Legislature to launch task force to study university tenure policies
BATON ROUGE — The House gave final passage Monday to a resolution to study tenure policies at universities in Louisiana.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, creates the Task Force on Tenure in Postsecondary Education. The task force would report back to lawmakers with suggestions on changing tenure policies in the state.
The resolution passed the House on a 60-30 vote.
The language suggests that Cathey, acting in line with Republican lawmakers in other states, is concerned about possible political indoctrination of college students.
“Postsecondary students should be confident that they are being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, including those that are dissenting,” the resolution reads. The resolution seeks to ensure that “faculty members are not using their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.”
Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, who has a Ph.D. in educational psychology, spoke against the resolution.
Thomas asked legislators to consider the implications of creating the task force. She argued that the committee could only come to two conclusions: to keep tenure or dispense with it.
"If we remove tenure, what will that do for our competitiveness for researchers and for professors?" Thomas asked.
Despite Thomas’ objections, 52 Republicans, six Democrats and two independents in the House voted for the resolution. Voting against it were 20 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
The Louisiana Senate passed the resolution 30-0 on May 3. The instrument does not need gubernatorial approval.
Bob Mann, a tenured professor of mass communication at LSU, took to Twitter to criticize the vote.
“Louisiana Legislature takes (the) first step toward abolishing tenure in higher education in Louisiana, as higher education leaders betray their faculty members by supporting or going mute on the resolution,” Mann tweeted.
The resolution also has been condemned by the Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates.
LSU President William Tate IV and University of Louisiana System President James Henderson have both said that they do not think the task force is necessary, but neither opposed the creation of it.
Cathey said that the outcome of the task force is not certain.
“Maybe a recommendation actually strengthens tenure,” Cathey said.
But in April, Cathey tweeted that faculty who break the law should lose their tenure. He followed that up with several broader comments on tenure.
“Would never advocate for tenure for anyone in any profession!” Cathey tweeted.
“I’ll still never understand why you need a system to create job protection for you!”
Cathey said in another tweet in the same thread. “Shouldn’t your work as a professor keep you employed?”
The task force will be made up of the Senate President or his designee, the Speaker of the House or his designee, the chairs of the House and Senate Committees on Education or their designees, three members each of the House and Senate, the commissioner of higher education or a designee, the president of each university system or a designee, and a faculty member from each university system.
The members must be chosen by July 15 and begin meeting by August 1. The task force must submit its report by March 1, 2023.
Tenure, which provides an indefinite academic appointment to be terminated only under extreme circumstances, is viewed as a key part of academic freedom at American public universities and a shield against political intervention.
Several attempts to limit or abolish tenure have popped up in other Republican-led states, particularly in the Southeast.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law in April that would make it harder for faculty to retain tenure, allowing the Board of Trustees the opportunity to terminate Faculty every five years.
Last fall, the University System of Georgia implemented dramatic tenure reforms some referred to as “the death of tenure.”
Georgia’s public university system allows college administrators to fire tenured professors with little to no input from faculty members, a direct challenge to traditional tenure policies and the only policy of its kind in the country.
Those reforms were attributed by faculty in Georgia to Tristan Denley, who now works for the Louisiana Board of Regents. Denley has been referred to as the “architect of the death of tenure.”
A spokesperson for the Board of Regents said earlier this year that Denley has no role here in tenure decisions.