When requested by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Texas colleges to reject critical race theory, University of Texas faculty approved a resolution defending their freedom to decide for themselves how to teach about race.
Patrick said he took it as a message to “go to hell.”
Instead, Patrick, a Republican, said it’s time to consider holding teachers accountable, by targeting one of the top benefits of their jobs.
“Maybe we should look at tenure,” Patrick said at a news conference in November.
It’s a sentiment echoed by conservative officials in red states across the country. Indefinite academic appointments with tenure — the holy grail of university employment — have faced review from lawmakers or state governing boards in at least half a dozen states, which are often presented as bids to curb academics with liberal views.
Tenure advocates are bracing for the possibility of new threats as lawmakers return to statehouses across the country.
Fashion shows how conservative assessment in teaching related to race, gender and sexuality expanded from schools to higher education. But budgetary considerations also play a role. The numbers of tenured faculty are declining even in more liberal states. Universities are hiring more part-time, adjunct instructors amid declining financial support from state governments.
Traditionally, tenured professors can be removed only under extreme circumstances, such as professional misconduct or a financial emergency. Advocates for ownership say it’s an important part of academic freedom — especially as controversy rages over scholarly discussions of history and identity.
Without work, teachers “have a responsibility to play it safe when it comes time to have a class discussion about a difficult topic,” says Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors.
But in tough financial and political times, even tenured professors may not be guaranteed a job.
‘I could get fired for writing this’
In Kansas, Emporia State University this fall cut 33 professors — most of them tenured — using an emergency pandemic measure that allows universities to bypass layoff policies to balance budgets. .
Max McCoy, Emporia State’s only journalism professor, wrote a column that began, “I could get fired for writing this” — before learning it would be her last year teaching at the school.
“It’s a cleanup,” he said. He said all the fired professors were “Democrats or liberals in our thinking.”
University spokeswoman Gwen Larson said individual professors have not been targeted for dismissal. He said the cuts follow a review of how demand for academic programs is changing and “where we need to move in the future.
The attacks on higher education have been fueled by a shift in how conservatives view colleges and universities, said Jeremy Young, of the free-expression group PEN America. The share of Republicans and independent Republicans who say that higher education has a negative impact on the country went from 37% to 59% from 2015 to 2019 in the Pew Research Center poll.
In Texas, university administrators are working behind the scenes to derail expected tenure-track legislation, fearing it will hurt recruiting, said Jeff Blodgett, president of the AAUP’s Texas Conference.
Some people stopped applying for jobs at the university because of the discussions, said Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association.
In Florida, a federal judge in November blocked the “Stop-WOKE” Act, a law pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis curbs some of the conversations and analysis based on race in colleges. The governor’s office appealed the order. Compliance with the law will be part of the evaluation criteria for professors who have worked under the review process weighed by the Board of Governors of the university system.
“They cling to the idea that so many totalitarian regimes have been created over the years, that if you can prevent students from learning about ideas that don’t agree with a political party in power, that’s a way to prevent ideas from existing in society at all,” said Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida.
An ‘intellectual orthodoxy’
However, DeSantis questions the argument that tenure gives academic freedom.
“If anything, it creates more of an intellectual orthodoxy where the people who have dissenting views, the harder it is for them to deliver in the first place,” he said at a conference in news in April.
In Louisiana, lawmakers set up a task force to study tenure with a Republican-backed resolution announcing that students must be assured that courses are free of “political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.” The professors raised concerns until they learned that the members of the task force were mostly supporters of tenure.
In Georgia, the state Board of Regents approved a policy that facilitates the removal of tenured faculty with negative performance reviews. Elsewhere, legislation to ban or restrict tenure has also been introduced in recent years in Iowa, South Carolina and Mississippi, but has failed to gain traction.
The pushback follows decades of declining tenured faculty rates. According to the AAUP, 24% of faculty members held full-time tenured appointments in the fall of 2020, compared to 39% in the fall of 1987, the first year for which directly comparable information is available.
Part-time college professors rarely receive benefits. They often have to travel from campus to campus to work together for a living.
“It’s a nightmare,” says Caprice Lawless, who wrote the “Adjunct Cookbook,” full of recipes poorly paid Ph.Ds can cobble together with food pantry staples.
“I take Ph.D.s to food banks and I watch them cry because they can’t get enough food for their family,” said Lawless, who said she serves as a social worker. worker before retiring two years ago from Front Range Community College in Westminster, Colorado.
Opposition to tenure unites conservatives for a variety of reasons: Not everyone shares the same concerns about “woke higher education,” said Marc Stein, a history professor at San Francisco State University, writing about to transfer to a part-time teacher.
“But,” he said, “if you attack the ‘awakening’ of higher education and that leads to reduced funding for higher education, then economic conservatives are happy.”
Tenure exploded after World War II when it helped recruit while the GI Bill sent enrollment soaring, said Sol Gittleman, a former Tufts University provost who has written about the issue. Lately, the country has been overproducing Ph.Ds, says Gittleman, who predicts that tenure will largely disappear in the coming decades outside of the top 100 colleges and universities.
“Critical race theory — that’s an excuse,” he said. “When there’s a shortage of teachers, you don’t hear about that.”