Limited tenure draws flak from teachers

In April 1995, Sachiyo Kaneko was fired as a teacher of Japanese literature at the Kanagawa Prefectural College of Foreign Studies. She protested the decision, claiming that she was ousted by the college president and her senior colleagues for no valid reason.

The college president, who has since retired, categorically denies her allegations, and the prefectural personnel committee examining the case has yet to reach a conclusion. But for Kaneko, the case indicates how the limited tenure system for teachers proposed by the government might be abused by bosses in academic circles.

Currently, full-time teachers at public and privately-owned colleges and universities usually are not fired unless they are accused of noticeable negligence. Consequently, some professors become lazy, do not write theses for years and make no effort to improve their teaching, according to proponents of the new system.

Under the limited tenure system, teachers must renew their contracts with universities and colleges when their tenure, to be set by each educational institution, expires. The legislation would allow any university to adopt the system for some or all of its teachers at its own discretion. The Education Ministry expects the system to revitalize education and research by promoting competition and the flow of personnel.

“Younger teachers can’t speak out at teachers’ meetings even now” because they are afraid of senior professors who have say in the promotion of younger teachers, Kaneko says. “The limited tenure system would end up getting rid of enthusiastic, hard-working young teachers, instead of revitalizing their lazy seniors.” The government is preparing to submit a related bill to the current Diet session that runs through June.