Tenure, the permanency of employment offered to university professors, is discussed in the context of an institutionalized practice. This article examines the bases of legitimacy of this institution, specifically as a mechanism to protect academic freedom and trade‐off for higher pay. An analysis of the cases of two Canadian academics suggests that both of these bases of legitimacy are an institutional myth. By rendering the untenured faculty member highly visible and subject to measurement and classification, they are susceptible to intervention and management. As such, the preservation of tenure is rationalized in a rule‐like way that espouses its benefits and obfuscates its dark side. The resulting experiences indicate some negative consequences of tenure that do not receive widespread attention.
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