Debates about tenure in American higher education have focused on morally freighted exemplary cases rather than the dynamics of organizational systems. This approach has generally assumed that tenure represents a financial drag on institutions. An analysis of tenure's organizational effects, however, reveals a more complex picture. Tenure supports a range of institutional practices that have direct—and calculable—resource implications. A detailed analysis for a public comprehensive college in the northeastern United States shows that the financial costs of ending tenure would substantially exceed the savings realized. Implications are drawn for American higher education and anthropological studies of complex institutions.

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