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Texas House rejects university tenure ban, puts guardrails around indefinite appointments

Gabriel C. Pérez

The Texas House of Representatives on Monday evening gave initial approval to a measure that would put guardrails on tenure at the state’s public universities.

The initial proposal, passed by the Senate last month, included language that would effectively terminate tenure offers across the state. But the version approved Monday by the House drops the ban, and in fact codifies tenure in state law.

Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, said his bill creates a much-needed framework for tenure.

“This bill will help ensure that faculty who are on tenure uphold the responsibilities to their students, their universities and to our great state,” Kuempel said.

The final vote was 85-49. The measure has to clear one more procedural vote before it’s sent back to the Senate for its approval.

According to the American Association of American Professors, universities started offering tenure to professors in the 1940s in an attempt to “safeguard” academic freedoms.

Tenure, according to the group, is “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.”

The House substitute of Senate bill 18 clarifies that “only an institution of higher education’s governing board, on the recommendation of the institution’s chief executive officer and the university system’s chancellor, if applicable, may grant tenure.”

The measure also spells out the reasons for dismissal of a tenured professor, which include professional incompetence, failure to perform duties, violation of laws or policies of the university system, and the shutting down of a program where the tenured position is no longer needed.

But Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, said the measure would make achieving tenure even more challenging.

“This legislation has the potential to cause irreversible damage to the prestige of our public universities,” Neave Criado said Monday.

She added it could eventually negatively impact students because professors might choose to go elsewhere.

“Losing tenured professors amounts to losing expertise from which our students make their marks,” Neave Criado said. “Losing tenured professors contributes to the miseducation of our young people.”

The Texas House is expected to fully approve the bill this week. It will then go to the Senate. However, its fate there is unclear.

Last year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared war on the tenure system after faculty at the University of Texas at Austin voted to reaffirm a professor’s right to teach about race and racial justice.

Since then, he’s been pushing to ban tenure. Patrick didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kuempel, the sponsor of the House version, said his bill accomplishes more.

“Although the Senate bill version that came over was to ban all tenure to be awarded after January 1, 2024, this substitute will allow for tenure to still be granted and put in place a strong foundation for our universities to follow,” Kuempel said.

He added this new language would provide accountability while ensuring the recruitment and retainment of top-tier faculty.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.