It was recently discovered that the United States Air Force Academy is going to introduce a tenure program for its civilian professors. This is a terrible mistake. When I was the president of the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, we had a similar tenure program. My faculty was made up of military officers from all branches including some international officers as well as civilian professors. In most cases the civilian professors were hired for their background in political science or international affairs. The civilian professors operated under a classical tenure program. The big problem in a traditional tenure program is that it is the faculty through various tenure committees who essentially decides who should be granted tenure. And of course these tenure committees are made up of the tenured professors in the college or university. So who does the young professor trying to move his academic career forward look to for guidance and affirmation? Who does he need to please? Well, obviously, the cabal of old tenured professors. And particularly in a War College or Military Academy setting the tenured professors who didn't like the policies of the military leadership know they can just out wait the leadership because in 18 months (on average) or so the current military leadership would be gone and a new set of leaders would be in place.
Military leadership often has little or no experience with civilian faculties, so they are at a disadvantage from the start. I got so fed up with the tenured crowd (not all of them, but the large majority of them) I went to my boss, the Commander of Air University, with a proposal to get rid of the tenure program and replace it with a contractual personnel policy. Of course, understandably, he was really hesitant to grab that tiger by the tail. Beside the inevitable push back from the tenured faculty, there were the politics of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and he didn't want to take that on. (And if you don't think there is a lot of politics in the college accreditation system, you are wildly mistaken!) He finally agreed and in the end, though it took almost a year and a half of my tour, we were successful in moving from a classic tenure program ("Once I'm in you can't fire me!") to a contract program. New hires would be on a one year 'probationary' term and then could compete for a four or five year contract term. When move to the new program was announced one of the sharp, young professors came up to me and said that he felt like someone 'opened the window and let some fresh air in!' Now, instead of trying to please a group of old tenured professors, he was going to be judged as to how well he supported the mission of the Air War College and the Air Force. A novel idea indeed.
It is important to understand that the tenure program at a college or university has nothing to do with academic freedom. It has everything to do with control. The presumption that academic freedom comes from and is protected by a tenured faculty position implies that the young professor waiting to be considered for tenure has only as much academic freedom as he thinks the tenured professor who is going to sit on his tenure committee will allow. It assumes that he will not speak out or take a controversial position because that might jeopardize his future chances to be granted tenure. This is exactly why you will not find professors with a conservative view point in any of the social sciences departments of our major state universities.
This is a terrible move by the USAF Academy.
Article by Major General Bentley Rayburn, USAF (Retired), Colorado Free Press Contributor
Major General Rayburn, USAF (Retired), was the president of two degree granting institutions, the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and Colorado Technical University in Southern Colorado.