One year ago, Texas’ Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, made a promise.
Patrick said he would end tenure in the state’s public colleges and strip it from faculty who teach the now-controversial academic framework known as critical race theory. His pledge responded to a resolution from the University of Texas at Austin faculty council affirming the need for academic freedom and their rights to teach critical race theory and gender justice.
Tenure, a lifetime appointment, generally ensures faculty won’t be fired except in extraordinary circumstances, such as if a professor engages in criminal conduct or a college experiences financial crisis. It also means to shield scholars who pursue potentially unpopular research — like critical race theory.
Critics, meanwhile, say tenure gives license for poorly performing professors to keep their jobs.
In the year since Patrick’s opening salvo, the campaign to strike down tenure has snowballed in other states. It’s part of a larger conservative movement to more closely control college operations like curricula decisions.
Below, we outline five state anti-tenure proposals. Some plans have progressed into legislation, but the details of others have yet to emerge.
A Texas tenure ban for public colleges was proposed Friday in the Texas Senate. It would end public institutions’ ability to award tenure to faculty hired after September.
Patrick said in November that eliminating tenure is one of his legislative priorities for the year.
Patrick’s role as lieutenant governor means he presides over the Texas Senate, giving him major sway over which bills get voted on.
Critics of a potential tenure ban have said it would make recruitment of top faculty difficult.
A North Dakota bill has not only attracted local faculty displeasure, but also nationwide criticism over some of its more restrictive elements.
The proposed legislation, which passed the state House of Representatives last month and now heads to the Senate, would create a pilot program around tenure at two public institutions, Bismarck State College and Dickinson State University.
It would dictate that tenured professors at those colleges teach and advise a number of students equal to the average faculty workload.
More controversially though, the bill would give college presidents greater authority to terminate tenured faculty. A president could call for a review of tenured faculty members at any time and then opt not to renew professors’ contracts if they aren’t meeting job expectations.
Such reviews couldn’t involve faculty or a faculty committee, which critics consider a slap against shared governance. Fired professors could appeal the decision to a State Board of Higher Education official.
Still, the bill has been changed from an initial, more radical iteration. Lawmakers removed a requirement that faculty members would have had to generate more revenue than the cost of employing them. They also struck a provision compelling faculty members to avoid using social media to disparage their institutions “to avoid inadvertently harming” the colleges.
Last year, a Louisiana Republican and a tenure skeptic helped push a resolution through the state’s legislature to form a committee and examine the issue.
State Sen. Stewart Cathey told Higher Ed Dive last year he found it productive to study controversial issues — like tenure restrictions — before acting on them. Doing so could sweep away preconceived notions about issues, he said. Cathey would helm the legislative committee himself.
Except he won’t. Cathey recently confirmed he won’t convene the task force at all, but rather will draft new legislation on tenure.
Cathey won’t disclose the purpose of the bill, only claiming to local news outlets that he has consulted with higher education leaders on it.
He said in his interview with Higher Ed Dive last year he believes some professors abuse tenure, leveraging it “to do and say whatever they want.” He gave a hypothetical of a professor at a public college who calls Republicans racist and white supremacists on social media but faces no retribution.
His staff attorney can’t post campaign signs in her yard, while his imagined professor could — “but that’s unfair, they’re both paid with state tax dollars,” Cathey said.
“I feel like there is degradation of the collegiate experience, and a lot of it has to do with the political activities of professors,” Cathey said.
Stricter tenure rules were proposed last month in a new Florida legislative higher education package, one that would put into law Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vision for public colleges.
The bill would allow for Florida universities at any time to evaluate tenured professors after they have secured the status. An institution would need “cause” to start the review, which the legislation does not define.
Florida’s university system will soon vote on a policy to set up similar evaluations of tenured professors, but those would only be able to occur every five years.
A bill to end tenure at Iowa’s three public colleges recently stalled in the legislature.
However, the saga may not end there. The bill’s sponsor told local news media he hopes institutional leaders know that legislators are “paying attention” to issues, including free speech, on their campuses.
A similar defeat occurred in 2021 with a state bill that would have abolished tenure.