What does it really mean when you are nominated a “tenured” professor? Former professor Lynn Branham discovered the answer on Monday, as reported by the National Law Journal, when Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals informed her that her tenure amounted to no more than the one-year contract she had been signed into. It also explained that “tenure” meant she had academic freedom, not job security, but what “academic freedom” means is unclear, since she was fired, or at least not renewed in contract, because she refused to teach a class she was less competent in, insisting on teaching in her specialty.
James Robb, who is the senior counsel and associate dean for Thomas Cooley Law School, regards the ruling as an affirmation of the rights of college to handle their faculty. “The Sixth Circuit’s decision is a total vindication for Cooley’s removal of Branham for refusing to do her job,” he said.
So how does the court regard tenure? “While Branham may have had ‘tenure’ in the sense that she had academic freedom, and that she and Cooley generally expected that they would enter into a new employment contract in subsequent years, nothing in her employment contract, or the documents incorporated by reference therein, provides for a term of employment greater than one year,” said the court.
Robb agreed with this sentiment completely, saying that “The Sixth Circuit’s decision is very important to institutions of higher learning because it confirms that ‘tenure’ is a contractual concept which takes its meaning only from the language of the particular employment contract and from nothing else,” said Robb.
What tenure amounts to, legally, appears to be not much at all — just a pretty name over what really matters, the contract itself, just like any other job. That seems to be Branham’s sentiment when she said that “this has been along, hard, tortuous journey. I do believe the decision is legally erroneous.”
“Tenure is not a one-year contract,” she said. “Tenure means you have a job unless there is a finding of just cause according to a set of procedures.”