All Commentary
Saturday, March 1, 1969


Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Biology at Mary Washington College of the Uni­versity of Virginia.

Life, by its very nature is ever changing. From one moment to the next there is always altera­tion in the chemical and physical structure of all living matter. The fact of change applies to every level of organic organization, from the atomic to the organismic. Man, an organism, is not and cannot be an exception to this law of nature. Since organisms do change with time, the interrelationships among organisms also change, but there are those who, by mere wishing, hope to avoid their nature and the reality of change which must oc­cur in social circumstances and thus seek to establish a static sit­uation.

In the attempt to avoid possible change relating to employment, certain men have succeeded in establishing an artificial system which allows the human to be unnaturally “protected” (actually harmed) by the gaining of “job security.” The mania for security has gripped the human imagina­tion, particularly in this century, and has caused many to pursue a goal, the achievement of which can only result in mental degener­ation and intellectual stagnation.

In the field of education this mania for security is exemplified by the system known as tenure: the granting of a permanent posi­tion to an individual who has sat­isfactorily completed a trial pe­riod of a number of years. Once tenure is granted, the individual receiving tenure can only be re­moved from his position due to gross misconduct in the perform­ance of professional tasks or im­moral behavior of a serious nature.

There can be no rational ar­gument presented to justify grant­ing a permanent position to any­one in any type of profession or field of work. Just because a man has performed well in his work for a number of years (whether it be two or twenty) cannot be a guar­antee that he will continue to per­form well the next year, or for that matter, the next week or day. Man does alter his behavior con­stantly and there can be no assur­ance, no matter how stable an individual may appear to be, that he will continue to function well in a particular type of work.

In a profit-making business no sane employer could ever afford to guarantee a job to a man for any lengthy period of time, and cer­tainly not for life (up to age 65). An employee must always be sub­ject to evaluation by an employer if any business is to survive. If an employee did not perform his tasks well, it would mean a loss of rev­enue for the business; and if this behavior persisted, and an em­ployer were not free to remove the individual from his post, the result could be the collapse of the enter­prise. An employer must always be free to replace an employee who, in his judgment, is not contribut­ing to the beneficial activities of the business or who cannot per­form his tasks as well as another.

To guarantee a life-time job to one man would be to deny the pos­sibility of a job to another man who may have superior ability. The number of positions in any business is not unlimited; there­fore, if individuals are given per­manent positions in a particular business, they could not be re­placed by others of superior talent and intellectual caliber until such a time as the tenured individuals completed their careers. With bus­iness expansion new people are brought into a particular business, but there would still exist a large number of tenured employees who would have to be retained until their retirement occurred which would inevitably prevent more highly qualified individuals from obtaining these occupied jobs.

Business-like Education

The business of education is not, with rare exceptions, a profit-mak­ing business, although it must be­come one if the quality of educa­tion is ever to be raised to the level of its real potential. This regrettable circumstance clouds the academic scene and prevents one from seeing the actual losses which must result in any circum­stance which rewards mediocrity and suppresses superiority.

In her superb political treatise, The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson writes: “One of the early ‘cases’ by which ‘security of tenure’ was made to seem plausi­ble for teachers indicates the utter confusion of thought on the sub­ject, arising from failure to recognize the political power in oper­ation. A teacher in California, of excellent character and teaching ability, was dismissed by a cor­rupt school board for no good reason. The case was taken to court. The teacher was reinstated, on the proper grounds that she had a contract for the term and had not defaulted on it. This was thought a sufficient reason for urging measures by which a teacher must be considered as en­gaged indefinitely, for that is the only meaning for ‘security of ten­ure’; though this is absolutely irrelevant to the original issue (enforcement of contract), and nullifies the contractual right of the employer.”

No one can ever guarantee that an employer will always use ra­tional criteria in judging the qual­ifications of an employee, but when there is a contractual agree­ment involved, one can always turn to the courts if one party fails to comply with the stipulations of the contract. No one can ever guaran­tee that an employee will continue to function in an advantageous manner in a particular position and so it would be foolish for an employer to engage in a lifetime contract with an employee. Change is always with us, no matter how diligently some may attempt to hold it back.

Tenured teachers and professors realize that they do not have to broaden their intellectual scope in order to retain their positions. Con­sequently, many, having obtained “job security,” cease to pursue knowledge in their particular dis­cipline and become progressively outdated with every passing year.

Tenure is a practice which na­turally follows from the philoso­phy of collectivists. It is a tech­nique to deny individual ability for the sake of the “security” of the masses. It is a means of re­warding mediocrity and allowing it to degenerate into stagnant par­asitism. Academic tenure creates scholastic somnambulism.

Security Impedes Progress

In any dynamic system (and all businesses are dynamic systems) the alternation of circumstances must not be impeded, for if they are, this can only result in a dis­ruption of the system and a slow­ing down or cessation of activity. To grant any man a permanent position simply on the basis of performance during a trial period, is to introduce a possible disrup­tive element into a dynamic sys­tem which could, and often does, drastically impede progress.

If an employee is efficient and performs his tasks well, it is to the advantage of the employer to retain the services of this individ­ual. If an employee finds the employer and the job to his liking, it is to his advantage to remain in his present position. An employer-employee relationship is mutually advantageous as long as both parties are satisfied with the cir­cumstances. Whenever either party determines that the conditions have changed and the relationship is no longer desirable, both should be free to release each other from a short-term contract.

A tenured employee is now free to seek employment elsewhere, but the employer of a tenured em­ployee is not free to replace that employee with another man. Such a circumstance of necessity places a major obstacle in the dynamic situation which must exist in an employer-employee relation­ship, and we can now witness the results of this blockage by noting the intellectual inactivity of many tenured teachers and professors. The tragic consequences for stu­dents who study under these indi­viduals cannot be estimated.

Long-Term Employment Contracts Lead to Stagnation

To advocate the prevention of freedom of action on the part of either the employer or the em­ployee is to deny the existence of individual rights. Every man must be free to choose the activities of his life which will best suit his needs. No man can, in reason, be required to maintain relationships over an extended period of time in an employer-employee situation. An employee should not be forced to remain in a particular position for life (a practice of medieval times) and an employer should not be forced to grant a life-long posi­tion to an employee (a practice of the twentieth century). In either case freedom of action is pre­vented and the inevitable conse­quence is a degree of stagnation.

The concept of tenure is incom­patible with reality. It is an idea which developed out of an irra­tional evaluation of circumstances and has been maintained because of the lack of intellectuals who would or could support and ra­tionally defend the basic principle of freedom which is individual rights.

Tenure, a collectivist concept, and individual rights, a capitalist concept, are mutually antagonistic. The former is an attempt to deny the reality of change, while the latter is fully compatible with the nature of life and the interrela­tionships among organisms. 

  • Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Biology and Professor of Chordate Embryology at Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia.