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Texas Senate greenlights ban on faculty tenure in state universities

A person wearing a mask walks past the UT tower.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The Texas Senate preliminarily passed a bill Thursday that would ban tenure offers to new professors at state universities.

A day after passing a measure that would dismantle DEI programs in the state’s universities, the Texas Senate preliminarily passed a bill that would ban tenure offers to new professors in such institutions.

Senate Bill 18, which passed Thursday along party lines, is one of the priorities of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican. It needs to clear one procedural vote before it’s sent to the Texas House, where its future is unclear.

Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said his legislation was needed because tenured professors have damaged the brand of some public universities.

“What we’re trying is to make sure that productivity is maximized, that no one certainly relaxes based on lifetime guaranteed employment,” Creighton said Thursday.

Creighton’s legislation would allow a university system’s board of regents to create “an alternate system of tiered employment status for faculty members.”

It would also require faculty members to undergo an annual performance evaluation.

Current professors would keep their tenure appointments.

The measure has been opposed by professors across the state, who say the tenure system has allowed them to educate students freely, without fear of losing jobs due to their teachings.

Other professors have said having tenure has helped them excel at their jobs.

During a committee hearing last month, University of Texas at Austin pharmacology professor Andrea Gore said tenure allowed her “to take the kind of risks that were needed to do cutting-edge research and make discoveries.”

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, raised concerns about how this measure would make it difficult to attract and retain faculty in the state’s higher education institutions.

“Wouldn’t this put us at a competitive disadvantage?” Menéndez asked Creighton.

Creighton replied universities can craft contracts that could be better than tenure offers.

Tenure has been targeted by Patrick since last year, when faculty at the University of Texas at Austin voted to reaffirm a professor’s right to teach about race and racial justice.

But it’s unclear whether the measure could gain approval from the Texas House.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan has said he opposes ending tenure. He has also expressed concerns about how such a move would impact recruitment, including recruitment of professors with conservative viewpoints.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the Texas Capitol Reporter for The Texas Newsroom. Got a tip? Email him at smb@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel.
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