Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Public Colleges And Universities In The Heartland Are Abolishing Faculty Tenure

bleedingheartland |  With this preamble, it is not difficult to predict what will happen should Senate File 41 or House File 496 move forward and eliminate tenure from Iowa’s public universities. (Editor’s note: The House bill cleared the first “funnel” deadline and is eligible for debate in the lower chamber.) Whoever we can recruit either will be taking the position as a temporary fix until a tenure track comes along somewhere else, or is someone who has no chance of a tenure track position anywhere.

Either way, it will be impossible to develop competitive and long-term research groups. The ability to attract external funds and to sustain PhD programs will quickly crumble, and most of the accomplished tenured faculty in our institutions will leave. As Matt Chapman reported in 2019, when another tenure ban was being considered, “after similar legislation passed in 1943, three educators left the state and received a Nobel prize while tenured at other universities.”

Without tenure, our public universities will become giant teaching community colleges with no research. Upper-level courses will be taught by mostly unqualified instructors.

We will still be able to provide degrees and have fancy commencement ceremonies (if that is what you care about), but conferring degrees with very diminished value in the job market. The STEM departments as we know them will disappear. In practice, Iowa will not keep a single research university, as none of its private colleges can take up that role. The same fate will follow with the prestigious University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Our state will become a technological desert, where only companies requiring unskilled labor will have an incentive to come.

Is it conceivable to have a university system without tenure? In principle, everything is conceivable, but realistically, it is not. This system has been in place for centuries now. Everything revolves around tenure. Many funding opportunities are only available for tenure (track) positions. Changing it would require a revamping of epic proportions for the entire nation. 

google.sites |   All eyes in higher education are on Kansas, as the Board of Regents has unilaterally suspended tenure protections and long-established procedures of shared governance, transparency, and due process in order to ease the termination of faculty and staff. This extreme policy circumvents professional standards and violates our commitments as a member institution of the American Association of Universities (AAU). Procedures already exist to make decisions according to financial exigency as part of shared governance. The regents now allow administrators to bypass the established process and eliminate faculty’s structural role in it. The leadership at our fellow Regents Universities in Kansas quickly recognized that this move is at odds with our profession, and have stated that they will not implement it. Only at KU has our Chancellor not committed to shared governance and our professional integrity by refusing to exercise the policy.


KBOR’s policy blatantly violates two of the three core Academic Principles of the AAU– those pertaining to Shared Governance and Academic Freedom. Such actions place KU at grave risk of expulsion from this prestigious professional organization, which would inevitably impede the recruitment and retention of faculty and the securing of research funds, ultimately eroding the value of all degrees from the University of Kansas.


The AAU principles reflect widely held professional standards, laid out in foundational statements from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure holds that financial exigency must be “demonstrably bona fide” in order to justify termination, and must be considered by a faculty committee as well as the governing board. The AAUP standard does not provide for arbitrary administrative power over such decisions. The 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities calls for “joint planning and effort” among its constituents, in which faculty are to hold primary responsibility over matters of faculty status, including dismissal. In order to have a voice in institutional planning, faculty must be fully briefed on the specific budgetary matters in play. The regents’ policy allows administrators to make dismissals without formally declaring financial exigency. This is clearly out of step with the AAUP standard that university executives work “within the concept of tenure,” and “necessarily utilize the judgments of faculty” when addressing institutional challenges.

These standards speak to the role of the faculty, but to bypass them affects the entire campus. The new policy gives a blank check to the chancellor to make sweeping changes. The regents have asked us to trust the chancellor in a time of crisis, but our financial issues predate the pandemic. This recent experience suggests that accountability is in order. To annul shared governance and transparency instead degrades the working conditions of the entire university and the learning conditions for all of our students.