Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Tenure Definition:

A right of holding or occupying land or a position for a certain amount of time.

The term was first used in the English feudal land system, whereby all land belonged to the king but was lent out to lords for a certain period of time; the lord never owning, but having tenure in the land.

Thus tenure can mean a manner of holding an interest in land or other such real property:

"Tenure, in its ordinary meaning, is the fact, manner, or means of holding possession or control of that which is one's own."1

Used in modern law mostly to refer to a position a person occupies such as in the expression "a judge holds tenure for life and on good behavior."

For example, Justice Wilkinson of the United States Court of Appeals in Dorsey Trailers v. National Labor Relations Board equated tenure with length of employment.

In an academic, political or judicial setting, tenure can refer to a position held at pleasure or for life. Consider these words of Justice Amdahl of the Supreme Court of Minnesota in University Education Association v. Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota:

"Tenure is defined, in the academic setting, as a faculty appointment for an indefinite period of time. A tenured faculty member enjoys substantial job security because tenured faculty members can only be removed for cause; any other removal is through retirement or retrenchment due to financial necessity. In addition, tenured status is accompanied by increased prestige, compensation and freedom."


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