The UTD Academic Senate found itself caught between a rock and a hard place when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threatened to eliminate tenure at all public universities in Texas.
As the 51 committee members were crafting their resolution on Academic Freedom, Patrick spoke of ending tenure for all new public university hires in Texas, replacing a six-year tenure protection rule with an annual one, and making teaching critical race theory grounds for firing. Initially an attempt to replicate the CRT bill approved by the state legislature last year for Texas teachers, these policy objectives sent shockwaves across higher education as Patrick strives to introduce them into next year’s legislative session.
The March 23 Senate’s resolution composed by UTD faculty originally had nothing to do with Lt. Gov.’s views on what seemed to be a lukewarm issue, but rather a resolution unrelated to current affairs, which fell victim to bad timing. So, after the press conference and contentious statements from prominent lawmakers on the political right, UTD faculty felt thrust into the political spotlight.
School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences professor William Katz, who attended the Senate meeting that discussed the resolution, for instance, feared “the timing might be an issue,” especially if the document is oriented around the topic of tenure, but others
were more content with publishing, even if it meant aggravating certain officials.
“The lieutenant governor isn’t gonna be too concerned with what we do or don’t do,” said Richard Scotch, sociology professor, and senate member. “We have a shared value on our campus among our faculty and the leadership in support of academic freedom … this is not directed at particular topics or particular issues, but rather our ability as faculty members—in our research and in our teaching—to be able to follow our professional best judgment.”
Though many view these comments as the end of quality education in Texas, Arts and Humanities Professor of Instruction Kathryn Evans sees Patrick as merely stirring the pot and engaging in political rhetoric. In response to questions from The Mercury, she brought up documents from the Texas Republican Party Platform, which supports “abolishing tenure,” freezing college tuition and possibly eliminating the Department of Education.
Evans doesn’t see any of these proposals—including Patrick’s tenure plans—making it out of committee. In her view, Patrick was waiting for the proper moment to unveil these sentiments and rile up the base. Nevertheless, the prospect of mandating annual reviews left her unsettled. Moreover, the rapidity of tenure reviews would cut into what professors were hired to do.
“Certainly, an annual review would be ridiculous because of the amount of time it takes to put together a tenure file,” Evans said. “In annual post-tenure review, which is what he’s speaking of, [eliminating tenure] … would take up a lot of faculty time that can be better spent teaching and doing research.”
According to Regent’s Rule 31102, each faculty member is subject to an annual review in the form of a “periodic performance evaluation;” however, the comprehensive evaluation meant to review “longitudinal tenured faculty” can only be “conducted every six years.” Patrick wants to end this distinction.
Speaker for Faculty at the Academic Senate and Computer Science Professor Ravi Prakash said that more than tenure, but academic freedom for all faculty, should be defended.
“When we use the word faculty, we mean all faculty,” Prakash said. “This is not just for tenured system faculty; all faculty … have academic freedom.”
Having academic freedom is an important factor in deciding to be a member of faculty when the financial incentive is much less compared to working as a professional. As a computer scientist in the private sector, Prakash said he could make multiples of his salary as a professor.
“You devote your lifetime to becoming—to developing expertise in something, and that freedom, you are willing to forego some of the financial rewards that say working in the industry would provide.”
Evans and Prakash said that tenure is a key part in the competition for hiring competent faculty. Without it, Prakash says that UTD will be disadvantaged.
“We will be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting faculty members … if our offering is less attractive, then we won’t get the best people.”