Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick agrees to end his term; El Paso faculty call it a political attack
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pledged on Friday to end the tenure of new faculty recruits at public universities and colleges across the state when the Texas Legislature reconvenes next year.
Patrick’s attack on tenured college professors came days after the faculty council at the University of Texas at Austin adopted a resolution on February 14 champion the academic freedom of faculty, particularly with respect to the teaching of critical race theory and racial and gender justice.
If successful, Patrick’s proposal would affect faculty at El Paso Community College, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the University of Texas at El Paso.
“Attacking tenure is a political ploy,” said Gina Núñez-Mchiri, chair of the Faculty Senate at UTEP. “It’s a way to attack people who criticize, not just race, but anything that needs to be analyzed and examined to improve.”
Full professors have been granted lifetime employment at a college or university and are protected from termination without cause.
Patrick released a statement saying, “Tenured professors must not be able to hide behind the phrase ‘academic freedom’ and then continue to poison the minds of our next generation.
“Universities are taken over by tenured and left-wing professors, and it’s high time there was more oversight.”
Patrick said he would also work to change tenure reviews from every six years to annually and that teaching critical race theory would result in tenure being revoked.
Critical Race Theory is a university-level academic framework for examining systemic racism in American law, policy, and society. Last year, the legislature focused on banning critical race theory in K-12 public schools by limiting how teachers can discuss race and racism.
Núñez-Mchiri called Patrick’s remarks “a bully” and an attack on “intellectualism (and) academic freedom”. Tenure rewards and compensates faculty for progress in academia, she said.
“Why would we deter hard workers from gaining job security? It doesn’t make sense,” she said, adding that if Patrick’s proposals become law, it would impact universities’ ability to hire faculty in the state.
In a statement on Friday, Keri Moe, EPCC’s associate vice president for external relations, said the college “values tenure and we would seek input from our faculty leadership if such legislation were introduced.” .
Jeffrey Shepherd, a history professor at UTEP, said while threats to end tenure are not new, higher education institutions should be alarmed by Patrick’s announcement.
“This is part of a long-running right-wing assault on public universities that dates back at least to the 1960s,” Shepherd said. “Conservatives say radical liberal Marxist professors are brainwashing our poor students. This is factually incorrect. Public universities are meant to be places of higher learning.
The threatening tenure threatens “the foundations of the university itself,” Shepherd said. “The council of regents, the chancellors are going to have a problem with that.”
Patrick, who is president of the Texas Senate, is running for re-election this year.
He said Friday that State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who chairs the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee, supports his term proposals.
State Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, serves on the Higher Education Committee. “Teaching history, good or bad, whether you call it CRT or something else, shouldn’t be grounds for tenure revocation,” he said.
College students should be able to make their own judgments about the material they are taught, Blanco said.
“They are young adults, they can think for themselves, they can form their own opinion,” he said. “We need to make sure that we focus on how to make students critical thinkers.
Molly Smith contributed to this story.
Cover photo: A sign marks the entrance to the UTEP campus at the corner of Schuster Avenue and Sun Bowl Drive. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)