Law Students Debate on Tenure

After arguing the reasons for and against maintaining the current university tenure system, participants in the “Resolved: Abolish Tenure” debate hosted by the Harvard Law School Federalist Society last night voted six to five in favor of keeping tenure in place.

The Federalist Society, a group of conservative, moderate, and libertarian law students, moderated a discussion on university tenure, in which professors are guaranteed lifetime positions and cannot lose their jobs without just cause. During the debate, which was held in Pound Hall, participants alternated between affirmative and negative speeches on the issue, allowing for questions in between.

First year Law School student J. Joel Alicea, who spoke against abolishing tenure, said that the debate boils down to a disagreement over the purpose of a university.

“If you view [a university] as consequentialist...or, like I do, as knowledge for its own sake, then that would affect your view of tenure,” Alicea said.

Although proponents of tenure often argue that the system protects academic freedom, third year Law School student Jay R. Schweikert, the moderator of the debate and the chair of the Federalist Society’s colloquial committee, said that tenure actually inhibits intellectual creativity.

“It puts so much pressure on that initial hiring position that it basically screens out people with unfavorable viewpoints and sort of forces them into hiding,” said Schweikert, who instead proposed a contractual system of offering professors 10-year contracts with guarantees of job preservation without just causes of termination.

Third year Law School student William O. Scharf, the president of the Federalist Society, said that the issue is relevant to the experience of Harvard students, who attend an academic institution with a comprehensive tenure system.

“For the most part, tenure affects the way [universities] go about their business,” Scharf said. “As members of this academic and intellectual community, I think the principal fact that the hierarchy is one of a tenure system is significant to us.”