Proposals to gut or ban college faculty tenure proved popular during several states’ legislative sessions this year, with Republican leaders in states like Texas and Florida backing them.
Lawmakers such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis argued tenure — which almost guarantees lifetime job security — actually serves to insulate poorly performing faculty members from consequences.
Meanwhile, academic groups like the American Association of University Professors, which fought hard against bills in multiple states, said tenure helps shield faculty and any unpopular research they conduct from political influence.
AAUP also contended that colleges in states with watered-down tenure could face recruitment challenges, as prospective faculty would prefer to find a job at an institution where traditional tenure was an option.
In some cases, policymakers heeded these warnings, and in others just couldn’t muster the political capital to see their bills through, as many closely-watched proposals failed during state sessions.
We’ve summarized below where these bills stand in a half-dozen states, including one where anti-tenure legislation is still under consideration.
Texas saw perhaps one of the most visible anti-tenure bills across the country this year.
That’s in part because state lawmakers started making noise about abolishing tenure at public institutions as early as February 2022 when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pledged to do so.
Patrick — who is also president of the state Senate — made the threat after a contingent of University of Texas at Austin faculty spoke out against state policymakers who aimed to restrict instruction of subjects like race relations.
A bill to eliminate public colleges’ tenure for faculty hired 2024 or later passed the Senate last month.
But it was the Texas House of Representatives that ultimately preserved tenure in the state this legislative session.
House lawmakers put forth a substitute bill that would impose performance reviews every six years on tenured faculty and clarify the circumstances under which public institutions can revoke tenure — essentially just cementing standard tenure procedures into law.
The Senate agreed to this version of the legislation last month, which lawmakers have since sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.
AAUP said in a statement after the bill advanced that it “codifies a tenure system in public institutions of higher education. We do not believe that such a codification is necessary.”
Patrick, according to local press reports, still celebrated its passage and referenced his threat from last February against professors, saying “I hope they’re hearing us clearly now. They are accountable to the public like all of us.”
Florida drew the higher education world’s attention early in its legislative session, as DeSantis made reshaping policies around public colleges a plank of his since-announced 2024 presidential run.
A DeSantis-backed bill would have created a system that allowed public colleges to review tenured professors for cause at any time, essentially destroying the point of tenure. But lawmakers nixed this provision in the wide-ranging higher education legislation, which DeSantis signed last month.
Changes to the bill did not assuage faculty union leaders, who are still critical of a law passed last year that allows public colleges to set up post-tenure reviews every five years, a process that the State University System of Florida has since implemented.
North Dakota actually had traction on a bill that would have created pilot programs on tenure at two public institutions, Bismarck State College and Dickinson State University.
It would have given the presidents of those colleges the power to call for a review of tenured faculty members at any time. They could then opt not to renew the faculty members' contracts if they didn’t meet job expectations.
Faculty pushed back on the bill, which passed the state House of Representatives 66-27, but failed in its Senate.
Stephen Easton, Dickinson State’s president, courted controversy after defending the bill, telling lawmakers in a hearing earlier this year that colleges have “elevated the faculty rights of nonproductive tenured faculty members over students, who pay their salaries through tuition.”
Louisiana has experienced a legislative rollercoaster around tenure.
Last year, a tenure skeptic, Republican state Sen. Stewart Cathey, helped shepherd through a resolution that set up a committee to study the issue.
But Cathey, who was due to lead the committee, never even convened it. Instead, he filed a bill mandating annual evaluations of part-time and full-time faculty in the state’s public colleges, which would have in essence gutted tenure.
Interestingly, though, Cathey never requested a committee hearing for his proposal. He told a local news outlet the state Senate’s education committee was dealing with enough controversial bills.
A bill to prohibit public college faculty tenure stalled early in Iowa’s legislative session.
Such legislation will likely be proposed again. A similar anti-tenure bill also met defeat two years ago.
While many state legislative sessions wrap up before summer, North Carolina’s goes until the end of August.
That leaves time for lawmakers to pass a bill that would ban the University of North Carolina System and the state’s community colleges from granting tenure to faculty hired after July 2024.
The proposed legislation would establish that college faculty are either at-will or contracted employees. Faculty contracts would run from one to four years.