Ninkisei: Bern Mulvey on new ways to kill permanent tenure in J academia


Hi Blog. Reposting this with permission of the author. He says he will write something more thorough in future, but for now, in time for our upcoming PALE Conference at JALT Kitakyushu this weekend (,, here is a new development in Japan’s academia worth considering:

QUICK BACKGROUND: Japan’s teritary education has always been unfriendly to foreign academics. From Lafcadio Hearn/Koizumi Yakumo’s firing at Tokyo Imperial University in favor of a “real Japanese English teacher” Natsume Souseki a century ago, foreign academics have always been on precarious terms vis-a-vis job security. Until 1997 (when laws changed), full-time foreign faculty almost always received contract employment (“ninkisei”, of several years in duration, but dismissable as soon as the contract came up for review) in Japanese universities, while Japanese would from day one have lifetime employment (“permanent tenure”) until retirement if hired full time. This was dubbed in the 1990’s “academic apartheid”, and full background can be found at , with the Blacklist of Japanese Universities (places which contract full-time foreign faculty) at

After 1997, however, with the falling birthrate and shrinking student numbers, the government (particularly the Ministry of Education) sought to find ways to make Japanese as easily fireable as foreigners, so they slowly encouraged the institution of term-limited contract employment (ninkisei) for full-time Japanese academics as well. This hasn’t caught on as quickly as many university bean counters would like, so the MoE (Monkasho) is at it again with a new schtick, as Bern writes below. END QUICK BACKGROUND

By the way, the granddaddy of this issue, Dr. Ivan Hall, author of the classic book CARTELS OF THE MIND, will be speaking at JALT Kitakyushu next weekend. Details are:

Presentation #662: Ivan Hall: Communities, or Cartels of the Mind?
Presenter(s): Ivan Hall, Jonathan Britten
Content & Format: Universal; Administration, Management and Employment Areas (PALE); Forum
Scheduled: Friday, November 3rd, 16:45 – 18:20 (4:45 PM – 6:20 PM); Room: MAIN HALL

Now for Bern’s essay. Bern can be reached at


As some of you know, I’m currently Dean of Faculty at Miyazaki
Kokusai Daigaku–hence, all correspondence from Monkasho relating to
this issue has gone to me, and all relevant responses by this
university has been/will be directly from me.

As others have mentioned, the change in names is coming from
Monkasho. It’s actually been discussed in chamber for at least one
year, with the official mandate announced July 18 in (among other
places) a document titled “Kyouin Soshiki no Kaizen to Koutou
Kyouiku Seisaku no Doukou.” Another 40-page document,
titled “Daigakutou no Kyouin Soshiki no Seibi ni Kansuru Shitsugi
Otoushuu” is easier to understand, however, so my page references
will be to this one.

First, there is no reference in these documents to a mandatory loss
of “tenure”–e.g., depending on the university, even the new Jokyou
(despite being ranked just about joshu) could conceivably be tenured
(see pg. 4 in the second section). However, and this was most
interesting for me to learn, the Sennin Koushi [the position of those
regularly-employed, including foreigners] position, apparently,
was originally never intended to be an “official” rank
and/or “tenured” position (e.g., see pgs. 1 & 18 in the first
section). Accordingly, there are indeed only THREE official ranks
currently–Kyouju, Jokyouju, and Joshu (assistants), with “Koushi”
being a somewhat nebulous term for everyone else.

[Kyouju = Full Professor, Jokyouju = Associate Professor,
Koushi = Assistant Professor, Joshu = something below that]

This will now change to FOUR official ranks: Kyouju, Junkyouju,
Jokyou and Joshu. In other words, “Sennin Koushi”–used by almost
all Japanese universities and often translated as “assistant
professor”–still will not be an “official” rank (pg. 1 & 18 in the
first section), though the assumption is the rank will still
continue to be used by many (most) Japanese universities.

Jokyou and Joshu are to be almost equal in rank–i.e., both are
technically assistants–though the slightly more qualified Jokyou
can teach their own classes (pgs. 3-5 in the second section). None
of the documents, however, make it really clear why it was necessary
to add this new category of assistant…not to mention
change “Jokyouju” to “Junkyouju.” However, the Sennin Koushi
discussion, not to mention the repeated mentions that Jokyou need
not be “tenured,” suggest that one possible motivation IS to give
universities an out/excuse for dumping current Sennin Koushi and/or
hiring even Japanese as contract Kyoujo. (E.g., while before it
was “impossible” to get rid of bad Sennin hires, now this name
change, and the additional clarification regarding the nature of
these positions included with the announcement, schools seem to have
an excuse and/or window of opportunity to make changes….)

Bern Mulvey, Miyazaki, Kyushu

THE POINT: MoE is beginning to play with the language to make positions below Full Professor (kyouju) now non-permanently tenured. The noose just keeps on tightening for academics in Japan.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
October 29, 2006

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