Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Faculty Have Political Freedom Regardless of Tenure

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 30th, 2015

To the Editor:
Rebecca Blank argues that the University of Wisconsin should retain tenure in part to protect professors from being fired for political views (“Why State Lawmakers Must Support Tenure at Public Universities,” The Chronicle, June 24). Tenure is not needed for this purpose at a state university. Supreme Court precedent prevents state universities or state officials from disciplining scholars on the basis of politics. Even in the absence of such case law, any university can contract for political neutrality without granting lifetime employment to its professors. Indeed, the example of Richard Ely that Chancellor Blank cites from 1894 shows the truth of this proposition. There was no tenure at the time, but the Wisconsin Board of Regents declined to fire him because of his views and committed itself to political freedom for the university’s scholars.

John McGinnis
George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law
Northwestern University School of Law

Max Schanzenbach
Professor of Law
Northwestern University School of Law

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