Tenure Tenuous in Texas

Academic Freedom, Education

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick stated his intent to remove tenure from Texas colleges and universities in February. The move is related to his desire to ban teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public universities after having successfully passed Senate Bill 3 which states a “teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs,” according to the Texas Tribune. The paper also notes, however, there is no specific definition of what constitutes a “controversial issue.” 

University of Texas, Austin
Author is Guðsþegn

His desire comes on the heels of the University of Texas, Austin statement in which 41 faculty members passed a resolution affirming the rights of faculty to teach CRT and assert their rights to academic freedom, according to Inside Higher Ed. “What we will propose to do is end tenure, all tenure for all new hires,” Inside Higher Ed quotes Patrick, “the law will change to say teaching critical race theory is prima facie evidence of good cause for tenure revocation.”

PEN America notes the concept of academic freedom has no universal definition or terms but one widely used in courts was developed by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). It quotes various aspects of AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure as saying, “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties…Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject…When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.” For the entire guidelines on both academic freedom and tenure, visit AAUP’s website.

Academic freedom, for many instructors in higher education, is a key component of free speech – going beyond simply the freedom to speak on topics but to craft course content, curriculum, and assignments. The state dictating what theories, ideas, and concepts are permitted to be included in education is tantamount to government censorship. Additionally, the concept of tenure is just as important, protecting those instructors from reprisal for exercising their academic freedom. The AAUP states that tenure promotes stability and “When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech, publications, or research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge.”

Republicans in Texas and a variety of other states have considered tenure a nuisance before CRT was the latest manufactured concern of the party. A bill in South Carolina, House Bill 4522, would seek to eliminate tenure for SC public colleges and universities and a separate bill, states that educators must “refrain from judging, stereotyping, or scapegoating others based on personal or group characteristics or political and religious beliefs” and “acknowledge the right of others to express differing opinion,” according to a report on Bestcolleges.com.  

The same report notes that a variety of other states including Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas are moving to get rid of tenure by chipping away at its foundation or proposing outright bans. The site quotes Iowa state Rep. Republican Steven Holt admitting that removing tenure will hold instructors accountable for violations of free speech on campus saying, “I wonder if the assault on free speech by some university professors is not related to the belief that they’re Teflon-coated and indestructible,” he told The Gazette of Cedar Rapids. “Therefore, maybe we need to look at getting rid of tenure.”

The assault on CRT across the country took shape in 2021 with k-12 schools and now a reporter from Inside Higher Ed says the experts agree that higher education is the next frontier for erasing the theory from education. 

For more information on legislation aimed at censorship in education, see PEN America’s Index of Educational Gag Orders

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