07/07/2010 04:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

RIP Tenure?

For those looking to hold down a steady job as a professor, the U.S. Department of Education wants you to know that it just got a bit harder.

According to a new study entitled "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009," the number of tenured professors has fallen from 57 percent to 31 percent since 1975.

The Chronicle of Higher Education states that the shift has "happened gradually, without any public endorsement or stated plan, as the byproduct of other concerns--primarily budget shortfalls and administrators' interest in gaining flexibility. Now, in whole swaths of higher education, including at many community colleges and at for-profit institutions, tenure is a completely foreign concept. And it is waning at many regional state universities and at less-elite liberal-arts colleges, as well."

The topic of tenure has always been controversial, the Chronicle reports. On one hand, many professors see tenure as a necessary institution; it provides an avenue for them to speak their minds without the threat of termination. Others argue, however, that the competition to attain tenure often turns qualified candidates away. And yet, despite the decline, tenure doesn't seem to have an end in sight.