Tenure is as valued at historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs) as it is at traditionally White institutions (TWIs). Given the
current political and economic climate, however, faculty at HBCUs may
ultimately be in greater danger of losing their tenure privileges than
scholars at other institutions.
The main factor threatening tenure at HBCUs is money. Tenured
faculty is a big ticket item on any institutional budget. For HBCUs
that are financially strapped, the number of tenure appointments that
can be granted is sometimes limited by cost. This explains, in part,
why HBCUs have a higher proportion of part-time and non-tenured faculty
than do other institutions.
“With the economic constraints, one of the primary targets is
tenured faculty and tenured faculty positions,” says Jonathan Alger,
spokesperson for the American Association of University Professors.
“People say how do we cut costs? Non-tenure track positions are often
Alger views the increasing financial pressure on HBCUs as a direct
threat to tenure at these institutions, particularly at the public
“In many states, HBCUs have always been tinder funded, relative to
other institutions,” he says. “So when budget cuts are necessary, the
state legislators look at [which] institutions are not performing up to
national standards and the temptation is to go after HBCUs because
their programs may not be [perceived] as prestigious or [as]
competitive as other institutions. UDC [University of the District of
Columbia] is a prime example of that.”
According to Sam Carcione, president of the UDC Faculty Association,
the university’s tenure policy is nominal. Instead, UDC faculty are
protected by a “just cause” clause in their employment contracts.
Unfortunately, that clause had little affect on sparing jobs in the
current fiscal crisis at UDC.
“People have a misconception of what tenure gives you,” Carcione
says. “It gives you the right to job security except if they can show
just cause for removing you. But all that goes out the window in a
financial exigency situation….
“I think, frankly, the idea [behind tenure] is to protect people
from arbitrary dismissal,” he adds. “Otherwise you do not have academic
freedom, and if the academy gives up academic freedom, it ceases to be
Since HBCUs are subject to greater public scrutiny, Carcione feels there is even more reason for them to retain tenure.
Generally, HBCUs have a higher percentage of Black faculty – tenured
and non-tenured than do other institutions. According to the most
recently published National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
data, HBCUs employ roughly 13,406 full time faculty members, 7,777 of
whom are African American; 3,520 of these are Black women. Among the
Black scholars working full-time at HBCUs, nearly one in five (1,612),
has the rank of professor.
There is a perception among some Black scholars that achieving
tenure at an HBCU is actually more difficult than getting it at a TWI.
“It has been my experience, from talking to people who’ve worked at
other HBCUs, that they feel [HBCUs] are pretty heavy handed, and that
getting tenure is far more difficult than it should be, with far more
people being denied than should be,” Carcione says.
One reason this perception of the HBCU tenure process exists is that
even though these institutions grant tenure to a higher percentage of
African American scholars, they also deny tenure to a greater number of
Black scholars than do most other institutions.
“It is difficult now to determine if there is a [national] trend
toward the abolition of tenure,” says Dr. Wendel Rayburn, president of
the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the
former president of Lincoln University. “I don’t know of any HBCUs that
are grappling with this issue. From my experience HBCUs hold tenure
very dearly, because it is added security.”
However, Ansley Abraham of the Southern Regional Education Board
believes it is only a matter of time before most public, and many
private, HBCUs will be forced to re-examine their tenure policies.
“The question is whether anyone should be given lifetime guaranteed
jobs,” Abraham says, “especially at a time when legislators are asking
for more accountability out of higher education. We do [after all] have
just plain old employment laws that protect people. The academic
freedom question, however, is a very real dilemma.”
Dr. Claudie Mackey, faculty senate chair at Elizabeth City State
University in North Carolina, is not as concerned about whether tenure
will endure at HBCUs as he is about clarifying the process of achieving
tenure at schools like his. Too often the perception is that because
some HBCUs assume less of a publish-or-perish attitude, their tenure
process is somehow less rigorous.
“What does it take to get tenure at Harvard, Berkeley or Elizabeth
City?” Mackey says. “Trying to compare Elizabeth City with a major
school is okay conceptually, but there are a lot of other variables
that come into play. We are not a research institution, so the
expectations we have of a professor are somewhat different that those
placed on a professor who is dealing with a multi-million dollar
Although a greater emphasis may be placed on teaching at
institutions like his, Mackey says candidates shouldn’t think they will
t)e granted tenure just because they come to class and teach. Other
activities such as committee work, student outreach, and publishing may
still be expected.
Many non-tenured scholars, regardless of whether they work at an
HBCU or a TWI, feel that they are subject to the whims of the
institution. This breeds uncertainty among faculty and can negatively
But it may be even more important for HBCUs to be able to offer
tenure to scholars because salaries at these institutions are often
lower and campus facilities are sometimes less desirable than those
available at TWIs. According to NCES, in 1994, the average salary for a
male instructor at an HBCU was $40,217 compared with $51,228 for male
instructors at TWIs. Female instructors received an average of $35,772
at HBCUs and $41,369 at TWIs.
“Academic freedom is important because it is the freedom to
challenge the status quo, the existing power structure in society and
in traditional fields of study,” Alger says. “The scholars who bring up
these types of arguments and publish these articles, they are the ones
who suffer when it comes to getting tenure. If you don’t have the
possibility of getting tenure, then there is a lack of willingness of
folks to take risks and that discourages a lot of the creativity that
has been the lifeblood of the academy for generations.”
COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com