Does tenure encourage risk-taking?

It seems not, here is the new paper from Brogaard, Engelberg and van Wesep:

Using a sample of all academics that pass through top 50 economics and finance departments between 1996 and 2014, we study whether the granting of tenure leads faculty to pursue riskier ideas. We use the extreme tails of ex-post citations as our measure of risk and find that both the number of publications and the portion that are “home runs” peak at tenure and fall steadily for a decade thereafter. Similar patterns holds for elite (top 10) institutions, for faculty with longer tenure cycles, and for promotion to Full Professorship. We find the opposite pattern among poorly-cited publications: their numbers steadily rise after tenure. The decline in both the quantity and quality of publications points to tenure incentivizing less effort in publishing rather than more risk-taking.

I am not surprised to read this result.  I consider the “wasting of tenure” to be one of the aesthetic crimes one can commit with a wealthy life, and yet I see it all the time.

For the pointer I thank the excellent — and untenured — Kevin Lewis.

Addendum: Kevin comments.


I wonder if this has implications for UBI? On the one hand people in academia are, one would have thought, more curious and driven than the average person, so if there is this effect in that high achieving population then what does it say for the bulk of people. On the other hand the average academic is probably not going to become an Uber driver on the side , whereas the average person surviving on UBI is probably going to want to get more income and would then engage in useful economic activity in addition to banking their guaranteed check from the government.

It's still possible that the tenure system encourages risk-taking. I.e. to get tenure in the first place, assistant professors may aim to do something spectacular but risky, knowing that that's what it takes to get tenure at a Top 50 institution. If they fail, they simply move down to their local state college or some think tank.

I'm not sure if I believe that story, but it's no worse than the justification of high CEO salaries on the basis of tournament theory.

Couldn’t their results just as easily be interpreted as: once you have tenure you have freedom to take more risks to *write about topics that aren’t among the mainstream contemporary fads of your discipline*? That would similarly produce lower citation rates after tenure, because by definition if you write about less popular topics, you get less popular citations. Academia (I say this as someone in a TT academic job) has serious problems of “group think.” Fads dominate fields, including economics. People who study the faddish things, get more praise and citations. And as an untenured junior faculty member there is ENORMOUS pressure to study the current “hot” topics, rather than the topics you may be most personally interested in. So if junior faculty study the “hot” topics, the successfully tenured ones get lots of citations on those hot topics. Then after tenure, they DO have freedom to take risks, not just be lazy. They start writing on topics that they find personally interesting, but which occupy smaller niches and corners of the field, and they get less citations as a result because they’re no longer publishing in AER, etc, but in smaller sub-field journals about those more interesting niche topics. I think they’re taking the conclusion too far in the paper here. - See more at:

Exactly. Tenure is the...REWARD...for risk-taking pre-tenure.

Yesterday I was at a Progressive Economics Conference (exposing myself to different ideas) and I meet several women and men completing their PhDs in economics. Most of them felt very strongly that the economics academia was going in the wrong direction in terms of what gets published, which ideas are mainstream, and representation. Yet when I asked them what they were personally doing about that most said they would wait until they got tenure and rock the boat from the inside. My intuition yesterday was exactly what this paper found: if you are not willing to take risks in your youth, when you stand to lose less, there is no way you will take risk later in life, at which point you have a reputation to protect and family responsibilities. I guess the revolution will continue to be at the margin and only in this blog...

A daring web site, to be sure - but which boat is it rocking? Because the tenured factulty members that are this web site's public owners are distinctly on the less daring side of the GMU econ dept.

Until you have your own web page on this website, you aren't pushing the GMU envelope.

I disagree with you assertion that an academic has less to lose in their youth. During the stage between PhD and tenure, academics are likely to have young children, a house payment, relatively low income, and great job insecurity.

One of the underappreciated effects of tenure is that its negative effect on job security for the untenured - a trickle down effect, if you will.

If you lose the untenured job, you lose a low-pay, high-insecurity job. That is not nearly so great a loss.

Compared to losing the tenured job? What do you mean?

Your loss is the expected utility from the tenured position. Depending on your outside options that could be quite a great loss.

Untenured professors are basically middle class professionals and not getting tenure -- otherwise known as being laid off -- is just as disruptive as it is for their private-sector counterparts in at-will employment arrangements. It might even be more disruptive since academic jobs are spread thinly throughout the country so losing one job usually means relocating as well.

Also, in some fields being denied tenure can be an academic career death sentence. This is one of the reasons so many people change universities at year four or five -- if you don't think you're going to get tenure at your current institution, you can buy yourself another couple/few years of grants and publications by changing institutions.

Most people don't go into academia to maximize pay, they go into academia because they want to be academics. Losing the opportunity to continue to be an academic is a pretty big downside risk.

Aren't they doing the "risky" thing after getting tenure by teaching Marxism and labor economics to the easily indoctrinated children creating a wave of radical leftists who enter society to support socialism and Bernie Sanders?

Isn't that changing things from within the system?

Conservatives are constantly bitching about the left-wing bias of tenured instructors and their curriculum. And that is in a climate where conservatives control the funding of education by about two to one over liberals. Conservatives have slashed funding for education from 60% to 95% of the cost to 10% to 25% forcing a shift to corporate control and debt to fund education.

Thus the lone defense is tenure, and that has been rapidly eroded - the share of tenured instructors to instructors has fallen with the majority of instructors being tenure rejects scrappling for dregs of income in the profession they dreamed of, and went in debt to become.

Couldn't you also say that "liberals" have increased the cost of education. Lot's of highly paid administators to navigate increasingly onerous regulatory schemes.

"if you are not willing to take risks in your youth, when you stand to lose less, there is no way you will take risk later in life, at which point you have a reputation to protect and family responsibilities."
You stand to lose (or not win) a big share of your possible future earnings and reputation. It is so silly as saying children don't need to study because they (mostly) don't have jobs, don't vote, etc., so they and the society at large have little to lose if they don't earn. Younger people have better changes or repositioning themselves, but if a guy studies economy because he wants, say, to be an academic economist and hoping to advance, saying he has little (or less than his possible future big shot economist persona) to lose is simply stupid.

So I 25 year old recently graduated econ PhD with 40 years of work ahead, 40 years that s/he can position towards academic tenure, or think tank research or working as a google economist has the same to lose as a 45 year old established economist with a much more specialized field of study (20 years writing on the same topics), and therefore reduced career opportunities? I guess time does not exist in your planet...

Good observation. We _are_ that person who made certain decisions when we were younger.

I'm not sure if the proper verb is "are", but I think so. It could be "We become..." instead.

Its exactly the opposite, of course.

You have nothing to lose post-tenure. Which is why you don't take as many risks post tenure.

You have a lot to GAIN pre-tenure. Which is why you take lots of risk pre-tenure.

HELLO...prospect theory :)

'I consider the “wasting of tenure” to be one of the aesthetic crimes one can commit with a wealthy life, and yet I see it all the time.'

Luckily, it is daring for a tenured faculty member to be so enamored of providing a dining guide to the finest strip mall and gas station restaurants in the region in which he lives. Much the same way it is daring to publish books essentially for the mass market, and not research.

Or start a free university? Nothing but upside right?

Hihihi. Ok, I laughed. I made the same point below. This coming from Tyler, is very funny.

Do you consider yourself to be an academic risk taker?

I bet a non-zero portion of this risk-aversion post-tenure comes from not wanting to rock the boat with faculty peers. Risky topics are controversial (usually). If I get tenure and immediately begin to publish only on controversial topics I may alienate my colleagues and make my day-to-day life worse.

I'd imagine this is especially true in the social sciences given the particular relevance of the topics to daily life.

It's highly unlikely that the faculty peers who can affect your quality of life are close enough to your field and/or active enough in scholarship to be aware of the work you publish, let alone reading it and not being happy.

Not really. It's not risk-aversion. It's simply returning to the baseline, compared to the high-risk taking portion pre-tenure.

My sense is that in the 1970s, it was not uncommon for people who had been trained in the positivist social science of the 1960s to have a radical epiphany post-tenure. In many of those fields, there are so few ideas left that are entirely outside the mainstream that I'm not sure what a radical epiphany would even be today.

Could this be just reversion to the mean after a better than average paper that was rewarded by tenure.

The main purpose of tenure appears to be to pull up the ladder behind you.

It seems to me it's hunkering down to withstand the attacks of conservatives on leftist tenured faculty using funding cuts as their primary weapon.

The number of tenured positions has declined since the right has "fixed" education since 1975.

Post by mulp with a link to The Atlantic.

Did not read.

It's individually rational, unless you have interestingly shaped preferences. But it's socially disappointing, because we are all contributing to and supporting a system and holding up a big safety net and you're not even swinging hard at all! You're I not bouncing crazy high, now that we've made it safe for you with your fancy tenure pants.
Two solutions. First solution - Shame. We start hooting and holleren on you -callin you names. Don't stop til you start makin crazy big ideas again.
Second solution. - you get given controversial topics, from the box of 'if you want tenure, don't go near this box' - from that box. And you gotta take two handfuls of ideas from that crazy box and you gotta own them. That's how we solve this crisis of unnecessary mediocrity and middle-aged timidity.

No no. Without tenure, you don't get the risk-taking pre-tenure. Removing tenure only will lead to the reduction of risk-taking pre-tenure, and hence overall far less research and far less interesting or beneficial research.

Why do we do research?

To get tenure.

Or the pay of professors could simply be a function of the number (and quality, judged via a page rank like system) of citations a professor gets in a year. Normalize this by the avg number of citations across the field, and multiply by some constant to convert into dollars and voila, a system that rewards great papers and incentivizes continued publishing.

You could also add some amount for teaching classes.

No one can continue to publish, constantly, for decades.

After 10 years, you either burn out, or you're of the few exceptional cases which can continue it.

The point of tenure is to get you to be the most productive at the time of your life when you CAN be productive, and rewards you with protection at the time when you no longer CAN be.

You would have to pay people IMMENSELY more under your system, because few would want to be subject to that sort of pressure.

Old papers still get citations, even in those years when a professor did not publish he would accrue income from citations from his previous papers. To reduce the incentive to coast, citations from previous years could be discounted by a small exponential function.

IDK if the schools would have to pay IMMENSELY more. People may be incentivized more by one time outsized prizes (like tenure, or stock options), so pay be required to be somewhat more, but it isn't that clear.

1) Professor pay isn't fixed. I.e., people do get paid more if they continue to publish. They can get raises. So your system is already in existence. It's simply that it is rare for people to continue to publish as the same rate or quality as they did pre-tenure.

2) Schools don't have stock options to give :) Companies pay through stock options precisely for the reasons you say...and as a means to not have to pay through fixed wages. And yes as you say people are motivated more by that big one-time price of tenure. After that, they already have a pretty high wage.

Would they have to pay them more in the absence of tenure? Yes. The supply would certainly be a lot smaller, so simply supply effects would imply much higher wages. And you'd have to pay them a lot more in the early years to make up for the fact that, when they do burn out, they'll be out of a job rather than have tenure to fall back on.

Why does Harvard have to pay people a LOT more than other schools? First off, yes because they are attracting the best people, so the supply of candidates is much smaller. But also because the chances of making tenure at Harvard are extremely small, hence, people go there knowing full well that they have a big chance of having to look for another job in 5 years. So Harvard better make it worth it for those 5 years.

I'm not wed to this system, I'm just proposing it as a system which doesn't have the cliff of tenure and one which continues to incentivize publishing. Further, I'm a fan of removing discretion, and a formula helps achieve that goal.

As for the system reducing supply, I guess it depends upon the constants.

There's a lot less discretion on the pay or raises for academia than there is in almost all, if not all, companies. In academia, individual contributions are easy to distinguish, and there are rather clear guidelines on how to get raises, and what process one needs to go through. And the process involves your peers, which makes it rather unsubjective.

In companies, shirking is a real problem, and individual contribution is very hard to measure, and hence compensation is not tied to productivity anywhere nearly as well as it is in academia.

Of course this problem exists everywhere, but in academia it is least evident, since most work is solo work.

Once you have tenure, you have the opportunity to sit on more committees, or assume administrative duties, further diminishing your written output, regardless of incentives.

And, maybe you don't have to go in on Fridays, either.

The only risky or controversial thing an non-tenured academic could write ---and not one you would circulate to the tenure committee---is one denouncing tenure.

But, it may get you more hits. Too risky.

Which is the bigger prize, tenure or good reputation among peers and funding committees? Few people want to be a pariah among their peers.

Tenure is the prize. Which is why after you've gotten it, you've got no motivation to take risk.

Has anyone done a study of athletes' performance after they sign their first big juicy contract? Some players continue their excellence, while others exhibit what I'll call Pablo Sandoval syndrome. Sandoval did accomplish something exceptional in the stats department this year -- dollars earned per hit. His early injury put him out for the year. It's exceptional because he is getting paid $19 million a year (for 5 years) and has zero hits. I recall that you can't divide by zero.

Albert Haynesworth is prime example after signing huge $100 million contract with Washington Redskins.

Football contracts are not baseball contracts. Sandoval is going to get his hundred million from his contract. Looks like Haynesworth got $41 million

Forza Italia!!! oh sorry, Make America Great Again!!!

Couldn't their results just as easily be interpreted as: once you have tenure you have freedom to take more risks to *write about topics that aren't among the mainstream contemporary fads of your discipline*? That would similarly produce lower citation rates after tenure, because by definition if you write about less popular topics, you get less popular citations. Academia (I say this as someone in a TT academic job) has serious problems of "group think." Fads dominate fields, including economics. People who study the faddish things, get more praise and citations. And as an untenured junior faculty member there is ENORMOUS pressure to study the current "hot" topics, rather than the topics you may be most personally interested in. So if junior faculty study the "hot" topics, the successfully tenured ones get lots of citations on those hot topics. Then after tenure, they DO have freedom to take risks, not just be lazy. They start writing on topics that they find personally interesting, but which occupy smaller niches and corners of the field, and they get less citations as a result because they're no longer publishing in AER, etc, but in smaller sub-field journals about those more interesting niche topics. I think they're taking the conclusion too far in the paper here.

Agree. Remember that topics and research are chosen with a Ph.D advisor, with eyes towards a tenure committee later. Path dependency starts here. More relevant would be deviations after that point.

However, citation lists after tenure are more, not less, relevant, because to have an impact, you have to be cited.

Now. Ten years from now if you are ahead of your time.

Or, Never, if you are a blogger or commenter.

Yeah, academic culture is risk-averse. It's mostly about creating high-quality clerks. The difference between top-shelf institutions and mediocre ones is mostly the quality of the deadwood on staff.

I note that one thing some academics do is to write books after getting tenure, which often do not get lots of citations, but if study only counts articles it may miss these.

I am an outlier, My most cited work has been done since I got tenure, with my most cited of all a book I wrote after tenure.

Good point. Hopefully, the book is in your field. Not poetry, unless you are an English prof. One book is probably worth 10 articles. Maybe you should weight it by the number of Amazon likes.

No one cares about books. That's just a fact.

Sorry, AIG, you are wrong, even if accrediting agencies and the assistant prof job market does not. Go look at the list of econ Nobel prize winners. The percent who got it for a book is competitive with the number who got it for an article or series of articles. Go check it out.

"I consider the “wasting of tenure” to be one of the aesthetic crimes one can commit with a wealthy life, and yet I see it all the time"

Says...Tyler Cowen...the guy who basically publishes nothing at this point other than in Austrian journals no one reads...and who spends his post-tenure time blogging about Ethiopian food.

Ok Tyler. Thanks for the laugh :)

This paper, and this conversation, misses a basic concept in economics: FRAMING.

Gain frame vs. loss frame. I.e., prospect theory. Hell, the guy won a Nobel prize in economics for this theory. And the tenure system is a good example of how the theory works.

Pre-tenure people are much more risk taking because...tenure...represents the goal they are trying to achieve. Pre-tenure, you take the most risk because you have less to lose (you're already a loser), and have much to gain (tenure!).

Post-tenure, you have nothing to gain. You can get promoted to full professor, that's the only up-side to it, but there's not much benefit to that other than in reputation. Or you may get more reputation and get to become journal editors and heads of organizations. All these are reputation gains but not monetary or career gains. No reason to take risks since you've already achieved your goal of getting tenure.

Hence, this is what prospect theory would predict.

But tenure itself is a reward. It's the goal. It's the reward for taking the risk pre-tenure, to make it to tenure.

PS: This also demonstrates how homo-economics works. We DO in fact take risks for economic rewards. Not so much for intrinsic motivations...which is what psychology would tell us. Intrinsic motivations keep us going to the point of alleviating boredom, not the point of actually taking high-bet risks. Economic rewards, like tenure, do that.

PPS: The results of this study, of course, would not be strange if one also brings in insight from human capital and personnel economics.

Companies operate in this way all the's called UP OR OUT! You work hard and take big risks to move UP...the reward being that once you get there, you don't get kicked OUT, but instead move UP to become a manager or a partner or whatever. It's a reward to keep you working hard and taking risks for the first 5 or so years at a company, at which point you've already reached a high enough point in your learning curve where you are no longer going to be as productive in the company.

I think you have Prospect Theory backwards.

Pre-tenure: your risk aversion is the same. Let's say your utility for a loss is twice that of a other words, it hurts twice as much to lose (not get tenure) as it does for gain. So, your path is to take the least risky path to tenure. Don't rock the boat. Publish a lot. But, don't something the majority disagrees with or makes you a target. You have a lot to lose, and loss looms larger than gain.

Post tenure: You are now endowed, so to speak. You have reputation, but that is something that is based on "others" view of you. You still care about reputation; loss looms larger than gains here as well. Don't rock the boat and threaten your reputation. Become an editor of a compilation of your friends works. Hold some seminars elsewhere. Get their views on your paper....

Besides, now that you have tenure, you want to get along in your department, please the Dean, get those classes after 11 am in the morning so you can be gone at 2pm, and, above all

Get that parking space.

One other point: If you have been sidelined or deferred, you might take more risk to get even if you have suffered a status loss. If you look at some of the work on finance and behavioral econ, you'll find that a stock trader who suffered a loss will take greater risks to get even.

I think you and I have different definition of risk taking, hence the confusion.

I'm not talking about controversial topics or rocking the boat or whatever.

I'm talking "risk-taking" as measured in this paper: i.e. volume of publishing and citations. That's really ALL anyone cares about.

I think people are confused in thinking that in econ or such disciplines people really give a s**t about...controversial topics, or your conclusion. Most don't. They really don't. This isn't sociology where you have to tow the party line. In most disciplines like econ (and business, and most of psych), you can say whatever the hell you want, as long as you can provide empirical evidence for your claims. Nobody is really going to care what your conclusions are, when it comes to tenure or relationship with your coworkers.

So this isn't an issue at all for econ people.

Of course, there's exceptions. If you're a Marxist or some crazy variety of Austrian. But there, you're not going to be able to empirically prove any of your points, so it's all irrelevant, which is why people will discount you from the get go. Similarly in b-schools, if you're some crazy CSR person, you've painted yourself in a corner.

But we're not talking about those outliers.

I.e....risk taking in the way I'm using it (and the way the paper uses it) simply...engaging in research, and engaging in high-impact research.

This conversation, somewhere along the line, went off into "controversial topics". There's no such thing in the setting of this paper.

How is risk taking publishing a lot of papers? What have you got to lose with that? More appropriately it would be signaling...that you write a lot now and will continue to publish more in the future, and maybe get some grants.

You've got to publish papers that are good enough for specific journals.

It's not just random publishing in low-tier journals. These are the top 50 econ departments they are looking at.

So working on an A-journal publication is inherently more risky, in that the paper has to be much better, make a bigger contribution etc. Which is what this measuring. They are measuring number of publications and citation counts.

Put it this way: I can TRY to publish 5 A-journal pubs in the 5 year tenure clock, or I can publish 25 C-journal pubs in the same time. The 5 As are going to be a lot more citations, the 25 Cs are not going to get any citations at all. Which one is more risky, however?

So what everyone here is talking NOT the measure of risk-taking this paper is looking at!

So the people who they are selecting from: top-50 departments (although in econ top 50 is still too broad), are by definition the people who are going to NEED to engage in higher-risk higher-reward A or B+ journal publications.

So there is selection bias.

Those who are not going to engage in risk-taking, can go to lower level schools where publishing in C-level journals is ok, and the risk is very low. Or they can opt out of the tenure track process and simply remain adjuncts or instructors, and not publish at all.

The fact that they are going for TENURE in a top-50 department, by definition, implies they are going to be taking a lot more risk....pre-tenure. With tenure at a top-50 department being the...REWARD itself.

So there's no reason why one would expect them to be trying as hard to get A or B+ level journal pubs (with the corresponding high citations and impact), post tenure. Prospect theory says they wouldn't.

So your "path of least resistance" argument doesn't work here because the path of least resistance is to publish in C-level journals. But that will not get you tenure at a top-50 school. Hence, they need to take bigger and higher-risk bets for A/B+ journals.

But that is the EXPLICIT goal of tenure at such a school. That's why there is a requirement for getting tenure...but there is no requirement for maintaining tenure.

Getting tenure is the goal.

As I said, the same applies at companies with their up or out policies. Companies realize that after a certain point in time, you are NOT going to be moving up the learning curve anymore. The learning curve becomes almost flat. There's nothing else left to "learn". So they want to incentivize you to learn as fast and as much as possible in that limited 5-year period, at which point you get "tenure" in the company and become a higher-level manager or a partner. At that point your responsibilities shift to something else.

Universities do the same thing as what we see in consulting firms or law firms etc.

AIG, How many 50 top institutions out there and how many total institutions which grant tenure. I think there are many more than 50 institutions, so I don't think the argument works.

In fact, you might be proving a different point...that good professors who have been granted tenure at a lower institution, and who want to leave to go to a better one, use the security of the latter to publish more and take a risk so they can move to another institution. Sort of like there is no risk of loss, but there is a benefit of gain.

So, maybe the research should look at job mobility once tenure is granted and how it associates with the frequency of publication and citation before the next move.

Of course, those who are satisfied and do not want to move, or don't have the capacity to signal once more, remain contentedly where they are and publish less or publish but with less effect.

1) There is virtually no upward mobility after tenure. There's lateral mobility, or downward mobility.

2) I don't follow your first sentence. My point is that by focusing on the top-50 institutions, they are explicitly limiting their sample to people who are explicitly going to be taking risks pre-tenure.


1) Re no mobility: Well, if there is no mobility after tenure, then your observation that a person has to get recognition in a certain quality of publications publications--rather than a quantity of publications alone--applies to only the top 50 institutions, and not all institutions. To be honest, I did not get that argument anyway that candidates for tenure take much more risk before they get tenure...I would say they just publish more. Your argument was that they took risks because that was the only way you got it at the Top 50.

2) My response above should explain what my first sentence meant.

"it hurts twice as much to lose (not get tenure) as it does for gain"

That's the type of statement that is valid in standard von Neumann-Morgenstern expected utility model, or something similar. Because it treats the outcome where the person does "not get tenure" as being the same as an outcome where they "lose".

That's fine in standard expected utility theory, and for that matter normative economics with its injunction to ignore sunk costs and focus on marginal costs.

But most behavioral economics is based on the observation that human beings don't behave that way, and do not view not winning something the same as losing something. That's what framing is about; people do not view failure to win something (tenure) the same way that they view losing it.

So, to increase productivity and quality of research we should set up a system where you could lose tenure. The fear of losing (loss) is more than the risk associated with gain.

That's what you're saying.

1) Then it wouldn't be tenure, would it? The point of tenure, as a costly reward, is that it can't be taken away.

2) In your situation you would have to start paying academics a hell of a lot MORE. The benefit of tenure, for schools, is that there is little upward mobility in terms of compensation. In fact, in many (or most) cases, they start getting paid less than even incoming assistant professors.

3) This is, of course, a basic insight from human capital literature. You are rewarded with job security rather than money.

AIG, I'm glad you got the humor of my point: that mkt42 observed that people do not view the risk of loss the same way as the failure to win, which means that the threat of losing tenure should be highly motivating, which means then that you should not be granting tenure but simply having a pay for performance regime.

"mkt42 observed that people do not view the risk of loss the same way as the failure to win, which means that the threat of losing tenure should be highly motivating, which means then that you should not be granting tenure but simply having a pay for performance regime."

Since you cited me I need to correct this; your first two clauses are correct but in that final clause you are drawing the wrong conclusion. Because you're looking only at the short run rather than the long run sequence of decisions and labor compensation.

According to your logic, the way to motivate employees is to threaten them with a major loss. That would work great in the short run; a supervisor could tell all of the employees to work extra hard today or they will lose not just tenure but a kidney or finger. But good luck trying to hire employees with such a compensation scheme.

If tenure is something which can be taken away in the way that you describe, then as AIG says it is no longer tenure and has no value. And thus has no ability to attract professors in the first place.

Getting promoted to Full generally has a big monetary reward as well.

And, after that there is also Department head and Dean, or other administrative position.

And how many people get those positions? That's like saying "there's CEO position" in a firms, but realistically, only 1 person out of 100,000 is going to get that. And unlike CEO, being department head comes with a lot more responsibility for virtually no difference in pay.

There goes the argument that we need to pay corporate execs high salaries to motivate the underlings to go after the brass ring.

Not really.

In most fields, associate and full professors actually get paid LESS than assistant professors. Especially if the assistant professors are more productive in publishing.

yes, that is often true in economics for associates (less so for fulls), especially if they've been associates for a long time. They call it "inversion" and act like it's a bad thing.

An objective way to study this would be too look at obvious high career risk topics like race and IQ and see whether engagement changes after tenure.

You realize that there's a gazillion papers in econ and psychology dealing with race or IQ, right? Most of which show results that you would agree with, right? Simply that focusing exclusively on that stuff is no longer interesting. We know blacks do worst. We've known it for decades (and centuries). The interesting research is about contingencies and boundaries.

These topics are "taboo" only in idiotic fields like sociology. But we're not talking about sociology here.

As I said, an objective way to study this would be too look at obvious high career risk topics like race and IQ and see whether engagement changes after tenure.

These are not high career risk topics in economics, Steve.

Kevin gets it right. If we're talking "controversial topics", or pushing the boundaries towards less accepted areas...which is NOT what this paper is measuring at all...those things will likely end up being published in lower ranked journals, and correspondingly get fewer citations.

Not because there's push-back at the top journals, however. Simply because going so far off the beaten path requires extraordinary evidence and support...which is very unlikely to be provided in such first-attempts, and thus will not get published in A journals.

The implied assumption is exactly that more "risk taking" papers, defined as more controversial or with less accepted conclusions...will inherently be lower-citation papers and lower quality papers.

Exactly my same comment above. Fewer citations does not equal "lower quality" unless we control for variation in topics, or even variation in chosen sub-fields of economics. If tenured professors have more intellectual freedom to pursue topics that they find personally most interesting without risking their tenure prospects (and they absolutely do), they will have fewer citations. That doesn't say anything about whether they're doing "high quality" work by some objective standard of rigor in their research. People who study less commonly studied topics get fewer citations because the topics are less commonly studied. Period.

I work in a related social science discipline and I can think of dozens of examples of professors post tenure writing their 2nd or 3rd book on a much less mainstream topic within the discipline that they didn't feel they had freedom to pursue until after tenure. Lots of group think in academic disciplines about what topics are "hot" right now and junior faculty face a lot of pressure to work in the current "hot" areas to get noticed and make a big name for themselves. Tenured faculty can then branch out. Its not all laziness.

Even more simply, if junior faculty disproportionately cluster around the "hot" topics in their field at the time they are junior faculty and the "hot" topics shift over time - say every decade or so - then you can get the author's results without tenured faculty changing their focus or research quality at all over time. The citations for the Nth paper on topic X will get fewer citations than the N-1st paper if the field's continued interest in that topic is gradually declining from its earlier peak.

Imagine a faculty member who becomes an Assistant Professor when topic X is peaking in interest in the field and is the fad du jour. He writes some great papers on topic X, places them in top journals, gets tons of citations, and gets tenure as a result. After tenure he continues being one of the world's renowned experts in topic X and continues publishing equally rigorous papers on topic X. But the field has now moved on - topic Y is the new hot topic, and topic X is considered boring and old news. The professor keeps churning out high quality research on X, but his citations decline, as the pool of other researchers interested in X gradually shrinks. This alone could produce some of the main results in the paper above.

Someone mentioned framing in the above discussion, which is a good point, as it relates also to how you frame the discussion of tenure.

Words also frame the discussion. Instead of using the word "tenure", let's call it "Job Protection".

Then, let's step back and ask is "Job Protection" the way we get the best out of people.

Evidently, some economists believe it is.

Bernie would be pleased.

I brought framing into the discussion. Yes, tenure is job protection. That's the definition of it.

And're framing it wrong :)

Notice that "job protection", or tenure, doesn't apply the moment you start working at a university. Nor is it simply a function it is for teachers in HS or middle/elementary schools. Tenure, in universities, is the equivalent of an...UP OR OUT...system in a consulting company.

I.e., the reward of tenure, after certain productivity requirements are met within a certain period if a good way of getting "the best out of people" :)

This is fundamentally different from what Bernie and co. are talking about. Tenure, just like an up-or-out policy, is saying "work your butt off for 5 years, try to get to the top of what we require, and then we'll reward you by giving you job protection, because you're burned out anyway".

Introducing job protection at the very beginning, or making it simply a function of time, is a good way of getting the least effort from people. But this is the opposite system of what Bernie and the Teacher's Unions have in mind.

The reward to the University for such a system is that it now has people who are the very top of their learning curve (i.e. they know about as much as can be known on their subject), but because part of their compensation comes from job protection...they can pay them LESS than what they would otherwise pay them in the factor markets :) See, the benefit of tenure for schools is that they cost less, rather than more.

From the academic's POV, tenure has the benefit of protection against the depreciation of knowledge.

See, that academic spend 5-6 years getting a PhD. Then is going to spend another 5-6-7 years through the tenure process. That's potentially 13 years, often more if we count possible post-doc positions in between...from the point when they started acquiring knowledge to the point where they have mastered it and made a dent in their knowledge base.

Knowledge in academia is fleeting. 13 years is a long time. Much of that stuff is going to be old-news or obsolete knowledge or redundant knowledge, very soon (which is the POINT of academia. it becomes obsolete precisely through the process of new knowledge being created). So what is this academic, now 13 years later, going to do? Start a new PhD? That's why they are given tenure, and why tenure is the end goal.

It's often physically impossible to keep going after that. After that, you're just doing it to keep boredom away.

But the same logic applies at companies, or at other jobs. After 5 years working as a consultant, people are done. They are burned out. They can't physically or mentally keep going. So consulting companies will give the best the option to become partners (i.e. job protection). They have no use for them as consultants after that. Software firms are the same. Amazon has no use for you after 5 years. You're burned out, you can't move up on the learning curve anymore, much of what you know will be obsolete soon enough. So they either will promote you to management, or more likely, get rid of you.

This is 180 deg the opposite of Bernie's idea of "job security".

Re: Tenure protecting against depreciation of knowledge.

You're kidding.

Some 70 year old teaching what he learned in graduate school is an advancement of knowledge.

Come to think of it, that may be the only way classical economics is preserved.

AIG, As a lawyer and a person who deals with consultants your belief that either profession has lifetime tenure is totally unrealistic. They don't. You should read the American Lawyer (magazine) for the ways older lawyers are led to pasture or how consultants become independent contractors later in their careers.

Simply on tenure: When I was a kid (let's say 1968) I wanted to watch every scrap of the Three Stooges filmography, later (1978) I couldn't imagine why I would want to do that, even later (1998) I understood that to understand all the Stooges episodes in the way I first wanted to, while remaining intellectually honest, would have been a golden ticket to tenure somewhere! Not that I would have done much with tenure I am no John Stuart Mill. I believe John Stuart Mill was 7 when he decided he wanted to be a tenured economics professor, God Bless Him, what a unique guy! From 1970 to 2005 there were on average 3 widely distributed romantic comedies per month in the movie theaters of America and on average a hundred times as many marriageable Young Men and Women per month taking the first job on their actual road to respectable tenure: lots to think about there, more Austen-worthy stories and beloved "starter homes" and "university town" "ironic starter homes" than one can imagine, well God Bless them All!, particularly the 11 or 12 of them, actual tenure track or not, who lent me money or did me a favor when I needed it!!! I want God to do good things for them. And, beyond the eleven or twelve, for the hundreds of others who would have done the same; and even more, assuming (possibly incorrectly) they might need it more, for those who wouldn't have!

Tenured professors are older

If tenure helps propagate stale thought and stale perspective, isn't the resulting lack of creative engagement compounded each time a lazy journalist consults his rolodex for tenured "experts" in their respective fields for incisive comment and elucidation?
How many functioning experts are not tenured academics, how many functioning experts are not academics at all?
What accounts for lazy journalists' glib reliance on the expertise of tenured faculty?
How overrated has the "culture of expertise" become in our media-saturated days? Would anyone (journalist or citizen reader) regularly consulting tenured experts be in a good position to know how reliable expertise has been permitted to become?

Tenure was once a cornerstone of securing freedom for the better tomorrow. it was no big thing - one of very many checks and balances in what were astonishingly free societies. That...whole picture, that world, is gone now. Just gone.

Heading down the path to get a PhD and possibly tenure seems risky in itself. So it seems that yes, the carrot of tenure encourages risk taking by many people who never get it.

Or tenure really does produce risk-taking, it's just that the "home runs" are still measured with the basic circle-jerk metric of citations.

As usual one of the major virtues of tenure has not been mentioned here, although it was not posed in the study that is the basis of the post, so loudmouths like AIG can be forgiven for just babbling incessantly and increasingly stupidly and ignorantly.

That is the matter of academic freedom, including especially the freedom to criticize both society and the administration of one's institution of higher learning. Several of the most important cases that led to the establishment of tenure involved economists engaging in public advocacy with powerful interests demanding their firing for doing so. Among those was the founder of the American Economic Association, Richard Ely, who advocated workers' compensation, which led to a demand by members of the Wisconsin state legilslature that he be fired from the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, which did not happen in the end after much hullabaloo.

As for criticizing admins, well, those who want to end tenure are advocating all power to the overpaid and mostly incompetent administrators. So, I would have been fired from my job at JMU (which some here think would be a good thing because of my views) given that I signed a letter to the editor of the local paper criticizing a former president, Ronald E. Carrier, an economist actually, for attempting to eliminate the physics department because a tenured full prof in that dept was the Speaker of the Faculty Senate and had the nerve to criticize the hiring of the president's son without a proper search as an assistant provost, the son utterly lacking in credentials (he had an MBA and no admin experience). I still have in a drawer in my desk a letter from a member of the Board of Visitors berating me for this. How dare I question the wisdom and authority of the president?

So, kids, there is more to tenure than measuring citations to published articles before and after tenure, even if that fool AIG thinks articles are all that matter.

Pretty quick on the trigger to call AIG a fool, Tex.

He seems to understand the citation game quite well.

I think it is clear that tenure will be gone in 5 to 7 years. That, of course, means profs stripped of tenure as well.

If Trump is President, then tenure is gone within 90 days.

Well, Todd Kreider, near as I can tell, you have no publication record so are not in any position to say jack about this. Maybe you are as out of it as the caterwauling AIG.

Let me also point out that while it has become too expensive, US higher ed is one the nation's more successful industries internationally. Tenure is part of that. Our former prez at JMU, Carrier, used to whine to the CEOs on the Board of Visitors that JMU could not be run like a business like they did so he could not just fire those uppity faculty when they accurately accused him of nepotism and other corruption. Yeah!

"Well, Todd Kreider, near as I can tell, you have no publication record so are not in any position to say jack about this"

Actually, I have two non peer reviewed publications Then again, everything will eventually be "non peer reviewed". But the above is just a stupid statement, even for you. Why would you need a publication to comment about a process that you have watched for 15 years?

This is really funny, Todd. Talk about stupid statements. You have "watched" this process for 15 years, but you have not participated in it in any way shape or serious form. Wow, what an expert you are.

But consider heterogeneity. Perhaps even if 99% are disincentivized, the 1% who do take more risks more than make up the research output. Id likecto see the results for only "superstar" academics. Maybe the Beckers and Friedmans of academia took more risks afterwards

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