Sen. Stewart Cathey does not want to abolish tenure for professors at Louisiana’s public universities. Yet.
Cathey, a Monroe Republican known for his anti-tenure stance, is sponsoring legislation to put annual faculty review and tenure revocation processes in state law. His proposal, Senate Bill 174, does not go as far as many in higher education feared when Cathey announced he would file legislation despite never having called a meeting of the tenure review committee he created last year.
In an interview with the Illuminator, Cathey stood by his belief that it’s time to abolish faculty tenure, but said he stopped short of bringing legislation to do that because of the prevalence of tenure protections in other states that would make it difficult for Louisiana universities to recruit.
“I would want the best and brightest talent. I also would not want to be stuck in a system where we would be mired by having teachers with substandard talent,” Cathey said. “And so this legislation would help us make sure that we are retaining the… best faculty that we can retain.”
Cathey’s bill codifies employment practices that many of Louisiana’s institutions of higher learning already have in place, at times reading more like a faculty handbook than a state law.
“The current version of the bill seems to attempt to establish a uniform approach to annual evaluation, promotion and tenure across the 28 public postsecondary schools serving people all over the state,” University of Louisiana-Lafayete Faculty Senate President Philip Auter said. “Post-tenure assessment protocols are already in place, and much of the bill’s language is currently put into practice”
Tenure provides an indefinite academic appointment to qualifying faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in their field. Academics with tenure can only be terminated for cause, and it typically only happens in extreme circumstances. Higher education leaders view tenure as a key part of academic freedom at public universities and a shield against political, business and religious intervention.
While the bill would not dramatically alter tenure practices in Louisiana, some higher education leaders have expressed concern that it amounts to a public relations problem that could impact faculty recruitment efforts, an at-times tenuous process made more difficult by comparatively low faculty pay in Louisiana.
Dramatic reforms to tenure have taken root in Florida and Georgia, and attempts have surfaced in several states nationwide. The proposals are uniformly met with faculty outrage.
As far as abolishing tenure goes, Cathey said he hasn’t changed his mind and still feels like a nationwide tenure rollback would be a step in the right direction.
“I would love to see tenure abolished across all college campuses,” Cathey said. “But that’s not reality. I think this at least allows us to continue to operate in the system we’ve got, but also putting some parameters around how you maintain the greatest privilege that a professor could have — and that is the job security that tenure affords you.”
Cathey conceded it would be hard for Louisiana’s universities to recruit faculty if Louisiana is one of the few states that does not allow tenure protections.
“Brian Kelly doesn’t have tenure. Kim Muley doesn’t have tenure,” Cathey said. “If he does what we deem to be a substandard job, we’ll fire him.”
“Shouldn’t we require the same of our professors?” he asked.
This story was published earlier by the Louisiana Illuminator, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
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