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AAUP Condemns Attack on Academic Tenure in South Carolina

South Carolina’s House Bill 4522, the “Cancelling Professor Tenure Act,” seeks to end tenure in the state’s public colleges and universities by prohibiting the awarding of tenure to employees hired in 2023 or later. If passed, this would be the first law of its kind in the nation.

This misguided legislation would do irreparable damage to the quality of education in the South Carolina public university system by severely undermining academic freedom in the state. In service of the common good, tenure exists in higher education to protect the academic freedom that allows faculty members to pursue research and innovation, and to draw evidence-based conclusions free from corporate, religious, or political pressure. When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech, publications, or research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance knowledge in service of the common good.

Academic tenure is not a perk for one class of employees, but rather a safeguard for academic freedom. Without the protections of tenure, a professor of biology may fear being fired for teaching about evolution, a medical researcher for investigating a dangerous drug produced by a corporation whose CEO sits on the university board, and a sociology teacher for leading an honest classroom conversation about any topic—such as race, religion, or gender—that might offend someone. The result would be a dramatic chilling of academic freedom and intellectual rigor in South Carolina’s universities and would certainly impact the state’s ability to attract scholars.

At reputable institutions of higher education, academic freedom is protected because tenured professors can be dismissed only for reasons related to professional fitness and only after a hearing before a faculty body at which the administration must make its case that the faculty member’s conduct or performance warrants dismissal. Public universities perform a vital service to society and must be insulated from partisan political agendas and the whims of wealthy donors. At a time when educational institutions across the nation are debating banning books and limiting what history should be taught, we call upon the South Carolina legislature to reject HB 4522, which at its core does not serve the public’s interest and would fundamentally harm faculty’s ability to perform their jobs.

Publication Date: 
Thursday, December 2, 2021