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Abolishing Tenure Will Undermine Red-State Efforts To Reform Higher Education  

Unfortunately, some red states are pairing anti-woke legislation with bills that weaken or abolish tenure protection.


Applicants for faculty positions are often required to submit “diversity” statements, which screen out otherwise highly qualified candidates who do not fully endorse wokeness or do not understand its subtleties. In some disciplines, wokeness has corrupted faculty research and teaching.  

Academic journal editors often suppress rigorous studies whose results contradict the tenets of wokeness while promoting shoddy research whose results happen to support wokeness. These poorly conducted studies are easy to publish and even enshrined as conventional wisdom in textbooks. 

Thankfully, red states are starting to fight back against wokeness. Bills are being proposed to defund discriminatory and divisive “diversity, equity, and inclusion” bureaucracies, where woke initiatives typically originate. Other bills seek to prevent administrators from subjecting students and faculty to tests of fealty to wokeness and to prohibit race preferences in admissions and hiring. Still others would create new academic units controlled by faculty dissenters from wokeness, which could become havens for non-ideological scholarship. 

Such reforms could be a boon to red-state public universities. If implemented well, they would help red-state universities attract top scholars who find the “woke” academic culture stifling. 

Unfortunately, some red states are pairing anti-woke legislation with bills that weaken or abolish tenure protection, which, if passed, would undermine all reform efforts.

Without tenure, no rational conservative or centrist professor who dissents from wokeness would accept a job at these states’ public universities. Those already there will leave, or woke administrators will purge them in short order.  

As I have pointed out elsewhere, administrators, not faculty members, caused the woke takeover of our universities. Administrators, even in red states, are significantly to the left of faculty, and the faculty does not appoint them.  

Administrators are appointed by state officials with titles such as regents, trustees, and chancellors, who in red states are nominated by Republican governors and confirmed by Republican-dominated legislatures.

Given the terrible track record of Republican-appointed university officials, it is a near certainty that many administrators who caused the woke ascendancy will stay in power, no matter what state legislatures do.  

At my own university, Texas A&M, Chancellor John Sharp serves at the pleasure of a board of regents who were all appointed by Republican governors, including Gov. Greg Abbott, and confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate. Yet Sharp continues to doggedly defend President Katherine Banks, even after she approved a faculty racial diversity program that violates federal law.  

At a recent meeting of a conservative alumni group, I asked Sharp about her role in the illegal program. Sharp went so far as to declare that Banks would be remembered as the best Texas A&M president in history. 

Red-state governors and legislatures likely will not clear out woke administrators, so professors who dissent from wokeness would never come to or stay at a red-state university that abolished tenure — even if all anti-woke bills become law. Without tenure, dissenting professors have virtually no protection from administrators who want to purge them for their opinions.  

Again, taking my own institution as an example, why would any professor who vocally opposes DEI take a job here as an at-will employee, knowing the president once willingly violated federal law in the name of DEI?  

Even if the present crop of administrators leaves, the terrible track record of the political appointees overseeing the nation’s universities does not inspire much confidence in the next group. 

Statesmen are right to be concerned that tenure can be abused, but provisions exist that can minimize this problem.  

At many public universities, tenured faculty are subject to periodic performance reviews by their peers and can be dismissed for persistent poor performance. They can also be fired for good cause, such as unprofessional conduct, failure to perform duties, and professional incompetence. Tools to remove tenured faculty who perform inadequately or inappropriately hijack the classroom for political activism already exist.  

Tenure protects against arbitrary dismissal, which is necessary if Americans want professors who willingly and publicly speak important yet unpopular truths that administrators, and even some politicians, want suppressed. 

Red-state legislators who wish to enhance their public universities face a historic opportunity. By passing anti-woke reforms, they have the potential to create intellectual environments free from the grip of the woke orthodoxy that is stifling academic freedom worldwide. In so doing, they can potentially attract some of the best and brightest academic talent on the planet.  

Tenure abolition, however, undermines these reforms and makes matters worse. 

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