The biggest academic union in the United States is moving towards acceptance of reviews of tenure, under attack in nearly half of the country's 50 states.
The 45,000-member American Association of University Professors argues that reviews would strengthen rather than weaken tenure by providing an institutional framework for weeding out delinquent professors.
About a third of faculty have tenure but are reviewed for promotion and pay rises. But the union wants to deflect attempts to limit or end tenure by accepting the idea of reviews.
Wendy Wassyng Roworth, chairwoman of the union's tenure task force that met in Washington this month, said: "This is a way of showing what a good job we are doing. If you have periodic reviews people have track records, and if there really is a problem it will be apparent."
"The problem is what do we do with those very few faculty, and I stress very few, who are not doing their job. If we are doing a good job we shouldn't be afraid of this," Ms Roworth, professor of art history at the University of Rhode Island and AAUP vice president, added.
But the tenure issue has led to what union president James Perley drily calls "a new level of intrigue" in union leadership elections. Under new rules officials can stand for re-election for the first time.
The contest has been less than decorous. Email baskets and Internet sites have filled with personal attacks and charges of campaign improprieties that ended with an election committee declaring election results null and void.
Plans for a new ballot were being drawn up this month. Carol Bernstein, an associate professor at the University of Arizona and one of two challengers for Mr Perley's job, claims he and other staff have not effectively defended tenure.
Tenure has come under attack from state university boards looking for ways to trim payrolls and shed staff. But the biggest threat is the growing use of part-time, non-tenured staff.