Secure Abjure Tenure

25 September 2010 at 8:54 am 24 comments

| Scott Masten |

Thanks to Peter, Nicolai, Dick, and Lasse for the invitation to guest blog and for the opportunity to sound off on current issues to a broader audience than just my LCD screen. [Thank you! -- LCD Screen.]

A fairly recent example of such an issue was the discussion — anew — of proposals — anew — to abolish professorial tenure. Earlier this month, the New York Times Sunday Book Review ran an essay titled “The End of Tenure?” This was preceded by a July NYT “Room for Debate” forum on the question “What if College Tenure Dies?”  and a proposal a week or so later by the American Bar Association to eliminate the term “tenure” from the ABA standards covering job security and academic freedom. A flurry of blog posts on the merits of tenure — many by law professors — ensued.

Leaving aside the details of the debate, an interesting pattern emerged in the “sides,” with more market-oriented (libertarian- or conservative-leaning) writers tending to be more critical, or at least skeptical of the merits, of tenure (see, for example, here and here; here; and here, compared, for instance, with this. The rule-proving exception is here).

I say “interesting” because tenure and its administrative counterpart, faculty governance, were not imposed on higher education institutions by some legislative or regulatory body but arose autonomously, as it were, in the academic marketplace. There are, after all, some three thousand academic institutions in the U.S. alone. If tenure and faculty governance are as detrimental to the performance of colleges and universities as the critics contend and if an alternative organizational arrangement exists that avoids the drawbacks of the current arrangements without causing some other, worse-yet problems, one would think that some school would recognize these advantages, dispose of the obsolete encumbrances, use some of the proceeds from the resulting efficiency improvements to attract (sans tenure) a group of top-flight professors, and leap to the top of the academic pecking order.

The tenure-skeptic’s response to this would likely be something to the effect that “most colleges and universities are nonprofit or state-owned and therefore  no one has the incentive to take advantage of the substantial efficiencies that eliminating tenure would yield.” But this merely pushes the institutional question one step further back: Why is it that most colleges and universities, including the most successful ones, are incorporated in a way that prohibits the distribution of institutional surpluses? Or put another way, why aren’t for-profit universities targeting the elite segment of the higher ed market?

Another response might be that we got stuck on a bad evolutionary path, an academic version of the proverbial (not actual) QWERTY keyboard. Tenure and faculty governance have been fairly durable. But their emergence in the U.S. dates back only to the end of the 19th century, coinciding (not coincidentally, I would argue) with the introduction of research as a central function of universities. Research changed educational transactions in a number of ways: It increased specialization and the heterogeneity of faculty, reduced faculty mobility, made it harder for administrators to understand and evaluate faculty contributions, and increased conflicts over the role of universities. Educational institutions could have responded at the time in any number of ways to the organizational challenges the introduction of research posed. The fact that tenure, faculty governance, and the norm of academic freedom were the institutions that emerged to address these problems should create at least a presumption (rebuttable, to be sure) that these arrangements had advantages over the feasible alternatives. (Did someone say “remediableness”?)

Of course, even if tenure and faculty governance were right for the time, circumstances may have changed, or be in the process of changing, in such a way that their original justification no longer holds. But making that case requires understanding the problems that tenure and faculty governance arose to address in the first place and then showing that the attributes of academic transactions or the technology of governance have changed in a way that tilts today’s comparative analysis toward other solutions.

Entry filed under: Education, Former Guest Bloggers, Institutions, New Institutional Economics. Tags: .

Introducing Guest Blogger Scott Masten Elgar Companion to TCE

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Warren Miller  |  25 September 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Well, let me volunteer to be Scott’s first piñata. After a half-decade stint in academe 25 years ago, I left and have been self-employed since 1991. As a close friend once said when asked why he left the six-figure salary and perks of the big corporation to go out on his own, “Well, I’m a slow learner. But even a Harvard can eventually figure out that if he’s gonna work for a (expletive deleted) idiot, it might as well be me.” Hear, hear.

    Unlike many in the middle-market segment of the business community, I have great respect for rigorous and relevant research. Having co-authored a paper for AME in 1989, I know something of the publishing process, its demand, and its seeming randomness in more than a few instances. However, I respectfully disagree with what seems to me to be an inference that the onset of research made performance harder to assess. To the contrary, I think it made it a no-brainer. Whether that no-brainer was good might a subject of some debate, of course, esp. when we see scathing indictments across the political spectrum of the job universities in the U.S. are doing. Here it is from the Left, the Right, and the Center. I particularly like this line from the last one: “If colleges were businesses, they would be ripe for hostile takeovers, complete with serious cost-cutting and painful reorganizations.”

    So, let me ask a few questions, if you don’t mind:

    1. Why do professors need tenure in 2010? As I recall, Bennington College did away with it a few years ago. Even a full professor who blogs at Tenured Radical tried in vain to trade her tenure for a renewable contract at tony Wesleyan University.

    2. Why is it that education is the only field (at least that my pea brain can think of) that even has such a concept?

    3. What assurance do check-writers springing for the sky-high cost of undergraduate education at a four-year institution have that (a) their children will be taught by professors who welcome the presence of undergraduates, and not adjuncts, grad students, and professors who find students intrusive and inconvenient, and (b) tenure doesn’t result in de facto retirement, albeit on a payroll from which it is almost impossible to be fired?

    Thanks.

  • 2. Scott Masten  |  25 September 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Anyone who wants to run down a list of problems with higher education is not going to get an argument from me. However long the list is, I bet I could add to it. But I can also make a similar list of the problems of divided democracy. The problem in both cases is to come up with a system that isn’t worse. And anyone who thinks he can produce a better academic product at lower cost should put his money where his mouth is and start a for-profit university. But as I noted, you don’t see for-profit universities challenging the elite segment of the market.

    1. My argument for tenure is that it is an adjunct to effective faculty governance. (Voting rights aren’t of much use if the autocrat can change the voters; note in this respect that adjuncts and clinical faculty, who generally don’t do research, also generally don’t have either tenure or voting rights.) My view of faculty governance is that it supports bargains between administrators and faculty (and among faculty) in much the same way that political democracy supports bargains between rulers and citizens (a la, North and Weingast, 1989). (There isn’t space to lay out the full argument here, but it’s in my JEMS 2006 article.)

    2. Law firms have an up-or-out process similar to academia. Once an associate makes partner, he or she has similar job security. And of course, public servants often have the equivalent of tenure. Yeah, public bureaucracies exhibit some pretty obvious inefficiencies, but there are also reasons why civil servants are protected from arbitrary dismissal.

    3. Parents can avoid having their children taught by grad students and adjuncts by sending their kids to colleges without graduate programs and that don’t use adjuncts (although the latter are often very good teachers). But what exactly is the difference between an adjunct and a professor without tenure, which is what I thought was the original objection?

    Finally, we have all seen a few senior tenured professors check out, but I have to say that the overwhelming majority of tenured professors that I have known work their butts off their entire careers. Maybe that has something to do with the field I’m in or the institutions I’ve taught at, but I would sure like to see some hard data to support the claim that tenure results in a significant reduction in productivity.

  • 3. Warren Miller  |  25 September 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Points well-taken. However, I believe your comments–not you, personally–are not representative of education more broadly because you work at a top-tier university. You are generalizing from a small sample, and I think that generalization doesn’t hold once one gets away from that tier.

    Similarly, I also believe that your perceptions about law firms are also not representative. They might be elitist, or they’re just dated. Most law firms, like most CPA firms (and airlines that, in the old days, fired women for getting pregnant), have finally discovered the obvious: that the old up-or-out mentality is expensive, not to mention downright dumb. Even in larger “branded” PSFs, we encounter professionals with 10 or 20 years of experience who are not partners. Some firms have taken to making these individuals “non-equity partners”; bonuses are strictly discretionary, and they have no ownership in the firm itself. . .but their business card says “Partner.” Think of them as you would a “clinical professor,” a title that few outside academe would understand, but everyone inside fully comprehends.

    We both know that adjuncts can be excellent instructors. The problem is that their knowledge is apt not to be current because, you guessed it, there is no research requirement. So I guess we’ve come full circle on this one, haven’t we?

    Your assertion that partners in PSFs have job security is, I think, also dated, at least in part. I know of a large Midtown Manhattan CPA firm whose partnership agreement expressly confers upon the managing partner the power to fire partners. He’s done it. I know of a large, high-growth CPA firm in Baltimore with the same kind of agreement. I also know of several large D.C. law firms where that is done, too. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there to support what I’m saying. Now that David Maister has retired, I know of no one with the chops to take on the problem; I’m sure there are some out there, but I’m not aware of them.

    At the end of the day, in most of the for-profit world, performance still matters. Once one gets away from the ultra-top-tier universities where branding and peer pressure won’t abide slackers, there are plenty of Ph.D.s with no publication record at all. In fact, I think I recently read in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. that only about 20% of those with terminal degrees ever publish anything. I think it’s fair to infer that your sample is highly, though understandably, skewed. I don’t doubt that you and your colleagues work their butts off. But I also don’t doubt that the sample on which your observation is based is not representative.

    You and I can probably agree that a likely major reason that top-tier for-profit universities haven’t attracted top-tier scholars is that they’d have to leave “the club” because they have gone over to “the dark side” where the University of Phoenix and others reside. More to the point, however, the for-profits don’t have state funding (a la UMich), they don’t ride the federal and foundation gravy train for grants, and they don’t have large endowments. So they have to make their money the old-fashioned way: teaching students who pay for their education. That means that little in the way of research time is available, which is undoubtedly another reason that the for-profits haven’t attracted any ‘name scholars,’ at least that I’m aware of. The fact that there are more “corporate universities” than MBA-granting schools these days tells us something, though, doesn’t it?

    Finally, your assertion that “political democracy supports bargains between rulers and citizens” seems to confirm what many unhappy Americans these days have long suspected: that elitists seem themselves as “rulers.” That one will bite the dust big-time on Nov. 2nd. And if the Republicans don’t do any better in the next two years, then all hell will break loose in 2012 with a third party. (We subscribe to JEMS, incidentally, so I skimmed your 2006 paper when it came out.)

    Still and all, after all this verbal jousting, I’m still waiting: why is education so special that it demands tenure?

  • 4. Scott Masten  |  25 September 2010 at 3:50 pm

    It’s a big issue so we won’t resolve it all here, obviously. I realize that Michigan and similarly situated schools differ from many other schools, but the criticisms of tenure are leveled broadly. I have yet to hear anyone say, let’s do away with tenure for everyone except faculty at top schools. Perhaps that argument could be made, but to do so requires first an acceptance that tenure serves a useful purpose at top schools. Then the question becomes at what point do the characteristics that justify tenure at elite institutions become insufficiently important to no longer support tenure as you move away from those top schools. That’s ultimately an empirical question, but to get to that point you do have to accept first that tenure is justified at *some* institutions. In that regard, it’s a useful thought exercise to consider what kind and amount of education and research you can expect at an institution that exclusively employs adjuncts, which is essentially what people who argue against tenure are arguing for.

    Academic tenure isn’t unique (the existence of non-equity partners notwithstanding) and it’s not absolute. I’ve seen arguments that universities rarely use available means for removing professors, but that is at least sometimes the result of professors resigning under threat of removal for cause (which would pretty much preclude any hope of future academic employment).

    The governance of higher education (including tenure) is, as Churchill said of democ­racy, “the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Someone comes up with a better, feasible alternative for higher education, great. And we may already be on that path with the growth of for-profit universities. But it is not evident to me that that model will lead to better outcomes across the board in higher education.

  • 5. FC  |  26 September 2010 at 1:36 am

    1. Even the most disgraced example from my field of history, Michael Bellesiles, can be let back in the club. After resigning from Emory he reemerged as an adjunct at a Connecticutt state college, complete with a book contract and sympathetic articles in the CHE.

    2. If we assume that tenure is a mutual-aid system for the socially dysfunctional then it all makes sense. Academia includes all too many who lie (e.g. Bellesiles), cheat (e.g. Ogletree and Tribe at Harvard Law), or are incapable of accepting criticism or dissent (e.g. Brian Leiter and Brad DeLong.)

    All these misfits would remain in the bottom tier of business or civil service but have found a few other PhD holders willing to give them lifetime security and approbation.

  • 6. Scott Masten  |  26 September 2010 at 8:15 am

    I’ll repeat. “Anyone who wants to run down a list of problems with higher education is not going to get an argument from me. However long the list is, I bet I could add to it.” These sorts of problems are not unique to higher education, however. The Bellesiles example is a case in point. First, it’s a long drop from tenured professor at Emory (cf. above “tenure is not absolute”) to adjunct lecturer at Central Connecticut State University. Second, and more to the point, the book contract and CHE article just show that lack of accountability is not a problem unique to academic institutions; neither the New Press nor the Chronicle is or is owned by a university. Abuses exist in every system, political, commercial, academic. The problem is always one identifying a better, feasible alternative. (Search this site for “Nirvana Fallacy.”)

  • 7. Keith  |  26 September 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I must say I am surprised that I am the first to type this given the eminence and intelligence of the previous posters. Let me pose a hypothetical.

    Could it not be the case that the current obvious deficiencies of the higher education organs are simply a by-product of the primary and secondary institutions? I mean really, how does one attend university? It is largely after being processed through the entirely socialized primary and secondary schools. I would argue that this is the fundamental reason that universities have degraded in quality and (due to certain other interventions) increased in price as time has passed.

    Quality has degraded for the simple reason that by-in-large all the primary/secondary schools are run on socialistic principles and are therefore bound to be run inefficiently compared to what consumers truly desire. Coupled with the fact of coerced mandatory attendance (regardless of whether the student wants to/can learn) and we can see that this is a recipe for disaster. The poor quality product is naturally compounded as time passes; one poorly instructed generation begets another, etc.

    As for the price skyrocketing, most of the empirical literature seems to show that this has occurred almost entirely along the timeline that federal student aid has been granted (and increased) over time. This artificially source of funding has served to overstimulate demand for the service while the actual production of the service has not kept in sync, thus driving up the price.

    It seems to me that the entire debate around tenure is part of a larger debate about OVERALL outcomes of educational institutions.

    I can see the use in debating whether the institution itself is useful or not; but in the overall machinations of things it seems to be only a small part of the problem. IMO, if we had functioning lower educational institutions (and laws which governed them) the problems we are seeing in higher education would be significantly muted compared to they are. Possibly so much so that we would not even be having this debate, because the system would be producing such better outcomes that no one would even bother to examine it critically (as is happening now).

    Comments?

  • 8. Keith  |  26 September 2010 at 8:37 pm

    I realize this is off topic insofar as it is not related SOLELY to tenure/no tenure. But I seriously do not believe any sort of fruitful discussion about higher education can occur without mentioning the foundation underlying the whole structure of the system.

  • 9. FC  |  27 September 2010 at 1:09 am

    Prof. Masten, you bring up another interesting question: Why are the owners of the New Press allowing their employees to produce a book that is unlikely to bring either esteem or profit? Via Google, I see that it has a leftist catalogue and is a 501(c)3 supported by charity and affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

  • 10. FC  |  27 September 2010 at 1:21 am

    Now back to the question before the blog. Perhaps the primacy of research made tenure necessary. True research is by definition uncertain in the Knightian sense, especially in the humanities. Fleming didn’t know what would come of his work with penicillin. Neither does an historian delving into a new archive know what it contains. If employment is based primarily on the results of research, tenure is a license to be uncertain.

    But might this then remove the work done in hope of a doctorate and tenure from the true frontiers of knowledge? A prudent academic might confine his efforts to the main stream of his discipline, making his early career a performance simliar to, but different from, real scholarship.

  • 11. Scott Masten  |  27 September 2010 at 10:03 am

    Keith, Clearly, there are lots of problems with primary and secondary education. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that there is little interaction between those problems and tenure (as you kind of suggest), however. For example, if the U.S. public school system is producing an inadequate supply of quality academics, that can be dealt with by hiring from abroad. And I’m not sure how lower-quality college students makes problems associated with tenure any worse. None of this is to say that problems with the public school system aren’t important; its just to me how those problems affect higher ed governance.

    FC, 1. I saw that New Press was nonprofit but didn’t realize the AFL-CIO connection.

    2. I think your observation is correct. Incentives to take big risks and/or swim against the tide before tenure are pretty weak. Longer tenure clocks might help alleviate this (more time to show results from risky projects) but might also postpone the time when scholars can begin to take on riskier projects (after tenure). This relates to one of Peter’s earlier posts on “Too Much Research” (sorry; I haven’t figured out how to put links in comments yet) in that it seems to me a bigger problem than faculty not producing enough is getting faculty to produce better research. Of course, in any such solution, I insist on determining what “better” is!

  • 12. David Hoopes  |  27 September 2010 at 11:31 am

    I don’t know that I’m a big fan of tenure. However, I think that schools will have trouble attracting faculty without it. It’s easier to grant tenure than to give some increase in pay that would make up for not getting tenure.

  • 13. Scott Masten  |  27 September 2010 at 12:19 pm

    David, And that, I guess, is the definition of efficiency.

  • 14. Keith  |  27 September 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Again I suppose my point was fairly off topic.

    I was saying that (from the point of view of WHY tenure is being so heavily questioned) the creeping inefficiencies of the entire educational apparatus are more heavily penetrating higher education. I mean if the universities were turning out competent people for a relatively low price would we even be having this discussion? It seems to be gaining traction because of inherent problems in the whole system; problems which I think are located in other areas.

    Again, my point was simply to bring up that the primary reason that many people across different backgrounds are now questioning tenure is that the whole system itself is not very good, so all the components of it that do not seem efficient are being questioned. It is not that poorly trained students make the actual governance worse; but that since it is an integral part of Higher Ed. and people are not necessarily pleased with what Higher Ed. is providing they are being much critical of tenure because of its association.

  • 15. Scott Masten  |  27 September 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Keith, That could very well be the case. Like health care, higher education keeps getting more expensive with comparable improvements in quality, and so while we in the process of criticizing higher education as a whole, how about let’s do something about all those lazy professors with tenure? The fact that tenured professors are largely immune to the job losses afflicting so many private sectors workers right now is probably also a contributing factor. But if those sorts of things motivating the current attention to tenure, redirecting attention to other things is likely to be more productive.

  • 16. David Hoopes  |  27 September 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Well I don’t think universities are so awful at what they do. On the other hand, I have few qualms with the problems noted above. I would point out that journalists grossly exaggerate some problems. And I think much of what is said or written in places like NYT and “The Economist” is careless and glib.

    Did I say universities were efficient? o.O
    Well, we management people don’t understand efficiency anyways. Whatever Scott says is fine.

  • 17. Warren Miller  |  27 September 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Scott, I think that once again your assertion does not comport with anecdotal evidence. Higher education keeps getting more expensive because the federal government keeps jacking up demand and providing subsidies. Why would any sane check-writer pony up $150-200K so their kid could graduate summa cum lousy so they could land a job @ Starbucks? I hasten to add that, while education is not vo-tech, the multiversity (as FSM founder Mario Savio termed it in 1964) remains subject to the same economic analysis as every other large capital outlay, despite what elitists and MSM types would have us believe. Your Emperor looks buck-naked from here, man.

    David, it’s not that universities are “so awful at what they do.” It’s that the economics are far out of kilter. It is long past time for prices to sink like a stone in education the way they have in tons of other sectors of the U.S. economy. But it’s always the elitists in government, media, and education who think that they’re special and that their business is different. They’re not, and they’re businesses aren’t, as anyone watching will see come Nov. 2nd. At the end of the day, it’s about value. Higher education today is ridiculously and insanely overpriced, as any number of knowledgeable commentators and publications across the political spectrum have observed in the last couple of years.

  • 18. Rafe  |  27 September 2010 at 5:44 pm

    It seems that some places have tenure and some do not, if this applies all the way up and down the scale of univerities it is a great situation to permit some comparisons (matching for a range of variables of course). Part of the probem of getting a handle on the pros and cons of tenure is surely the diversity of universities, on quality (however you measure it), size, function and other less tangible things like the tradition or ethos of the establishment and the management style of individual schools, even the character of Deans etc.

  • 19. Scott Masten  |  27 September 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Warren, Couldn’t figure out at first why you were chastising me again (kidding) for being out of touch. Then I realized that I had mistyped what I intended to say. It should have read “education keeps getting more expensive withOUT comparable improvements in quality.” That does change the meaning a little, doesn’t it?

    I know there is talk that we are in an “education bubble.” And that may very well be. I really don’t know. My only point really is that the tenure issue is, as far as I can tell, substantively unrelated, even if it is broader complaints about higher ed that explains why it has come up again.

  • 20. Warren Miller  |  27 September 2010 at 6:18 pm

    No sweat, Scott. Thanks for the correction on the error. We do “Ready, Fire, Aim!” around here, too.

    Let me offer one last thought on this issue of tenure. It seems to me that if “the deal” between the professor and the university is clear on both sides, no tenure is necessary to protect anyone. The problem I have with it is that I believe it’s outdated, unnecessary, and expensive, at least in the way that it coddles underperforming professors who can’t be terminated, except at great time, trouble, and expense, not to mention the publicity that a sympathetic press is likely to provide.

    I’ve seen more than a few such professors here in Virginia. Not at UVA, Va. Tech, or William & Mary, mind you, but at lesser schools. The stuff they’re teaching is outdated, they don’t do research, and the students have no idea that they’re being led down the primrose path. (I’m speaking only of strategy, entrepreneurship, and management syllabi that I’ve read hereabouts.) But these profs are bullet-proof job-wise, and I think it’s just shameful, absolutely shameful. And I put the blame squarely on the tenure system.

    FWIW, we see the same thing in the government school system. Joel Klein, who runs the NYC schools, commissioned a study of tenured instructors there. Tenure is granted after Year 2. The percentage of teachers who fail to persevere to retirement after being on the payroll for ten years was, as I recall, about 0.2%. On its face, there is something dreadfully, dreadfully wrong with such a system. To be sure, culpability is unlikely to be 100% tenure-related. Automatic funding from being an oppressive and underperforming monopoly that consigns millions of poor children to god-awful schools is doubtless a culprit, too. And I’m sure there are other causes, including the unholy (and hypocritical) alliance between teachers’ unions and left-leaning politicians. But before you rise to defend the tenure system in the 21st century, I hope that 0.2% figure will come to mind. If I can find the study, I’ll send it along to you.

    Anyway, thanks for your initial post @ O&M. As I think you’ve noticed, the O&M crowd is a lively one. No shrinking violets here. I look forward to reading more from you. All the best.

  • 21. Henri  |  29 September 2010 at 2:10 am

    As I understand it, UK has no tenure. Things are not that different though – laying off people would probably give institutions a bad reputation so they try avoid that. Lack of tenure doesn’t mean that vocal academics are fired for political reasons.
    I’d bet that if US universities abolisheed tenure, there would be very little change in practice for the top 20 universities. They would be extremely reluctant to let anyone go. Even without tenure, universities would “incentivize” people to voluntarily seek other jobs, which I assume is happening all the time..

  • 22. A Plug and Some Links « Truth on the Market  |  29 September 2010 at 9:13 am

    [...] Scott Masten on tenure (Organizations and Markets) [...]

  • 23. Scott Masten  |  29 September 2010 at 10:15 am

    Henri, I’m not 100% sure about how the British system works — and someone please correct me on this if I am wrong — but my understanding is that “elimination” of tenure in the UK essentially meant that universities could lay off faculty if they were eliminating a program or decreasing department size because of lack of demand. From what I can tell, however, faculty are now treated like civil servants and can only be fired for cause. But this is also true of tenured faculty in the U.S. (See the AAUP guidelines, for example.) So the main difference in the UK seems to be that professors no longer go through the tenure *process.* If this is correct (and I may have some elements of this wrong), the UK kept the worst aspects of tenure and got rid of one of its supposed benefits: the up-or-out selection process. (I think they also have the rough equivalent of adjuncts who have explicitly temporary contracts and therefore do not acquire civil service protection.)

  • 24. Henri  |  29 September 2010 at 4:24 pm

    You are pretty much correct. It is quite difficult to fire workers in the UK anyhow, so being a ‘regular’ worker basically provides a solid protection for workers. The civil servant attitude depends greatly on the institution.
    None of the UK universities have up-or-out system (LBS is not really a UK university). However, it is not unheard of to fire people after ‘probation’ (the kind of “tenure clock”) though.
    From my European perspective, I’ve never really understood the whole point of ‘making it tenure’ in the place you’ve been accepted as an assistant professor. In Europe it seems there is a market mechanism at place where people often solicit offers from a number of places as their academic seniority (=pubs) increases. At least in my context, people do not strive to remain at the place they are, but to do so well that they are in demand elsewhere as well.
    Getting a bit far from the initial discussion, but given that tenures would be abolished, I think there would be a more fierce market for talent and possibly increasing disparity in salaries between stars and good profs.

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