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Academic and Intellectual Freedom and Tenure in Higher Education

The National Education Association affirms that academic and intellectual freedom in institutions of higher education are best protected and promoted by tenure, academic due process, and faculty self-governance. Such protection is enhanced by including, where possible, these items in a collectively bargained contract enforced by binding arbitration. NEA is concerned that certain patterns of hiring and retaining academic faculty are undermining tenure. Examples include: the widespread and excessive use of part-time faculty, misuse of temporary contracts and renewable term ("rolling") contracts, overly long probationary periods, and reliance on tenure quotas. These practices threaten the job security vital to academic and intellectual freedom.

Intellectual freedom is a basic right of all citizens and essential to preserving American democracy. According to the 1940 "Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure" (endorsed by more than 200 professional and scholarly associations, including the NEA's higher education department in 1950, and reaffirmed in 1985):

* Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends on the free search for truth and its free exposition.

*Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher and of the student to freedom in learning.

Academic freedom also includes the rights of scholars to publish freely the results of their research, to retain the rights to their intellectual property, to participate in the governance of the institution, to advance in their profession without fear of discrimination and, when necessary, to criticize administrators, trustees, and other public officials without recrimination. College and university faculty and staff have the right to assist colleagues whose academic freedom and professional rights have been violated. Tenure, academic due process, and faculty self-governance promote stability, continuity, and a scholarly environment on campus.

Practices vary, but most faculty members are awarded tenure only after a rigorous peer evaluation of their teaching, research, and service on specific criteria properly adopted by their programs or departments, and general criteria adopted by the faculty of the institution. During the probationary period, generally not to exceed seven years, untenured faculty members should enjoy the same degree of academic and intellectual freedom as their tenured colleagues and be made aware of the specific and general criteria to be applied to their evaluation for promotion and tenure. In this system, any attempt to legislate tenure criteria for an entire state would be inappropriate and counterproductive.

Tenure may be defined as the expectation of continuing, indefinite, and/or permanent appointment in the institution, granted subsequent to the probationary period and extensive, objective peer and institutional review. The locus of tenure should be the institution. The courts generally recognize tenure as a right of property that under the Fourteenth Amendment cannot be alienated from a faculty member except by academic due process appropriate to the institution and for just cause. Academic due process is usually a part of a system of faculty self-governance and evaluation that has been established by faculty by-laws, constitutions, and collective bargaining contracts. The courts have generally accepted a judicial form of due process similar in most respects to legal proceedings before a court of law. In such a proceeding, the burden is clearly on the administration to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a tenured faculty member should be dismissed or suffer serious sanction for incompetence or other just causes. 


Tenure and academic due process—when accompanied by a proper system of faculty self-governance—protect the rights of all faculty members, tenured or untenured. Unless the faculty and administration agree to such a system, tenure does not necessarily impose a strict seniority system on a college or university if financial exigency requires a reduction in the size of the faculty and academic staff. The tenure system should accommodate affirmative action goals along with the need for academic integrity of programs and departments. Academic appeals and grievance procedures should exist to eliminate capricious and arbitrary decisions, as faculty members exercise the right to challenge tenure and promotion decisions allegedly based on discrimination.

The excessive use of academic appointments on temporary, non-tenure track, and/or multiple long-term contracts undermines academic and intellectual freedom, tenure, the governance structure, and educational quality. Faculty who are subjected to lengthy or continuous probationary status are less likely ever to exercise freely their rights as citizens.   The excessive use of part-time faculty members also undermines academic and intellectual freedom, tenure, governance, and educational quality. These faculty members frequently work for substandard compensation, without job security or recourse to grievance procedures, under conditions that often place at risk the value of the education being provided to their students. NEA reaffirms its policy statement “Part-time and Temporary Faculty."

Tenure quotas (arbitrary limits on the percentage of tenured faculty) have a negative effect on the academic environment of an institution. NEA supports all proper efforts for an institution to seek and maintain academic excellence, but it opposes negative decisions on tenure motivated primarily by a desire to retain budgetary "flexibility."   Academic excellence and rejuvenation of the faculty may be enhanced by a variety of means without weakening the tenure system. Faculty development plans designed to encourage professional growth must be developed and implemented with faculty involvement. Faculty have a responsibility to remain current in their fields to provide students with a quality educational experience. Institutions may implement programs to train faculty members to teach in other areas or to fulfill other important roles at their institutions.

NEA encourages faculty members, administrators, students, and governing boards to confront the challenges, opportunities, and adversities of the future and find ways to strengthen the current tenure system.