Senate Bill ending tenure for college employees remains in the Texas legislature

KBTX News 3 at Six Weekday EXTENDED(Recurring)
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 8:49 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) -The clock is ticking on Texas’ 88th legislative session and a string of higher education bills are still in discussion. One of those bills is Senate Bill 18.

SB 18, by Sen. Creighton, prohibits general academic institutions of higher education from granting an employee tenure or any kind of permanent employment status. It’s a potential law that would affect professors across the state, including right here in the Brazos Valley.

Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Department, has been working with the university since the early 2000′s.

“I study climate change and how humans are affecting the climate and how the climate is affecting us,” said Dessler.

An extensive amount of research comes with Dessler’s career. But, with SB 18, Dessler said he worries his academic freedom will be taken away.

“U.S research universities are the envy of the world. That’s why, if you live in China, you want to get a U.S Ph.D.,” Dessler said. “Tenure gives faculty the ability to research anything they want and come up with any conclusions they want, without fear they’ll get fired just because the people in charge don’t like it. That’s especially true because I work in climate change.”

Lawmakers who support SB 18 say tenure is “outdated” and “may let faculty ruin the brand of a university”.

If the bill is eventually passed, Dessler said Texas A&M University could lose its high-level of research prestige it has gained over the years.

“If this goes through, it’s really going to hurt the university. The reason why is that the rest of the states, maybe with the exception of Florida, are not going to get rid of tenure,” said Dessler. “Anybody who is at the top of their profession and is looking for places to go isn’t going to come to Texas. They’re going to come somewhere that has tenure.”

A document obtained by KBTX from the Texas A&M University System shows that they have proposed changes to tenure across the state instead of its elimination.

The document also points out that there is no definition of tenure in state law that requires universities to create policies only for post-tenure review.

As for what’s next, the bill is in a rebuilding phase. On Tuesday, May 23, the House of Representatives sent a bill offering similar changes, like Texas A&M University Systems, back to the Senate for approval.

The revised SB 18 has until May 26 to be approved by the Senate and could become a part of last-minute negotiations.

“I think this is a huge inflection point for the future of Texas higher education. Even if the protection of tenure is not diluted it has still been damaging to Texas,” said Dessler.