AUSTIN, Texas – Texas universities can grant tenure to professors who have a good track record of teaching and research. The status is intended to create job security and provide academic freedom for university faculty.
But a bill filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would prevent public universities from granting any type of permanent employment. The bill says a university’s Board of Regents could instead establish a system of tiered employment, so long as there are annual performance evaluations.
“We’ve seen some professors that are pretty radical in nature,” Sen. Creighton said. “They are damaging the brand of our flagship universities and our other public universities under the guise of that protection.”
In the past, there have been arguments against tenure because faculty members might “check out” if they know they have job security. But Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University (SMU), said Sen. Creighton’s argument against tenure this session has more to do with politics.
“To suggest that people's job security would be affected by ideological considerations, by the potential that they would be judged too far left or too far right is, I think, really kind of chilling when we think about free speech and intellectual freedom on college campuses,” Wilson said.
If Sen. Creighton’s bill passes, Texas could be one of the first states to eliminate tenure for new professors at state universities. It's something Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick named a priority for this session.
Anti-tenure bills are gaining traction among Republican lawmakers in several states. Lawmakers in at least six other states have considered similar bills recently, with Florida passing a bill to limit tenure at public universities last year.
Sen. Creighton’s bill would only affect public institutions, not private ones like SMU and Texas Christian University (TCU) in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Nonetheless, Wilson made the point that ending tenure at public universities would make Texas less attractive for good faculty candidates.
“Tenure is the norm throughout higher education, not only in the United States, but worldwide,” he said. “And given a choice between a job offer in a state where a person has the opportunity at some point down the road to earn tenure, and a job offer in a state where he or she does not, that's going to be a very powerful consideration that would attract them to the state that continues to offer tenure. So if Texas unilaterally handicaps itself in faculty recruitment in this way, that could have very real consequences on the quality of faculty that would be at Texas public institutions.”
Sen. Morgan LaMantia, D-South Padre Island, is on the education committee with Sen. Creighton. She doesn’t want to see tenure come to an end. She argued that college students are adults who want to learn about perspectives that might be different from their own.
"They want to have critical thinking. We want to teach them to have critical thinking, think outside the box, see different topics from different points of view," Sen. LaMantia said. "And if our students and our teachers don't feel safe in that arena, then that critical discourse won't happen. And that's a disservice to everyone in our education system."
She added that public universities can terminate faculty members who have been granted permanent employment.
“If an administrator feels that a professor is teaching something that is not correct, or not in line, or even too radical for the school, they do have the ability to terminate those professors. So removing tenure does not alleviate that issue,” Sen. LaMantia said.
If the bill passes, university faculty members who already have tenure would be able to keep it. It would just prevent future tenure from being granted.