Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Texas public universities would still be able to grant tenure to faculty under a revised version of a Senate bill that set out to eliminate the practice.
Instead of prohibiting tenure for all new faculty hires, an amended version of Senate Bill 18 that was obtained by The Texas Tribune codifies tenure in state law and requires university governing boards to ensure they have clear guidelines to grant tenure and conduct regular performance reviews for those who earn it, something that Texas university systems already have in place.
It also instructs university regents – who are appointed by the governor – to ensure their policy includes specific instances in which universities can dismiss a tenured professor, such as professional incompetence, failing to perform their duties as a professor, violating university policies or engaging in unprofessional conduct.
The House Higher Education Committee is expected to review the new language for the legislation on Monday. Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, who is the committee chair, will carry the legislation in the House.
A copy of a committee substitute for Senate Bill 18.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared war on tenure last February after a group of University of Texas at Austin faculty issued a resolution in defense of academic freedom, the concept that faculty can teach and speak freely about their field of study without political or outside influence, to teach about critical race theory, which had been banned in K-12 schools by state lawmakers in 2021. An outraged Patrick accused the faculty of stoking “societal division,” claiming the professors felt they were above the law.
“It is shocking that these professors, who live inside a bubble, genuinely believe they are not accountable to anyone,” Patrick said in a statement last month after the Senate passed SB 18. “That is not how the real world works. Of course they are accountable to the Texas Legislature and their board of regents. This behavior must not be tolerated.”
The Senate-approved version of SB 18 would eliminate tenure only for newly hired professors and would allow a university system governing board to set up its own system of “tiered employment” for faculty, as long as professors receive an annual review.
Patrick’s proposal has faced broad pushback from faculty groups across the country and by university leaders in the state. University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell published a letter after Patrick’s declaration to end tenure saying it would significantly reduce the university’s ability to recruit and retain top faculty who could get tenure elsewhere.
The legislation, which was proposed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, was expected to face opposition in the House after House Speaker Dade Phelan said he disagreed with the proposition during a Texas Tribune Festival panel last year, arguing that the attempt to admonish liberal-leaning faculty would backfire by also making it harder to recruit conservative professors.
Neither Patrick nor Creighton immediately responded to a request for comment on the new version of the legislation. Phelan and Kuempel also did not respond to a request for comment.
The amended version of the bill defines tenure in statute as “the entitlement of a faculty member of an institution of higher education to continue in the faculty member ’s academic position unless dismissed by the institution for good.”
It says that only a board of regents can grant tenure, which is currently the case in Texas public universities. After five to seven years, faculty who were hired on a track to earn tenure go through a yearlong tenure review process that starts in their academic department and ends with the university system board of regent approval.
The bill says that any policy must include a performance review for tenured faculty every one to six years, which also currently exists at universities across the country. Post-tenure review is a well established practice within higher education to help faculty further develop their teaching and research and typically occurs every six years after a faculty earns tenure.
Under the new version of the bill, if a professor receives an unsatisfactory evaluation they must be placed on a development plan to get back on track. If a faculty member is found to commit “serious misconduct,” their dismissal must include due process proceedings for faculty to be alerted of their firing and respond via hearing. It also says the university system “shall seek advice and comment” from university faculty before adopting due process procedures.
The Higher Education Committee on Monday is also expected to discuss Senate Bill 17, which would eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion offices in higher education. Kuempel is also expected to introduce a new version of that bill that would still ban DEI offices and prohibit required diversity training, but it would open the door for university boards of regents to approve such programs in certain circumstances.
Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.