Tenure commonly refers to academic tenure systems, in which professors (at the university level)—and in some jurisdictions schoolteachers (at primary or secondary school levels)—are granted the right not to be fired without cause after an initial probationary period. Tenure systems are usually justified by the claim that they provide academic freedom, by preventing instructors from being fired for openly disagreeing with authorities or popular opinion. Such systems may also have an economic rationale, similar to the rationale for senior partner positions in many law and accounting firms, in that employees who cannot be replaced may be more likely to give accurate assessments of more junior colleagues who might otherwise threaten their positions. Another reason tenure exists is that, in the realm of academic and intellectual persuits, individuals may produce higher quality output when they have job security than when they don't. When they have the job security and autonomy of a tenured position, academics are able to pursue their own topics of interest, which they are usually more passionate about, and produce better results. Without job security, they will generally attempt to measure what pursuits they are "supposed to" follow, and in imitation of those guidelines, produce a lower quality of output.
Academic tenure is politically unpopular in many places, where opponents charge that it removes incentives for its holders to be productive and unfairly relieves professors of the economic uncertainty felt by other workers. For these reasons, tenure was officially abolished in public universities in the United Kingdom by the Thatcher government in the 1980s (this is actually not true, there is a tenure system in England as in America. However, there are only a certain number of professors, as the rank of professor is only conferred to those who have a "chaired" position. But nontheless, both professors and readers (as well as lecturers) can be tenured in the UK.), and has repeatedly come under attack at state universities in the United States. Many universities have also moved to supplement tenured professors with non-tenured adjunct professors, who teach classes on a contract basis for relatively low wages and few benefits.
How tenure is awarded
In most cases, tenure is not given immediately to new professors upon hiring. Instead, open jobs are designated eligible for tenure, or "tenure-track," during the hiring process. Typically, a professor hired in a tenure-eligible position will then work for approximately five years before a formal decision is made on whether tenure will be granted.
The academic department will then vote to recommend the candidate for tenure based on the tenure-eligible professor's record in teaching, research, and service over this initial period. The department's recommendation is given to a tenure review committee made up of faculty members or university administrators, which then makes the decision whether to award tenure, and the university president approves or vetoes the decision. The tenure process is fraught with institutional politics so often despised that many capable individuals avoid academia altogether because of it.
A candidate denied tenure is sometimes considered to have been fired, but this is not entirely accurate: employment is often guaranteed for a year after tenure is denied, so that the non-tenured professor can conduct an extended search for new employment. Also, some prestigious universities and departments award tenure so rarely that being denied it is scarcely an insult.
Professors who have earned tenure at one institution are often offered tenure along with any new position (as "senior hires"); otherwise, tenured faculty would rarely leave to join different universities.
Revocation of tenure
Tenure can only be revoked for cause, normally only following severe misconduct by the professor. In the US, according to the Wall Street Journal (January 10, 2005), it is estimated that only 50 to 75 tenured professors (out of about 280,000) lose their tenure each year. Revocation is usually a lengthy and tedious procedure. In Colorado, where the question of what constitutes grounds for dismissal of a tenured professor arose as the result of the controversial comments of Ward Churchill regarding the victims of the 9/11 attack, grounds for dismissal are "professional incompetence, neglect of duty, insubordination, conviction of a felony or any offense involving moral turpitude ... or sexual harassment or other conduct which falls below minimum standards of professional integrity."