Six Little Letters

tenure (ten’yer) 

1. The status of holding one’s position on a permanent basis without periodic contract renewals; example: a teacher granted tenure on a faculty.

Despite its benign and somewhat boring definition, the word “tenure” has become a flash point of controversy in recent years. To one camp, tenure for teachers gives them academic freedom to pursue research and to teach as they see fit. To another camp, it is an outdated idea that keeps poor teachers in the classroom and negatively impacts education.

These two camps battled when a constitutional challenge was raised to a 2012 state law designed to make it more difficult for public school teachers to earn and retain tenure. The changes to the tenure rules were part the Jindal administration’s education reform package which also included “vouchers,” another small word that generates intrigue.

On March 4th, the trial court ruled that the tenure law was unconstitutional because it included multiple “objects” in one legislative “bill.” This widely-reported decision was appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

On May 17th, the Louisiana Supreme Court in separate “voucher” litigation addressed the requirement that a bill have only one “object.” See Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Louisiana, 13-0120 (La. 5/7/13), __ So. 3d ___. This same “one object” issue was also present in the tenure litigation. Because the parties and the trial court did not have access to the Supreme Court’s analysis in Louisiana Federation (which was released after the tenure ruling), the Supreme Court has remanded the case back to the trial court to allow consideration of the decision. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, the Louisiana Federation voucher ruling will have upon the constitutionality of the tenure law.

What is clear is that “tenure” will remain an interesting word for some time.