For Tenure

But why tenure at all? Because innovative research requires risk. While on the tenure track, insufficient research productivity results in the loss of one’s job. Therefore, research on the tenure track is often “safe”: research that is incremental and likely to gain publication.

Once the threat of losing one’s job is reduced — after tenure is earned — researchers can take on riskier projects. A researcher may pursue a novel physics experiment in the hopes of the next breakthrough. Riskier research may fail or benefit society in a big way. Tenure allows the researcher to take the risk of failure while worrying less about job loss.

Tenure also allows for longer-term projects that may not produce publications in the short run but promise to have a transformational impact. In writing “Principia Mathematica” — the book that laid the mathematical foundation for the digital computer — Bertrand Russell experienced a two-year hiatus of publications as he struggled to break conceptual barriers.

Tenure also allows for risky, politically controversial research — isolating that research from the partisan political winds that might otherwise make it impossible to explore topics such as public health, weather patterns, history, psychology, diplomacy and so much more. Tenure allows for the “continual and fearless sifting and winnowing” that is central to the University of Wisconsin System mission.

Via This is why tenure matters @ Opinion.