Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Why Would Iowa Want To Kill Tenure?

Chronicle of Higher Education, Why Would Iowa Want to Kill Tenure?:

IowaIowa’s Republican-controlled legislature is considering a bill to eliminate tenure at the state’s three public universities — Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa. The bill is nothing new; similar versions have been introduced for several years running, never to advance further than that. But this year, the bill passed a full committee vote for the first time.

The bill’s odds of passage are still slim. But it has put Iowa at the forefront of the decades-long battle against higher education by conservative legislators — an assault that may be supercharged by the cultural grievances of the Trump era. As in other states, Republican lawmakers argue that colleges are squelching views that don’t hew to progressive ideals of gender, racial, and economic equity.

The bill to kill tenure is necessary, legislators have said, so institutions can fire faculty members who discriminate against students expressing conservative political views — though the handful of examples they cite rarely involve a tenured faculty member.

The elected officials leading this effort misunderstand the purpose and protections of tenure, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. In eliminating it, she said, lawmakers are undermining the very freedom of speech that they seek to protect. “If you can lose your job for taking a political stance that’s different from the majority of the legislature, that would have a chilling effect.”

How could this happen in a state that for so long proclaimed its pride in public higher education? The real problem in Iowa isn’t just the views of faculty, said David Yepsen, a former political columnist for The Des Moines Register, it’s the state’s changing demographics and political climate, and an electorate who feel left behind and embattled by change.

“We export kids and pigs,” said Yepsen. “A kid grows up, gets an education, and leaves,” he said. That has led to a rural population that is older and whiter and less supportive of higher education: “What academics do on tenure can be arcane and weird for the common people.” ...

Even if the effort to end tenure dies this year, it is likely to re-emerge in coming years. There are also several other bills aimed at scrutinizing political activity and academic content at the public universities.

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