- A controversial bill in South Carolina that would have ended faculty tenure at the state's public colleges won't advance this legislative session.
- Instead, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education may conduct a study of tenure systems in the state's public institutions. The potential study arose as a part of a deal education advocates struck with the bill's sponsor to delay the legislation, according to the American Association of University Professors.
- The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Bill Taylor, a Republican, said he plans to refile some form of the legislation next session in 2023.
Attempts to weaken or altogether kill tenure systems have rocked the higher education sector in recent months.
Defenders of tenure say it protects faculty from dismissal without cause, empowering them to teach, research and produce ideas that could be unpopular. Critics say it gives license to professors to perform poorly on the job without repercussions.
Recently, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threatened to abolish tenure at public colleges after a faculty organization at the University of Texas at Austin issued a statement affirming educators' rights to teach race-related topics and critical race theory, an academic construct the Republican party has railed against nationally.
And the University System of Georgia's governing board in October approved new tenure policies that critics said undermine the practice by creating new avenues to dismiss tenured faculty if they don't improve their performance following reviews.
The AAUP will likely sanction the Georgia system over its new rules. However, the system's acting leader has said faculty have a long timeline to respond to alleged job deficiencies.
In South Carolina, the AAUP mobilized immediately after it learned of the bill to kill tenure, said Shawn Smolen-Morton, president of the faculty organization's South Carolina state conference.
Republicans made the proposal public late last year ahead of the legislative session. It would have prohibited public institutions from awarding tenure to those hired after 2022. Colleges instead would have only been able to offer employment contracts of up to five years.
The bill also would have forced full-time and tenured faculty to teach at least two courses during each of the fall and spring terms, beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.
Taylor, the bill sponsor, previously said he introduced the measure to align faculty employment with industries that more consistently evaluate their workers.
But resistance from the AAUP, representatives from the state's higher education commission, public colleges and lawmakers from both parties killed the bill's chances to move forward, Smolen-Morton said.
The AAUP had attempted to delay the bill's passage until the legislative session ended, he said. It succeeded, but the faculty organization remains concerned the issue will reemerge.
Smolen-Morton said he's unsure whether the tenure study will even happen. But Taylor said in an email he isn't pushing to move the legislation this year specifically to allow the higher ed commission to conduct the study.
Taylor continues to believe "a robust conversation concerning tenure" is needed, he wrote.
A spokesperson for the higher ed commission, Mark Swart, confirmed the agency had discussed the possibility of such a study. But "nothing has been finalized at this time," Swart said in an email.