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Column: Despite GOP attacks, tenure is absolutely essential to higher education

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Jan. 13, 2021, at the Texas state Capitol, in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Lynda M. Gonzalez/Dallas Morning News/TNS.

As students, it's easy to turn a blind eye to the hiring and retention policies that impact our professors. It’s imperative, however, that we pay attention to the topic of tenure, as it is being threatened across the nation.

In March, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced plans to abolish tenure at state universities during the future legislative session. He feels that the power of academic tenure has been abused, according to Houston Public Media.

This decision comes after Texas passed Senate Bill 3, which barred teaching critical race theory in K-12 classrooms. Patrick’s attacks on tenure are to further limit the ability of academics to foster discussion on the subject and allow their punishment or termination if they teach critical race theory.

Tenure is absolutely essential to higher education, not only to protect professors, but to ensure classrooms can foster productive debates and are free from external censorship. It’s pivotal for students and professors alike, and should not be abridged by attempts to control academic curriculum.

Simply put, tenure is a status awarded to professors and academics that serves to establish job security in their positions. Tenured professors cannot be terminated, unless for extraordinary circumstances.

This isn’t just a sweet deal and career milestone. Tenure protects academic freedom within universities, and those with tenure shouldn't have to feel as through their career is at jeopardy due to their teaching or research findings. Stripping tenure has basically become a backdoor way to abolish critical race theory in higher education.

Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took these attacks on tenure a step further by signing Senate Bill 7044, implementing post-tenure review. This means that even after professors receive tenure, status is reevaluated every five years, which removes the “lifetime” component of the appointment.

Last year, Georgia’s public university system created procedures that would allow administrators to remove tenured professors with little-to-no due process. 

In Texas, Florida and Georgia, conservative voices plead the same case for removing tenure — indoctrination has gone too far. Professors, in the minds of Republicans, take advantage of the freedoms of a tenure appointment and teach in ways that do not reflect the taxpayers that fund them.

Once again, state politicians impose their own agendas on the world of higher education that discredits the expansive research and knowledge creation that happens there. It is irresponsible to suggest that complex ideas like critical race theory shouldn’t exist in classrooms, specifically throughout colleges and universities. 

Higher education is dependent on academic freedom and rigorous, unrestricted debate. Discussion, sometimes related to controversial issues in the public eye, is what we should value and protect in our lecture halls.

This is a big deal. The information that we, as students, are exposed to can be severely limited when tenure is removed and faculty is at risk of termination. It’s not difficult to imagine that policies to restrict tenure might also impact faculty retention, once again creating professor shortages and disadvantaging students.

Conservative attempts to deconstruct tenure are inexcusable and must be seen for what they are: unjust censorship in academia.


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Caitlyn Yaede

Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.