Texas Lt. Governor proposes abolishing tenure in his state’s universities, as well as banning teaching CRT

February 22, 2022 • 1:00 pm

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has issued a statement describing his plans for the next session of his state legislature. Click on the screenshot to enlarge what’s written below. You will immediately realize that he is a Republican. (He’s been Lieutenant Gov. since 2014, and was re-elected in 2018).

As you see, he’s calling for the elimination of tenure, a mainstay of academic freedom. What about already-tenured professors? He says that they’ll be reviewed annually instead of every six years. Regular reviews for professors with tenure, or at least full professors, aren’t that common. After some years as a tenured associate professor, you’re evaluated for promotion to full professor, but once you make that, you’re at the top, and there’s no reason to “review” you except for your department to let you know how they think you’re doing or if you’ve committed some grievous offense or been grossly incompetent. Firing a tenured professor is very difficult.

So what Patrick is proposing here is to tell all new hires that they have is no employment security, and you’d better be careful what you say. You can be let go for reasons not specified in the above.

Finally, Patrick is “outraged” by a vote of the Austin campus’s faculty “in support of teaching critical race theory”. That, and his note that the UT system is being taken over by “tenured, leftist professors” shows you that he’s concerned more with ideology than with politics.

But his statement above is grossly distorted.

Re the CRT resolution, the Austin American-Statesman actually reported this on February 15:

The Faculty Council at the University of Texas approved a nonbinding resolution Monday defending the academic freedom of faculty members to teach about race, gender justice and critical race theory.

The resolution, approved 41-5 with three members abstaining, states that educators, not politicians, should make decisions about what to teach, and it supports the right of faculty members to design courses and curriculum and to conduct scholarly research in their fields. The UT Faculty Council is an organization that represents the faculty members at the university.

Faculty members approved the resolution partly in response to legislation around the country seeking to limit discussions involving race in schools, colleges and universities. The resolution expresses solidarity with K-12 teachers in Texas who are seeking to “teach the truth in U.S. history and civics education.”

Patrick has clearly misrepresented the resolution, which was not only nonbinding, but was also not at all “in support of critical race theory.” What it supported was the right of faculty to teach that (or about race or gender justice); it did not give support to specifically teaching CRT! In other words, Patrick lied.

The UT Austin resolution was itself a response to the Republican-controlled state legislature—you know, the one that passed the unconstitutional “fetal heartbeat” antiabortion law—trying to prevent topics from being taught in secondary school:

The Legislature last year enacted restrictions on teaching certain topics in K-12 public schools, in an effort to target critical race theory — largely taught in colleges and universities — a Republican catch-all for what some see as divisive efforts to address racism and inequity in schools.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3979, which limits how teachers can discuss race and current events in social studies courses, and then expanded the restrictions to any subject in grades K-12, including ethnic studies courses, with the passage of Senate Bill 3 during a special session. Other states, such as Iowa, have prohibited the teaching of critical race theory and “divisive concepts” in higher education as well as K-12 education.

The Texas laws don’t mention critical race theory directly, but they forbid schools from requiring in courses concepts such as that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and an understanding of the 1619 Project, a New York Times series examining the role and legacy of slavery in the founding of the U.S.

There was no ban on teaching anything in higher education, i.e. in colleges. So Patrick’s call for teaching CRT to be cause for eliminating tenure in colleges is not only fatuous, but punishes something that’s already legal to do. And, as we know, “CRT” really is a slippery concept: it runs through teaching honest history about oppression in America to the full-blown Kendi-an version that calls for Constitutional Amendments to monitor racism everywhere.

That’s one reason why I oppose any of these anti-CRT bills. The the other is that you have to be very careful about telling people what’s legal and illegal to teach. It’s a violation of the First Amendment to teach creationism in science classes, and I wouldn’t favor teaching Holocaust denial in history classes, but that matter can be dealt with by universities themselves, not by the legislature, which is a blunt instrument.

Finally, the Academic Freedom Institute wrote an excellent response to this Teas proposal explaining why tenure is important and why banning teaching some subjects in college is a bad thing to do. Click on the screenshot to read their statement:

In case you’re not in academics and have forgotten or don’t realize why we have tenure (most jobs don’t), it’s because it’s a way to preserve academic freedom. To quote the AFA document (I’ve put the crucial part in bold):

Tenure protections for university faculty were adopted throughout American higher education in the twentieth century precisely in order to protect faculty from the efforts of politicians, donors, university administrators, and other faculty to suppress ideas that they do not like. The lieutenant governor’s proposals strike at the very heart of the academic enterprise by prohibiting the teaching of certain ideas, thus immunizing contrary ideas from intellectual challenge. This, in effect, establishes campus orthodoxies and forbids the expression of dissent. Few things are more toxic to intellectual life.

To fulfill their missions, universities must be places where controversial ideas can be freely debated and where ideas are tested and supported through the consideration of evidence, argument, and analysis and not by subjecting them to popularity contests at the polls, in legislatures, or anywhere else. A free society does not empower politicians—or anyone—to censor ideas they do not like and silence scholars of whom they disapprove.

. . . Tenure provides valuable practical protection for that freedom of critical inquiry. Principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech are empty platitudes if they cannot be effectively secured. If professors can be fired for teaching ideas of which the legislature disapproves, then state universities will cease to be engines of intellectual discovery and progress. If professors can be dismissed for teaching ideas that a majority of the Texas legislature dislikes today, then they can likewise be dismissed for teaching a completely different set of ideas that a different legislative majority in the future or in a state with a different political or ideological coloration finds objectionable. True intellectual diversity requires the freedom to think, teach and write without the threat of political reprisals against those who voice dissenting opinions. Academic excellence is impossible where politicians, administrators, other faculty, or anyone else place limits on what ideas can be discussed in a college classroom.

It’s manifestly clear that Lt. Governor Patrick is trying to get professors fired for teaching “liberal ideas”.  But what it shows as well is that assaults on freedom of speech, as well as on academic freedom, come from both ends of the political spectrum. Here’s a Right-winger trying to restrict speech, and the Left often tries as well (see here and previous 19 pages).  There is no ideological monopoly on authoritarianism.

32 thoughts on “Texas Lt. Governor proposes abolishing tenure in his state’s universities, as well as banning teaching CRT

    1. I hated how John Oliver started by defining CRT as something taught in law school decades ago. While it might have started there, it has so little to do with where it is now, it hardly seems worth mentioning. And what about Kendi? No mention of him. And Kimberlé Crenshaw is shown briefly delivering some uncontroversial anti-racism slogan. All in all, it was something of a whitewash job, IMHO.

      1. I’m not sure what you mean by “it has so little to do with where it is now.” As far as I know, it’s still taught in law school and that anything else is just made-up nonsense perpetrated by the right (saying that it’s taught in grade school, for example).

        1. Certainly what is taught about CRT in law school (then and now, I’m assuming) is not taught to grade school kids. However, the set of ideas now under the CRT umbrella is a different story. To pretend that we are still talking about law school CRT is just disingenuous. The other common dodge made by modern CRT supporters is to claim it isn’t taught in grade school right now, while ignoring the fact that many teachers and education administrators would certainly like to teach it there and it has already infiltrated some school boards and other educational infrastructure. To dismiss this as all just the Right’s fever dream is ridiculous. Sure, they are overreacting. Banning books is nonsensical. Pretending that what is taught about history and race doesn’t need fixing is crazy.

          1. > many teachers and education administrators would certainly like to teach it there

            I’ll also add that even if it is not part of the curriculum, many teachers are already teaching it, or their own variant. Consider the story about the teacher-librarian in Washington DC a few months ago. There are a lot of unsupervised teachers going off-the-menu, teaching whatever feels right to them. We trust that teachers stick to the program, but I can tell you from personal experience that many activist teachers do not want to support the proscribed curriculum. Think about the film Dead Poets Society. Please re-watch it as an adult, as someone who thinks that we send children to school for a specific purpose. Consider how the main character ignored the curriculum and wanted to open his students’ minds. The movie taught us in 1989 that those people are heroes; current policies are being written by adults who learned that value thirty years ago. A recent SMBC comic said that the weirdest thing about being an adult is that you start siding with all of the villains.

            1. Yes, teachers always like to put their own stamp on their work. How can they not? They aren’t robots. That’s a good thing in general. The key, as in most things, is that the ideas ought to be discussed before getting taught to children. One problem with the CRT folk is that they’re so damn sure of themselves. They think they are on the right side of history and no debate is needed. Perhaps the current school board wars will be their wake-up call if it isn’t dismissed out of hand by both sides. I think many of the people that frequent this website find they need to argue against radical opinions on both sides.

              1. > That’s a good thing in general.

                I think this shows us that non-conformity is not inherently good or bad; it is a tool. Tools can be used for purposes we like or dislike – and we see that all of the time in science. There are times I consider nonconformity to be a blessing; then I see unprofessional wanna-be adults who don’t like ‘adulting’ who espouse the same sentiment. That forces me to reconsider the inherent value of nonconformity and how we have put non-conformists on a pedestal. There are many ideas and ideologies I like in theory, where I have realized that I still personally avoid their most vocal advocates.

                > I think many of the people that frequent this website find they need to argue against radical opinions on both sides.

                Very true. That is how the site is framed: we see articles about the excesses of the New Right and the New Left, and we criticize them. Both sides are learning from each other and using similar techniques. It’s a race to the bottom.

              2. “I think this shows us that non-conformity is not inherently good or bad; it is a tool.”

                Just to be clear, I wasn’t claiming non-conformity to be a good thing. Teachers should in general teach the way they think a subject should be taught because it allows them to be more passionate in their teaching and to teach to their own strengths.

              3. Paul, I know you have no reason to trust a random stranger on the internet, but please trust me. I have known enough misfit activist teachers, people going off-script and teaching what they want with no supervision. A lot of them have ended up fired, arrested, or worse. Remember this story? While I like the idea of teachers having some leeway, the sheer number of misfit teachers, both citizens and expats, is scary. I personally know teachers who have tried to teach progressive western values in conservative Muslim schools – and vice versa. The fact that a minority of teachers can’t be trusted is why teachers as a group need mandatory structure.

              4. I didn’t say there weren’t bad teachers that go off the rails. How could that not be the case with so many teachers in the world? It would be drawing the wrong conclusion to base our attitude toward teachers applying creativity to the work to a few bad apples. And who said anything about there not being supervision?

      1. I wasn’t aware of that episode. I just looked it up and watched it. “Black hair and hair styles are frequently yet another pretext for discrimination.” Yep, and Oliver’s look into the history of this subject was great. Oliver is brilliant. This YouTube commenter agrees: “Black woman here. Am I the only one who is impressed by John’s depth of knowledge on the topic of our hair? I was laughing so hard throughout this video. Thanks John!” From another Black woman: “I’m amazed at how well he covered this story! He knew all the terms, ‘melting the lace,’ ‘laying the edges.’ Thanks for caring enough to cover this, John.”

  1. The tenure battle at public universities is something of a one-two punch at academic freedom. If Universities had the will and power to stand up to state legislators (and parents…and students…), maybe they might not need it (tenure). But as long as you have feckless administrators willing to virtue signal to students, parents, and legislators any time those groups get in a huff, yes you can expect firings might result from unpopular sentiment or election-driven rhetoric about some professor or another.

    I *would* say that with proper job protections, professors may not need tenure. But the U.S. in the past 20 years has pretty much gotten rid of proper job protections too. I work at an at-will corporation. It has very much worked for me: the organization defends its people against client upset and largely values merit, and at the same time has had the flexibility to let people go for bad offenses without 6+ month court battles or negotiations. But I don’t fool myself into thinking that just because that system worked out for me, that it’s a good system. The first amendment isn’t there for popular speech but rather unpopular, and likewise job protection systems like tenure isn’t there for the popular researchers or popular research.

  2. I will never support using the blunt instrument of government to suppress speech. Such an action is antithetical to a free and open society. That said, the AFA’s statement that, “If professors can be fired for teaching ideas of which the legislature disapproves, then state universities will cease to be engines of intellectual discovery and progress.” is incredibly disingenuous. Today’s universities have lately demonstrated time and again that too many of them no longer support ‘intellectual discovery and progress’ unless it is of the pre-approved type. Such censorship of all ‘non-right-thinking’ students and professors will result in some kind of equal and opposite reaction. Texas’s version is a bad, but not unexpected, result.

  3. Most states are “at will employment” which means you can be fired for any or no reason. What makes professors magical that they should have different rules?

    1. Tenure is not a guarantee of employment. If you don’t do your job, or engage in unethical, unconstitutional or illegal activities, tenure won’t protect you, you can be fired. The only thing it does is what’s been described above, protection from the administration or the government firing you for teaching concepts that they don’t approve of, so long as those topics are legitimate subjects of inquiry within your field.

    2. Pablo, The question is not what makes professors magical, but why the governor is able to set policies for government employment.

      I could be wrong, but this is not a matter of private universities creating ‘magical’ positions for privileged employees. The governor, as chief executive officer of the state, has some executive power regarding state jobs. This is a matter of the state executive declaring that state employees working in certain roles for state universities are still subject to state policies.

      I was shocked to learn that people teaching at state universities in California are compelled to swear a loyalty oath. California loyalty oath on Wikipedia. In my understanding, the US Supreme Court has upheld it.

      Private universities are still free to set their own policies, right?

    3. I have no idea what you are talking about. For most state and federal employees – after they get passed a probationary period, usually 6 months, you cannot fire a person with no reason. I know this is the case in federal employment.

      1. You could review the Wikipedia entry for ‘At-will employment’. That would explain what pablo is talking about. It means that privacy companies can fire anyone they want at any time (e.g. layoffs), unless that firing is itself illegal. That would include private colleges. I have worked at multiple private companies (publicly traded) that were incorporated in ‘at-will’ states. I have never been fired for cause. I have been laid off. Once was likely illegal, as they seemed to randomly pick only older workers for the layoffs. But it could also be because I had been so successful that I received a higher salary than younger workers in other countries. I also got a lot more work done than those younger workers – due to experience. I would have needed a lot of documentation to prove that age was the reason. But age was the reason.

        It is not quite the same for public colleges. They can fire adjunct professors on e.g. a whim, because not enough students took their classes to make them profitable, they ruffled feathers, the department had budget cuts, some alumnus with deep pockets got mad at the subject they teach. Anything that is not directly illegal, e.g. they are black, older, gay, registered to the ‘wrong’ political party, wrong religion, got pregnant, retaliation for reporting illegal activities.

        Tenured professors are generally only fired for cause. Valid cause could be e.g. not performing your job duties, harassment, committing a felony that impacts the college. The TX Lt Gov is trying to add a ’cause’ of: teach a subject Patrick doesn’t like.

        1. What pablo is talking about is not Federal or state government workers. They are not at-will
          employees. You can review that if you wish. Also, union employees are generally not included in this type of employment.

  4. It looks like every red state is introducing similar legislation. A similar bill restricting CRT in higher ed has been introduced in Tennessee. The republicans saw that bashing CRT was a winner for them when Youngkin was elected governor in Virginia, so they’re all jumping on it.

    As for getting rid of tenure, that’s not a new idea among the hard right, who hold grade school teachers in contempt for being lazy, overpaid freeloaders who work 6 hours a day with 3 months off for the summer, while college professors work 6 hours a week for 9 months while indoctrinating their students with Marxism. This is seriously what a lot of them think.

    What’s scary is how the Right is gaining enough political power to begin to implement their regressive ideas. Yes, the repressive Left is scary too, but they don’t wield the political power that the Right does, and are in fact their own worst enemies.

  5. The Texas legislature is extremely dangerous and has always been so. They have regularly punished cities that try to protect their environment or do other things progressive. I think it is one of the most backwards and evil state legislatures in the country. When I lived there, every day picking up the newspaper while the legislature was in session brought the same dread as did reading the newspaper while Trump was president.

    1. Texas would be the worst state in the country if it were not for Florida, Alabama, Iowa and maybe some others.

  6. A tricky debate made worse by political tribalism. But *if* you believe that authoritarian wokeism needs dialling back, and perhaps that CRT is divisive and not rationally based, then merely clutching pearls is not enough to achieve anything. Reversing the long march through the institutions will require action.

    The Texas Lt. Governor’s proposals may or may not be the right way forward, but where do you expect other political ideas to come from?

  7. As others have pointed out, the sacredness of academic tenure has been in the cross-hairs for a long time, and not exclusively of troglodyte Rightwingers. When I was a Senator at my university in the 90s,
    President G. shocked one Senate session by confiding that several state legislators were considering legislation to reform or even abolish tenure. Before the Pres had finished his sentence, there was a whoosh of almost universal intake of breath around the room, after which you could hear a pin drop. [In fact, I distinctly heard two pins drop on the other side of the auditorium.] Pres. G. went on to other matters, punctuated only by a dull thud now and then, as one Senator or another, neglecting to breathe, turned blue and toppled out of their seat.

  8. Honestly, tenure serves mostly for job security, which otherwise doesn’t exist for most academics. In any other than the highest couple of tiers, If you are dismissed, for any reason, after five years or so, you can forget finding another appointment. They’re hiring postdocs, and your teaching experience is of no value. This is why the prospect of tenure is so important to candidates for academic appointment. And this is why Texas and South Carolina are setting themselves up to learn a difficult lesson. The people they want to hire are demanding a tenure track and, if you aren’t offering it, they will certainly go elsewhere. Bitch if you like. That’s the way it is. It is amazing/amusing that people imagine academics to be interchangeable.

  9. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has also covered this and many of the other anti-CRT bills. Their commentary on the Texas situation can be found below:


    Of more interest is their discussion of Anti-CRt bills in Florida & Mississipi, the former is completely wrong because it is a straight up ban, the Mississipi bill is more of a ‘you can’t compel people to adhere to a particular viewpoint bill’ and is better, but the wording needs tightening up.


  10. Sheesh, this plays right into the hands of the CRT-advocates who claim that anti-CRT sentiments and/or legislation is a moral panic by and for know nothings. Whatever you happen to think of Rufo, he at least had the tactical acumen and foresight to pivot to “curriculum transparency” legislation. Seems like some of his less astute followers missed the memo, though.

  11. Well, they had to do something. Parents, students, alumni, and many citizens in general are angry at the steady transformation of schools into leftist indoctrination centers. Particularly at public schools and universities.
    So the concerned people complain to the legislators, who respond by crafting laws that attempt to address the issue. The very nature of laws, their necessary specificity, makes them a clumsy tool to use to combat such an ideology.
    But the legislators are in no position to just ignore the problem. They have to at least try to do something, or the voters will replace them with someone who will take action.
    My oldest kid was in a pre-med program at a very good school, but transferred out after two years of his classes, study sessions, meals, and even walks across campus being disrupted by angry BLM protesters. The kids targeted for such abuse were not members of a campus KKK outreach program. They were quiet and studious science students, whose primary offense was taking their studies seriously while being Asian or White. That angry activists are allowed to seek out and scream obscenities at Asian kids trying to study in the library is a symptom of a much larger problem.
    The elementary school teachers who think their job is to turn their students into race-obsessed revolutionaries come from such an environment.

    The woke have a religious zeal to implement their doomed utopian ideas on all of us. They are not going to quit on their own, they must be stopped. Ideally, the actions needed would come from within the academic systems. It appears that the administrations are complicit or at least collaborators.

    Laws are a clumsy way to deal with the problems, and will necessarily have negative unintended consequences. Better it should not have come to the point where legislators need to be involved. When they are tasked with a solution to a problem, that solution will be legislation. However, that is how our system works.

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