Meet The Professor Who Thinks Tenure Has Overstayed Its Welcome

Professor James Wetherbe explains why he thinks the tenure system is outdated and ineffective.

By Rhonda FanningJuly 1, 2015 11:43 am

Tenure is a century-old policy that is almost sacred among academics. Some call it the third rail of higher education – untouchable. For many, it’s the reward for years of dedication and hard work, and serves as a shield from termination without justifiable cause. But critics see tenure as a barrier to terminating teachers who are no longer effective educators – an unfair protection.

James Wetherbe, professor at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business Administration, accepted tenure at one point in his career, but now thinks the practice needs to go.

“You either have to get tenure or you’ll get a terminal contract,” he says. “What I didn’t realize until several years later is that I could actually resign tenure – and I did that over 20 years ago, just because it was my personal private protest against it.”

Additionally, as a business professor, the title was working against him. Because he interacts with a lot of business leaders and is constantly trying to encourage innovation and change, they would retaliate by reminding him that  innovation and change often results in job changes, and “that’s real easy for you to say because you’ve got tenure.”

Because of his views on tenure, he was rejected the school’s highest teaching honor and a chance to be Dean of the Business School. The provost at the time stated under oath that Wetherbe’s viewpoints made him unfit for such positions.

“I have filed a lawsuit, which I hated to do, against Texas Tech,” he says. “If there’s any financial gain from the lawsuit, I’m donating it to scholarships. This is not about achieving some kind of financial windfall from a lawsuit, it’s really about trying to challenge the system and expose tenure.”

The biggest irony of it all is that tenure is in fact supposed to protect professors from this very situation. At its core, tenure was created to protect academic freedom, which would include challenging accepted ideas.

At this time, Texas Tech won’t comment on the situation on the grounds that it is pending litigation.