job security, and shared governance. Or at least this is the primary lens through which faculty and postsecondary leaders look.  The reader will not find at this point rigorous integration of how tenure and its complements relate to changing faculty values and culture.  At first, Mallon de-emphasizes culture and focuses upon the relationships among principal actors (the president, the trustees, and administration) to explain the change process.  For those individuals who either do not know about the history of tenure or would like a thumbnail sketch of popular theories that diagnose higher education, the first few chapters are helpful; for those more familiar with the literature, the chapters merit only a quick glance.


The meat of the book is four cases studies. The first two case studies are about small institutions that eliminated tenure.  The other case studies are about two institutions that adopted tenure.  The case studies are thorough enough, and they provide decent insights into the machinations involved in everyday academic life.  As qualitative studies they hold up, although the style of the writing tends to be dry, and once the reader gains the gist of the story one hurries to the end.


Mallon proposes that the strong leader change model describes policy changes away from tenure.  His analyses of the key actors who pursued and delivered change affirm his hypothesis at only the first of these two institutions.  Arguably, the president at one of the institutions single-handedly eliminated tenure.  He reduced faculty authority in performance reviews and installed administrators to control the reviews.  The president claimed, “I did not go back to the faculty and ask them to vote as to whether they wanted me to ask the board to discontinue tenure…So, I just did it [and eliminated tenure]”  (p. 54-55).  At this institution the faculty valued the family-friendly, conservative atmosphere more than undertaking a fight against the president for tenure.  The president, in like fashion, did little to pursue governance collaboratively.


On the other hand, change at the other institution did not come through a central authority, but instead through the decentralized, garbage can model of decision-making that involved multiple sources of change.  Over several years the college experienced high turnover in the presidency, endemic and recurring financial trouble, and a trustee board chair vehemently opposed to tenure.  Of particular significance, trustee board resistance facilitated the move toward tenure elimination.   Here again, the faculty culture was typified not by a love of tenure, but by a love of quality of life.  “People stay here,” commented a faculty member,  “[because] it’s beautiful, [and] people can hunt and fish [in the area]” (p. 76).  From the faculty perspective there were no threats to academic freedom or job security.  Mallon suggests that the faculty believed the removal of tenure at this institution neither threatened faculty academic freedom nor job security.


The author had forecasted that the loosely coupled theory of organizational change would describe the adoption of tenure.  In reality, the political and symbolic models of change apply to one of the cases.  In particular, at this institution the president was sympathetic to traditional faculty values, and he allied with the cadre of newer, traditionally socialized faculty to take power away from the powerful chairs (p. 113).  The alliance of values in combination with the cooperation across multiple actors accounted for policy change here.


Mallon describes the change process at the final institution as collegial; divergent groups (faculty, administration, and trustees) shared common beliefs about deliberation and participation in effecting change.  The faculty had created by-laws to safeguard faculty participation in governance in reaction to prior administrative tyranny (p. 110).  Eventually, the president consented to reward the faculty for their hard work, and he offered a tenure system that made the college more like model competitor institutions.  Throughout the tenure change process, multiple revisions of the tenure policy were negotiated in what Mallon describes as win-win negotiation and consensus building exchanges across the faculty committee, the provost, and the trustees. 


To the author’s credit, one sees the utility – or lack thereof – in the various models employed to study change in higher education.  Mallon’s work also shows that the strength of cultural values varies considerably.  Three themes emerge that cut across the institutions: (1) institutional growth and maturity; (2) presidential leadership and learning; and (3) the symbolic purposes of organizational change (p. 153).  Mallon accomplishes what he sets out to do with this study.  He uses popular organizational theories appropriately to explain tenure policy change - an under-researched topic.  However, he uncovers another theme: decision-making at American postsecondary institutions remains highly contextualized, a function of cultural values held by the heart of the American postsecondary institution, its faculty.  So while Mallon accurately identifies the important actors in postsecondary organizational change, both faculty and administration, the reader will find that the case studies are more complex than Mallon reveals. 

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 1, 2003, p. 67-70
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10907, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 3:19:44 PM

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About the Author
  • C. Campbell
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    C. Dean Campbell is a research assistant at the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA) at the University of Southern California. His research interests are in higher education administration, governance, and organizational performance. Within CHEPA, Campbell is currently working with William Tierney on a project entitled, "Enhancing Diversity: Graduate Student Socialization and Preparing Future Faculty".
  • William Tierney
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    William Tierney is Director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California. His research interests pertain to faculty productivity, decision-making, and issues of equity. His books include: The Responsive University: Restructuring for High Performance (1998); Official Encouragement, Institutional Discouragement: Minorities in Academe - The Native American Experience (1992); and Building Communities of Difference: Higher Education in the 21st Century (1993). He teaches graduate courses on curricular theory, administration, policy, organizational behavior, and qualitative methodology.
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