AUSTIN (KXAN) — Senate Bill 18, which would remove the possibility of tenure for Texas professors, faces opposition from over 700 Texas professors, who signed a petition “to protect academic freedom and minority faculty.”
The bill is currently under consideration in the House. The version of the bill passed by the Senate on April 20 can be read below:
Other states, such as Georgia and Ohio, are also considering similar bans. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a new law that adds an additional review to the tenure system, which already has regular reviews built in to the process.
The bill is authored by 10 Republican Senators: Brandon Creighton, Donna Campbell, Pete Flores, Phil King, Lois Kolkhorst, Mayes Middleton, Tan Parker, Angela Paxton, Charles Schwertner, Kevin Sparks and Drew Springer.
“SB 18 eliminates the costly, unnecessary and antiquated burden of tenure at Texas public colleges and universities,” said Creighton in a March 10 press release that announced the bill,” Tenure was originally intended to protect academic freedom and recruit professors, however over the years, the practice has devolved into a costly perk that is detrimental to innovative research and quality instruction and if abused, used as an attack against the brand of the university itself. At a time when colleges and universities have unprecedented endowments, bloated administrative costs and ballooning tuition it is time for lawmakers to reevaluate an outdated practice that guarantees lifetime employment at taxpayer expense.”
KXAN reached out to the authors for further comment.
Over 700 Professors Petition to keep Tenure
In opposition are more than 700 professors, who say that tenure is important for keeping talented researchers, grant funding and protecting minority faculty.
On Wednesday, a group of 70 predominantly POC faculty, staff and students traveled from Houston to the Capitol for the “Freedom to Learn Day of Action.”
“POC faculty experience disproportionate discrimination and retaliation,” the petition states. “Tenure offers protection and security for these professors; in some cases tenure enables POC faculty to research and teach subjects that may be considered controversial, without the possibility of losing their jobs.”
The full petition and signatures can be read below:
Jo Hsu, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Austin, said that tenure isn’t an easily obtained employment guarantee. By their estimation, average time to tenure is more than six years, on top of the time required for a Doctorate-level degree.
“Someone would want to get rid of it, because it makes professors easier to fire,” Hsu said, “Tenure exists because if you’re doing leading edge research in your field, you might be challenging existing doctrines, you might be pushing back on what we’ve already accepted as consensus, you might be doing work that critiques some of the people around you, maybe some of the governing bodies around you.”
“Tenure exists so that you can do that work without being sort of affected by dominant ideologies, by political pressure or by outside influence.”
Hsu is currently working towards their tenure and is due for tenure consideration in the Fall. However, the Texas born and raised Hsu said that they will start looking for a position outside of their home state if SB 18 passes.
“So I was born in Texas, I went to college at Rice. I I feel deeply attached to Texas. When this job came up at UT, it was my dream job,” Hsu said, “I came back thinking that I was going to stay. I don’t know right now. I think, with everything happening in the legislature, with all of the bills that might change the quality of the work that we’re able to do at our universities, I’m kind of holding my breath to see.”
Conservative Professor: Removing tenure “counterproductive”
Adam Kolasinski, the James W Ashton Republic Bank associate professor of finance at Texas A&M University, said that the bill is part of a “common theme” of higher education reform in Republican-led states.
However, the self-described conservative professor said that it would become impossible for Texas schools to hire and retain top researchers without the tenure system.
Kolasinski described a recent candidate search by A&M’s business school and said that two “conservative “right of center” professors backed out of the process because of SB 18.
“They’re just not going to come if they’re not assured tenure when they come,” Kolasinski said. “For some reason. Republicans seem to think that only far left faculty are protected by tenure, but actually right of center faculty are protected by tenure as well. And in fact, that protection even matters more for us, given that we’re the minority on campus.”
From his perspective, SB 18’s flaw comes from the “nature of reform” — it gives more power to school administrators, a group that he claims is politically to the left.
Kolasinski has tenure and would keep it under the current bill. He, like Hsu, hopes that the bill does not become law, and like Hsu, he’s also prepared to leave Texas if it does.
“My belief is that if this bill passes, Texas A&M University will become a glorified community college,” he said, “Because all productive researchers who can, will leave, and we will not be able to attract top researchers in any discipline. We will lose our status as a top research university.”