I just received the following question from one of our readers, and (with that reader's permission) have decided to post it:
Dear Dr. Harrison,
I found your blog extremely useful. I guess you have not left academia yet, so you may know the answer to my question. I was wondering what job security is like at boarding schools? I realize that they do not offer tenure, but what is to stop them from refusing to renew a contract for a variety of reasons, i.e. it is cheaper to replace a more experienced teacher with a less experienced one?
Curious in Cincinnati
Good question! I know that the lack of tenure is one issue that gives some academics pause when they consider leaving (or giving up on) the academy. One of my colleagues here has opined that I'm crazy to give up a job for life. (She is a friend, so I took no offense.)
Honestly this is not a question I've thought much about, mostly because you're the first to ever raise the issue. I've interviewed a half-dozen PhDs who teach in secondary schools (about half of whom have been doing so for 10+ years) and nobody has mentioned job security as an issue, and certainly not in the way you describe it. (By contrast, I have heard rumors that Bennington College - who also don't have tenure - will occasionally clear the decks for cheaper, more junior PhDs.)
This isn't to say it's not an issue anywhere, but that I am unaware of it.
That said, your post raises a good question and speaks to the factors you should consider when searching for a school. First, pay attention to how long other faculty have been at the school. Some schools will actually boast that "On average, Prestigious Prep faculty have fifteen years' teaching experience and twelve years at Prestigious." That's a good sign. If there seems to be a high turnover among faculty, you should hesitate before accepting an offer. (That said, if you are looking for a "starter job" facutly turnover might not put you off - obviously people can leave!)
You can also look into a school's finances, both through annual reports, but also through the website: www.guidestar.org. (Registration is free.) It includes financial information on many non-profits, including endowment, operating budgets, and salary for senior administrators. If a schools got a lot of money sloshing around, they're unlikely to look for cost savings by firing senior faculty. (Warning: Guidestar can be a huge time-suck if you are at all snoopy.)
Finally, pay attention to a school's reputation. A place that has been around for a while, and has a regional or even national reputation for excellence is less likley to engage in these sorts of shennanigans than a newer school that might be on the verge of going under.
Good luck, and thanks for reading!