Today, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas held a press conference to address the Faculty Council of the University of Texas. This resolution recently emphasized the importance of academic freedom and condemned political intervention in the university’s curriculum.
The ongoing political battle over the “critical race theory” is at the heart of this dispute. Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have taken interest in how topics of race and social justice are taught and discussed in schools. Although K-12 education was initially the focus of initial lawmaking, colleges and universities are being targeted by the legislation cannons. The bills, as I have written previously, are a messy mess and cause serious problems for educational initiatives.
Patrick will do anything to help escalate the battle. “Tenure it is time for that to come to an end here in Texas,” Patrick said. Patrick is a bold man who likes to declare his opinions, but he’s not a backbencher that can be overlooked. It is the highest-ranking political office within Texas’ state government, the lieutenant governor. Patrick, who was elected by the Texas state legislature in his own name (he was reelected for the second time in 2018), is the presidency of the state senator. His proposal to terminate tenure was supported by Patrick’s chair of Senate Higher Education Committee, and the majority of state university regents (regents are appointed from the governor). Patrick claimed that he wanted to make the state’s universities an “absolute priority” in the next legislative session. It appears that Patrick is putting his future political ambitions at risk by making professors a punching bag.
American higher education has had tenure for many years as the foundation of academic freedom. Although it is nice that universities promise academic freedom, tenure is what makes this promise credible. Tenure provides job security and procedural protections that ensure that the university can keep its word. In reality, scholars and instructors without tenure protections can be easily dismissed.
Texas won’t be the only one to reconsider tenure at public universities. Georgia’s regents are already considering a plan to lower tenure protections. Similar goals have been set by other state lawmakers and regents for tenure.
If Patrick and other politicians get their way, the prospects of academic freedom and for quality research will diminish in Texas as well as in other states. Growing up in Texas, I heard the state boast about its ambition to build world-class universities. In recent years, state politicians have mostly abandoned this dream. The future of Texas’ higher education system is uncertain.