Tenure Under Attack in Two More States

Proposed legislation would eliminate academic tenure at public universities in Iowa and Missouri, echoing a move that has already gutted such permanent posts in Wisconsin.

By Joshua A. Krisch | January 17, 2017

Iowa State University's Jack Trice StadiumWIKIMEDIA, K.A.ZENZLawmakers in Missouri and Iowa introduced bills last week (January 11) that would end tenure in public universities within their respective states, Inside Higher Ed reported. The legislation in Missouri, introduced by Representative Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville), would end tenure for all new hires as of 2018; the Iowa bill, introduced by Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), would retroactively take tenure away, including from current professors.

Experts, recalling Wisconsin’s successful 2015 bid to end tenure at all state universities, worry that the attack on tenure may be part of a national trend against higher education and academia. “These are serious attempts to undermine universities and the role of universities in society,” Hans-Joerg Tiede of the American Association of University Professors told Inside Higher Ed. “If they’re not directly coordinated, there’s a strong current going through all of them.”

The attack on tenure in Missouri is part of a larger bill that would also require public universities to tell students the total estimated cost of obtaining a degree, and list details about employment prospects. Brattin added tenure to the chopping block because, “if you’re doing the right thing as a professor and teaching students to the best of your ability, why do you need tenure?” he wrote in the bill.

“Our professors are hired to educate our students to achieve success,” he added in an interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune. “I don’t think that includes having these sorts of protections so they can go off on the deep end on certain issues.”

“What other job in the U.S. has protections like that?” Brattin asked Inside Higher Ed.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Zaun made a similar argument, defending his anti-tenure legislation and denying that it represents an attack on higher education. “I think the university should have the flexibility to hire and fire professors and then I don’t think that bad professors should have a lifetime position guaranteed at colleges,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

But professors argue that tenure is an essential component of higher education. “Tenure is important in its own right, in that it helps protect academic freedom, helps encourage cutting-edge research and helps faculty engage in shared governance, which is important to the long-term success of the institution,” Ben Trachtenberg, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri, told Inside Higher Ed.

Joe Gorton, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Northern Iowa, had stronger words about the legislation. “Tenure doesn’t prevent termination for just cause, but it prevents the discipline or termination of a faculty member who teaches or conducts research in areas that are controversial or politically unpopular,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “This [proposed legislation] is a terribly dangerous idea.”

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Avatar of: OutBox17


Posts: 8

January 17, 2017

Yes, tenure should be abolished and retroactive in all public and private universities. It no longer serves the goals of the 21st century where changes are occurring at an incredible fast pace. It has created negative incentives, compromised excellence, has been abused, and there is zero quality control; this includes administration and its bureaucracy. Once tenure is granted, many bad professors become less productive, abuse postdocs and grad students by asking them to teach their classes and do all of the work in their labs, provide little to no academic advice to students, are not available or seen in their offices, publications are of low quality, and in most cases, same studies are perpetuated for years with only bits of new data to satisfy the university ‘publish or perish’ quotas. Furthermore, when tenured professors teach, if any, they follow an old-fashion text-driven teaching approach.  The current practice of hiring adjunct faculty without any benefits and cheap salaries instead of full-time scholars is flagrant intellectual abuse. In fact, the best teachers are precisely the part-timers who usually bring novel teaching approaches, fresh thinking, contagious enthusiasm, efficiency, and updated knowledge in their fields.  Universities should adopt the private sector system of hiring to streamline costs and eliminate abuses. Job positions in the private sector are never tenured positions but employees are provided on a regular basis with training and development allowing for career development and opportunities. There is a continuous acute and stringent feedback system from top to bottom. People are measured in terms of intellectual contributions, innovative approaches, and maximum productivity. The value is in the work carried out by employees rather than time, and salary and benefits are based on individual performance. Since higher education economics no longer works, universities should evaluate and update their hiring systems and abolish tenure, since it is obsolete and no longer meaningful in the 21st century and beyond.

Avatar of: SI


Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from OutBox17 made on January 17, 2017

January 18, 2017

Do you have any evidence for your claims or are you just making things up? The fact is that academics often do work that is not politically popular. Without tenure, it's easy to fire professors doing "controversial" research. Professors who examined the link between tobacco and lung cancer would've been fired, we never would've learned that the lead in gas was poisonous especially to developing children. Researchers need to be protected in order to do any sort of public good. We don't want political pressure to get in the way of objective research and tenure has been quite successful at doing that.

And to your last point, it's possible for important work to take years to be fruitful in science. To fire someone because they didn't come up with a breakthrough in a year is ridiculous and unreasonable and disincentivizes doing research that may not bare immediate results, but is of great value in the long term. Universities should not be operated like private sector businesses because they are meant to be for the public good.

Avatar of: dumbdumb


Posts: 99

January 18, 2017

Representative Rick Brattin has been grossly misquoted. What he stated is:“Our professors are hired to educate our students to achieve a full appreciation of "intelligent" design”


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