How Tenure Benefits Us All

Editor’s note: Many faculty may know about the importance of tenure, but not many may fully realize the inherent value, principle, and standards tenure offers an institution and in this situation for the University of Hawai‘i and our state. This is the second in series on the importance of tenure to help UH faculty and the UH administration collaboratively work together in examining and determining best practices and to present recommendations to legislators before the start of the 2022 legislative session.

Five Reasons Tenure Benefits the University of Hawai‘i and the Community

Every faculty member may be well versed and acquainted with how tenure supports their academic endeavors, but not many faculty may realize how tenure benefits the University of Hawai‘i and our State. Here are the top reasons tenure creates a win-win situation for everyone:

Reason #1: Tenure upholds the University of Hawai‘i’s academic reputation

The University of Hawaii is classified as an R1: Doctoral University (very high research activity), that participates in the sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant research consortia and is one of only four such universities across the country (Oregon State University, Cornell University, and Pennsylvania State University are the three others). Without tenure and academic freedom, faculty would not have the latitude able to stretch the boundaries of research and innovation. Ultimately, independent inquiry and research supports and enhances the reputation of the University of Hawai‘i.

Faculty who believe they could be terminated arbitrarily would be less inclined to take risks in their research to avoid commercial or political pressure. They might also be hesitant about sharing their research findings with students. (Yes, faculty classified as researchers are also involved with teaching students sometimes in a classroom but more often in the field or laboratories.)

Reason #2: Tenure supports community service

When University of Hawai‘i faculty feel they work for a university system that has a vested interest in their success, this creates a sense of reciprocity. Faculty want to contribute back to their community. They want to volunteer their expertise and be involved. And with tenure, they can support issues that are important to them and the community without political or commercial pressure.

Reason #3: Tenure is a quality control mechanism

There is a misnomer that once a faculty member is tenured, they are set for life. Tenure simply means a faculty member has undergone a rigorous probation period that involves having their scholarly works published in journals and other requirements to showcase their professional capabilities. However, the journey doesn’t end there. Tenured faculty must continue to be subject to annual post-tenure evaluations by their peers and demonstrate that they are subject matter experts and still being productive.

Reason #4: Tenure keeps the best and the brightest

Tenure is a retention tool. Tenure attracts and retains quality faculty. This is especially important for the University of Hawai‘i because we constantly compete with so many external factors. Hawai‘i’s high cost of living, including lack of truly affordable housing, make it challenging for faculty to make a long-term commitment to Hawai‘i, even though they may be passionate about what they do and may genuinely love Hawai‘i and its people. Top-notch faculty may also be lured away by more promising or lucrative private-sector jobs or better compensated faculty positions — with tenure — at competing universities.

Reason #5: Tenure Supports Student Enrollment

When the University of Hawai‘i strives to lower its operating costs by hiring more part-time faculty or placing them in positions that are not considered tenure-track positions, this sends a signal to prospective students that the university is not committed to academic excellence. (Currently, only about half of University of Hawai‘i members of bargaining unit 7 are tenured or in tenure-track positions.) This may give Hawai‘i students second thoughts about applying or remaining at the University of Hawai‘i. As other universities have noted, this negatively impacts enrollment. Student tuition makes up about 40% of the University of Hawai‘i’s revenue.

If a university prohibits tenure, this would impede the ability to hire and retain the most promising professors, and degrees awarded to students would not be as valued. The value of University of Hawai‘i graduates would also decline.

Tenured senior faculty bring in the lion’s share of external funding. 

Non tenure track faculty if they do bring in funds then become very attractive to other universities and can move, taking their awards with them..