Dan Patrick tenure ban could devastate Texas college system

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On Friday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced he would seek to abolish tenure for professors at Texas public universities, the latest in an ongoing GOP attack on public education.

“What we will propose to do is end tenure, all terms for all new recruits,” said Patrick, whose proposal would eliminate tenure for new recruits and force those who have it to undergo a review every year rather than every six. “The law will change to say that teaching critical race theory is At first glance evidence of good cause for revocation of tenure.

Speaking on Capitol Hill, Patrick was responding to a recent nonbinding resolution by the University of Texas at Austin faculty council violating state law banning the teaching of “critical race theory,” that Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June.

“The Faculty Council strongly rejects any attempt by bodies outside the faculty to restrict or dictate the content of the academic curriculum on any matter, including issues related to racial and social justice, and will strongly oppose any encroachment on the authority of the faculty, including by the Legislature or the Board of Regents,” noted the statement, which the faculty endorsed by a vote of 41 to 5 with three abstentions at a February 14 meeting.

“We are not going to allow a handful of professors who do not represent the whole group to teach and indoctrinate students with a critical theory of race – that we are inherently racist as a nation,” he said. said Patrick. “It’s the parents who pay the tuition and, of course, they will have a say in the program.”

Nearly two years into a global pandemic, teachers are caught in the middle of fights over masking, school closures, remote learning and other issues. Patrick’s latest threat to college tenure is another dose of salt in the wound. Educators at all levels are now threatened with dismissal and public shaming for speaking candidly to their students about racism. Patrick’s attacks on tenure are a thinly veiled attack on academic freedom.

Patrick’s proposal follows Abbott’s recent Parental Rights Bill, which has been touted as giving parents greater influence over their children’s education in public schools, but is actually a continuation of the GOP attack on public education. He would amend the state constitution to fire teachers who teach “pornography” — including material discussing race, gender, or sexual orientation that Republicans find objectionable — and ban them from the profession.

The shifting politics within the GOP is on full display here. The “chamber of commerce” republicanism that governed the state is barely visible in the rearview mirror. Instead, the party has now fully embraced a right-wing populist and culture warrior mentality.

Additionally, the lieutenant governor surely takes note of Republican Glenn Younkin’s decisive victory in the race for governor of Virginia, in which his campaign focused on education. Patrick sees the potential to boost turnout in the GOP primary races, using a proven conservative white grievance policy around education.

Understandably, the professors are unhappy with their new position as political footballers.

Andrea Gore, professor of pharmacology and toxicology and chair of the University of Texas Academic Freedom and Responsibility Advisory Committee, which drafted the resolution, called Patrick’s proposal “absolutely terrible.”

“To take away that kind of freedom is to impose more authoritarian rules on a system that thrives under freedom – where we have the opportunity to educate our students about different points of view and to be able to do research in areas that can change the world. and make it a better place,” Gore said.

Members of the university community fear that the end of tenure will permanently damage Texas’ public university system by making it difficult to attract talent. Tenure offers scholars the freedom to pursue research and ideas that may be unpopular. Telling potential applicants that their work is under scrutiny every year — and at risk if they dare to address racism in American history — would make it difficult.

“Abolishing tenure would not only hurt Texas’ ability to recruit and retain excellent faculty; it would also hurt Texas students, who would not be able to stay in the state knowing they will be learning from the best in the country,” University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell said in a statement Monday.

Removal of tenure would ultimately affect the Texas economy. At an event in Beaumont last November, Abbott said “more and more great companies are moving to Texas every day because of our welcoming business climate and our young, growing, skilled and competitive workforce. diversified”.

“That’s not going to happen in a Texas that doesn’t have tenure,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project, noting that the state’s robust higher education system is producing the workforce. growing work mentioned by Abbott.

Among the problems with the state GOP’s obsession with critical race theory is that few of its detractors seem to understand what it is. Patrick described it as “a theory that says we’re going to judge you when you walk into the classroom by the color of your skin – that if you’re white you’re born a racist…and if you’re a person of color , you are a victim.

This characterization is “not at all accurate,” said Eric McDaniel, co-director of the Politics of Race and Ethnicity Lab at the University of Texas.

“Critical race theory is a way to understand how racism can remain, even as we try to eradicate it,” he said. “It’s really a look at systematic racism or institutionalized racism.”

McDaniel explained that critical race theory — an interdisciplinary academic movement that posits that race is a social construct embedded in social structures rather than just a personal bias — is not often taught to undergraduate students. As far as he knows, it is taught to third-year law students and graduate students.

Still, the lieutenant governor may see tenure as another effective motivator for turnout among GOP primary voters.

“Republicans have found in the issue widely described as critical race theory, a way to mobilize elements of culture warfare in public schools that really activate some Republican voters,” Blank said.

Citing a poll from his organization, Blank noted that a plurality of Republicans oppose limiting the teaching of racism in US history by Texas public school teachers by a 47% margin. , against 42% in favor. However, Blank noted that Patrick sees an opportunity to undermine Democrats in an area where they have traditionally outplayed Republicans.

By shifting the narrative around public education away from traditional funding issues and toward culture war issues like the history of racism, transgender athletes and offensive library books, Republicans are putting Democrats on the defensive.

“It forces Democrats in the difficult position of arguing that in fact parents don’t have enough of a say in raising children,” Blank said.

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