How to Get Tenure – Harvard – Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Op-Ed, Foreign Policy

February 17, 2016

Author: Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs; Faculty Chair, International Security Program

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security

The top ten things junior faculty need to know — and why it should matter to the rest of us.

For academics, a tenured position is the Holy Grail. And not without reason: promotion to tenure means you don’t have to look for a new job when your term as an assistant professor is up, and tenure provides a degree of ironclad job security that most professions lack. The raison d’être of tenure is not to let senior faculty coast until they retire, however; its purpose is to enable scholars to pursue lines of research that might not have an immediate payoff, and to let them write or say controversial things without worrying that doing so might cost them their jobs. If you believe in academic freedom and the importance of wide-ranging discourse, then the institution of tenure makes good sense.

Even if you’re not an academic or contemplating graduate school, who gets tenure at our universities still matters. Some academics like yours truly do engage in policy debates, and a few of those who do actually get read and may occasionally have a real-world impact. Senior faculty can use that position to angle for careers in Washington, D.C. — as many of my colleagues have done, along with people like Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Krasner, Vali Nasr, or Bruce Jentleson — and of course academics play important roles training those who may eventually occupy top positions in government in the United States and overseas. So decisions for tenure are not an entirely academic question….

…(read more).

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