Professor tenure targeted by racial conservatives, gender teaching
When Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asked Texas universities to reject the critical race theory, University of Texas faculty members passed a resolution defending their right to decide how to teach about race.
Patrick said he sees it as a “go to hell” message.
In turn, Patrick, a Republican, said it was time to consider holding faculty accountable by targeting one of the top perks of their work.
“Maybe we need to look at tenure,” Patrick said at a news conference in November.
It’s a sentiment echoed by conservative officials in red states around the country. The indefinite academic appointments that come with tenure – the holy grail of college employment – have faced scrutiny from lawmakers or state oversight boards in at least half a dozen states , often seen as an attempt to rein in liberal scholars.
Term advocates are bracing for the possibility of new threats as lawmakers return to state institutions around the country.
Trends reflect how conservative surveillance Instruction regarding race, gender, and sexuality has extended from schools to higher education. But budget considerations also play a role. The number of faculty hired has decreased even in the more liberal states. Universities are hiring more part-time faculty members amid reduced financial support from state governments.
Traditionally, hired professors could only be terminated in extreme cases, such as professional misconduct or a financial emergency. Advocates of tenure say it’s an important component of academic freedom — especially as controversy grows over scholarly discussions of history and identity.
Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, said that without tenure, faculty “can be safe when it’s time to have a class discussion about a difficult topic.
But in times of financial and political trouble, even hired professors may not be guaranteed a job.
‘I could get fired for writing this’
In Kansas, Emporia State University this fall cut 33 faculty members — most of whom have already been hired — to use a pandemic emergency measure that allows universities to bypass policies about terminate employee contract to balance budget.
Max McCoy, Emporia State’s only journalism professor, wrote a column that began, “I could get fired for writing this” — before knowing this would be his last year teaching at the school.
“This is a purge,” he said. He said all the professors fired were “Democrats or liberals of our minds”.
University spokesman Gwen Larson said the professors were not personally the target of dismissal. She said the cuts come after considering how demand for academic programs is changing and “where we need to move in the future.
Jeremy Young, of the free speech group PEN America, said attacks on higher education have been driven by a shift in conservatives’ view of colleges and universities. The percentage of Republicans and independent Republicans who think higher education has a negative impact on the country jumped from 37% to 59% between 2015 and 2019 in the Center poll. Pew Research.
In Texas, university administrators are working behind the scenes to scrap a tentative law that targets tenure, fearing it will affect tenure, said Jeff Blodgett, president of the AAUP Texas Conference. recruitment.
Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association, said some people didn’t apply for jobs at the university because of the discussions.
In Florida, a federal judge in November blocked “Stop-WOKE” Act, a law pushed by Governor Ron DeSantis to restrict certain race-based chatter and analysis on college campuses. The governor’s office is appealing the ban. Compliance with the law will be part of the evaluation of professors hired under a review process that the Board of Trustees of the university system is considering.
“They have clung to the idea that many totalitarian regimes have for years, which is that if you can stop students from learning about ideas that a ruling political party disagrees with, that is a way to prevent those ideas from existing in the world. society at all,” said Andrew Gothard, president of the United College of Florida.
An ‘intellectual orthodoxy’
However, DeSantis questioned the argument that tenure brings academic freedom.
“If anything, it creates more intellectual orthodoxy, where people with dissenting views, in the first place, will be difficult to appoint,” he said at an April press conference. more responsibility.
In Louisiana, lawmakers created a task force to study tenure with a Republican-backed resolution noting that students should trust that courses are free of “political indoctrination, ideological, religious or anti-religious”. The professors raised concerns until they learned that the members of the task force were mostly pro-terms.
In Georgia, the State Board of Trustees acceptance a policy that makes it easy to remove hired instructors who have had negative performance reviews. Elsewhere, laws banning or restricting tenure have also been introduced in recent years in Iowa, South Carolina and Mississippi, but have not been passed.
The outcry follows decades of declining faculty hire rates. According to AAUP, 24% of faculty were appointed full-time in the fall of 2020, compared with 39% in the fall of 1987, the first year for which direct comparative information is available.
Part-time college lecturers rarely receive benefits. They often have to go from school to school to make a living together.
“It was a nightmare,” said Caprice Lawless, who wrote “Adjunct Cookbook,” filled with recipes that underpaid PhDs can learn along with pantry staples. eat.
“I brought my PhD to food banks and watched them cry because there was not enough food for their family,” Lawless said. in Westminster, Colorado.
Marc Stein, a history professor at San Francisco State University who has written about the transition to part-time faculty, said: “The term opposition has brought conservatives united for different reasons. : Not all share the same interest in “waking up higher education”.
“But,” he said, “if you attack the ‘wake up’ of higher education and that leads to a reduction in funding for higher education, then the economic conservatives will be happy. .”
Sol Gittleman, a former president of Tufts University who has written about the issue, said ownership boomed after World War II when it helped with recruiting as the GI Bill sent enrollments skyrocketing. . Gittleman, who predicts tenure will largely disappear in the coming decades outside of the top 100 colleges and universities, said the country has been producing too many PhDs lately.
“Racial theory matters – it’s an excuse,” he said. “Without faculty, you won’t hear it.”