Tenured does not mean top-notch

Victoria Zawitkowski
Staff Columnist

Education is of highest importance. Educators should be chosen with special care. Tenure was designed to prevent favoritism and reward the competent teachers within school systems. The system is not working the way it was intended; it’s paving the way to lower standards of education.

Tenure is job security for teachers and professors. Their contracts must be renewed on a regular basis, but if a professor has tenure then they are entitled to a hearing before their contract can be denied. The school district has the burden of proof, in which they must prove the teacher in question has failed a specific standard. Tenure is not easily acquired, as it takes several years of work for professors with explicit requirements from each university.

illustration by Dan Nacu

Virginia law states that public school teachers are required to serve three years in the same public school division before they are eligible for a “continuing contract,” which is the term they use for tenure. VCU has specific requirements within each school, and within each department for teachers seeking a tenured position.

This process of granting tenure to professors was established to protect good professors by providing them with job security. Unfortunately, the system isn’t perfect and it also ends up protecting the bad professors, the ones that aren’t available after class, aren’t open for questions and just seem disinterested.

I have had several professors  throughout my years at VCU who were tenured. Not all of those professors were very good. They may have been very knowledgeable on their subject matter, but not very involved in the class — even those with small class sizes. The trend among those professors was a method of “teaching” in which they threw a bunch of information at you and essentially told you to memorize all of it for the exams.

They never stayed after class to chat, barely responded to emails and most of the time they viewed any questions to be at the very least mildly annoying. Some professors, who believe their jobs are secure, no longer have the incentive to work to the same standards. When these standards drop, the students are the ones who suffer.

The tenure system can also prevent enthusiastic, well-educated new educators from getting hired. Universities and public school budgets are strict and educators are subjected to dismissal if that funding is cut, classes are eradicated, or overall student enrollment drops.

New educators are paid significantly less than those that are tenured. That part makes sense to an extent because teachers who have worked in one place longer usually deserve to be paid more. While schools still have to approach things as a business, education is the main pursuit and that means that a seniority system is not always best.

Should a tenured professor be dismissed on any grounds, the process of firing that professor costs the university a lot of time and money. According to LA Weekly, in 2010 the Los Angeles Unified School District spent a costly five years to fire seven underperforming teachers out of the 33,000 public school teachers in the district. After $3.5 million, four were eventually fired, two were paid handsome settlements, and one got their job back. If dismissing educators  who aren’t meeting expectations is that difficult and expensive, then the tenure system is flawed.

I would never suggest that we do away with the tenure for our teachers completely. But some of my own personal experiences have caused my concern. Universities and public schools alike should exercise scrutiny when granting and continuing contracts with their teachers. I have had many wonderful professors who should not take the fall for others. Credit should be given where credit is due.

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