Has the University of Washington Abandoned Tenure?


Does the UW still have tenure?  

The American academic community went into an uproar when the GOP governor of  Wisconsin, Scott Walker, passed a budget that not only cut $250 million from higher education but also severely weakened shared faculty governance and effectively destroyed professor tenure at the University of Wisconsin.  The uproar was not about money.  After all, tenure was developed almost 100 years ago to protect academic free speech!  Tenure has also been critical to the ability of faculty to commit efforts to some idea or field over decades without the fear of censorship by being fired.  In technical fields, this means many faculty choose an academic path rather than working for an industry where goals likely change ever three years depending on the stock market.

When I became tenured, the code and state law described tenure in terms of a life long commitment to a position and a salary.  The commitment was defined in terms of an academic year of 9 or 12 months. For either period, the UW and the state were committed to paying a full salary from state funds.  That commitment was also the legal basis for the UW definition of tenure track.  If you google Washington state law, that is exactly the commitment that still applies to tenured faculty at the community colleges.  In contrast, as I understand it, our state colleges include tenure as part of their faculty union contracts.  The UW faculty have no contracts.

 My understanding from multiple sources is that this commitment has now been changed without faculty discussion or, for that matter, changes in state law.  I am told that the UW sees its life long commitment only to a title and not to salary.   In several cases, Professors with tenure have been told the UW will pay only a percentage, as low as 30%, of the state salary.  By the way, this is exclusive of additions to state salary that can come to the UW from funding agencies or contracts.
Since the UW has no union contract, it appears the administration feels it has the unilateral right to define tenure.  When asked about this, a very high level administrator said that the offer letters comprise individual contracts. Perhaps so but when I asked if there was any standard offer letter I was told no.   The only exception, I think, may be for endowed chairs.
I raise this issue as part of the merit discussion because tenure is valuable for practical reasons perhaps less lofty than the ideals of academic freedom.   For many of us, tenure offsets low pay.  A commitment to be paid for a career’s work is not something that can be offered in a private corporation or, usually by a nonacademic research institution.
 If the UW no longer offers true tenure, why would anyone want to work here?

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    Legally I think you would have to ask a lawyer. I do think what the state of Washington is doing is wrong. It has been a trend and it started a decade or more at the Community College level and there being few (and the trend is fewer) tenured positions. This is a phenomena that is across the board though. In many states private and state universities have made tenured positions fewer and fewer. Perhaps it is in part the internet, since you can have someone do a class once and film it and then put that back on line year after year you do not need that many professors or even university grad students. I think the trend is wrong and eventually there will come a day where the piper will have to be paid. And some universities will be able to dip into some outrageous endowments and remedy their situation (which should not have occurred because they have such deep pockets) and others will not have such generous deep pockets to fall back on, such as the state schools, and the state will have to ignor the states Constitution and let them fail or bite the bullet and have to pay to make up the difference.

  2. Mark Adams #

    Of course if you are a coach in certain sports at various colleges you are one of the highest paid public employees in the state. Making more than the governor. Do these coaches also have tenure? I think this says a lot about the priorities of Washington state and much of our great nation.

  3. theaveeditor #

    This was NOT done by the state. It was done in a hidden manner by the UW administration.

  4. K #

    Perhaps there’s an expectation that tenure requires ongoing meaningful contribution to the mission of the university, such as research, teaching, patient care, administration, coaching, or, at the very least, good citizenship. Hint: silly blogs, pretend news services, and sitting around posting on Facebook all day long don’t count. Otherwise, you’re getting paid to literally do nothing, which, in certain cases, may be better than the alternative.

    And how come you’re so hung up on anonymity when your only contributor goes by the name of ####### .

  5. theaveeditor #

    Dear Bill

    I assume that is who you are, but you seem to have a need to be insulting while hiding behind a dark web lake IP address in Strassbourg.

    I have edited your post because of the profanity and the effort to out the identity of one of the writers on the Ave. If you want to know his actually identity why not ask him to contact you?

  6. Roger Rabbit #

    If he’s referring to me, he needn’t bother, because I won’t reply. If he isn’t, the following observations probably apply anyway. The reason for posting anonymously about politics and other contentious topics is obvious: Safety. David Goldstein, founder of, has been falsely reported to the police as a child molester and had manure dumped in his driveway because someone didn’t like his opinions. (That someone, by the way, chose to commit his crimes against Goldstein anonymously.) Even worse, there are crazy people with guns out there (see, e.g., Comet Pizza). Authors and commenters on public blogs have a RIGHT to be anonymous (i.e., to be safe), the owners and moderators of private blogs like this one have a right to guarantee their participants their anonymity, and in my opinion trying to “out” someone who has chosen to be anonymous should be a banning offense.

  7. Not Bill #

    Not Bill. Don’t know Bill from Adam. You’ve recklessly maligned plenty.

    We never use profanity. And you know that. Another of your lies.

    And RR gave himself away a long time ago. No need to ask. We know who he is. Took but five minutes. You confirmed it by hatching out his first name and last initial, and implying that you were removing profanity instead. Otherwise would not know him from Adam either.

    Point of bringing RR into the conversation is your hypocrisy about criticizing our anonymity while defending his.

    You never answer the questions raised. Always change the subject. How can you defend your government salary for doing nothing of value? What is it you do all day long aside from insulting people?

  8. theaveeditor #

    I am torn. I edited his last post because of his foul language directed at you. I think his attacks on you and on me are within free speech but what about just having a policy that we may choose to delete anyone who chooses to post anonymously? If this is Bill, he is as dangerous as anyone you worry about. So I uggest we just treat such messages as spam>

  9. 9

    IMHO, Sayre’s Law applies.