Counterproductive Tenure Reform

David Randall

North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor has introduced House Bill 1446, which would create a pilot program in a North Dakota public university to reform tenure. The bill would allow the university president to remove tenure for faculty members who fail to generate tuition or grant revenue, who fail to comply with institutional policies, who fail to teach and advise students, and who fail to generally promote the institution’s interests.

We sympathize with Representative Lefor’s desire to create a check on faculty members who misuse tenure as a license to relax from their responsibilities. Unproductive faculty members often overlap with faculty members who view political advocacy as their primary calling. Congressman Lefor’s bill might have the side benefit of reining in some university radicalization in North Dakota. Yet we think that this bill, as drafted, probably will not work as intended.

America’s higher education administrative establishment now is even more radical than the professoriate. HB 1446 would give more power to university presidents—and that power is more likely to be used by radical university presidents to remove the remaining traditionalist faculty members who express concern over the decline of academic standards. The call “to avoid inadvertently harming the institution, especially in avoiding the use of social media or third-party internet platforms to disparage campus personnel or the institution,” could easily be used to remove professors who criticize a university’s discriminatory “diversity, equity and inclusion” policy.

Radical personnel throughout the university, moreover, could use this policy as another means to persecute dissenters. A department that incorporates “social justice activism” into its professional expectations thereby would have a ready means to set up a recalcitrant professor for expulsion.

HB 1446’s requirement for faculty members to generate tuition or grant revenue also presents the possibility of abuse. Scholarship and teaching should not be subordinated entirely to revenue generation. But setting that principle aside for the moment, the bill practically will turn the ability to assign courses to general education requirements into the means that will determine which faculty will be purged. Gender Studies 101 that fulfils a general education requirement will earn a minimum of tuition; Ancient Political Philosophy that does not fulfill a minimum of tuition, will not. Then too, progressive national nonprofit organizations would be delighted to subsidize Gender Studies 101 in North Dakota, and their deep pockets will make sure that financial considerations tilt North Dakota’s public education toward instruction in radical activism.

We sympathize with the urge to reform tenure, but we believe that North Dakota’s House Bill 1446 will have counterproductive effects. We urge North Dakota’s public and policymakers to consider ways to revise the bill, so it will work more effectively to improve North Dakota’s public higher education system. NAS would be happy to work with the state legislature to find ways to accomplish the goals of House Bill 1446 without inviting the peril that the universities will sabotage the effort.

Photo by Jason Rojas on Unsplash

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