AAUP President Slams Threat to Destroy Academic Tenure in Texas

In a Friday, February 18, press conference, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick pledged to destroy academic tenure in public higher education in the state, using a recently passed resolution by the UT Austin Faculty Council affirming academic freedom in curricular decisions as pretext for the move. His speech was so littered with disingenuous political theater and blatant falsehoods that the AAUP feels compelled to respond.

Patrick put forth a straw man definition of critical race theory to demonstrate his support for a movement that seeks to maintain white supremacist ideology in an increasingly multi-racial democracy. To be clear, the premise of Patrick’s argument—his description of CRT—is glaringly wrong. His solution—to abolish tenure—reveals his wider purpose: to silence critics and censor honest discussions about race and racism in classrooms. The resulting damage to the reputation of the UT system as well as to the recruitment and retention of faculty and students in the state, if Patrick's threat is fullfilled, will be devastating.

Patrick asserts that he believes in academic freedom with “barriers” or “boundaries.” Needless to say, academic freedom is not and has never been an unchecked free-for-all. Scholarship and teaching are required to conform to rigorous disciplinary standards. However, these are not the kind of “boundaries” envisioned by the Texas lieutenant governor. From his perspective, donors, legislators, politicians, and angry parents are all entitled to limit what faculty can say in the classroom and what subjects can be discussed—particularly with regard to well-documented facts about the history of systemic racism in this country. This kind of censorship is fundamentally antithetical to academic freedom.

The unfettered quest for knowledge requires robust and open inquiry on all topics. This widely understood conception of academic freedom is a cornerstone of higher education in its service to the public good and our democracy.

Faculty tenure is the only secure protection for academic freedom in our colleges and universities. Contrary to another of Patrick’s misunderstandings, tenured faculty members can be fired, but only for adequate cause and only after an adjudicative hearing before an elected faculty body. According to widely accepted professional standards promoted by the AAUP, “[a]dequate cause for a dismissal will be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capaci­ties as teachers or researchers. Dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights as American citizens.”

Patrick’s proposal to statutorily define “teaching CRT” as adequate cause for dismissal is an extremely dangerous authoritarian precedent. In a democracy, politicians do not determine what people are allowed to learn or forbidden from learning. 

The attacks on CRT are outrageous on their own, but the idea that a government can censor entire fields of knowledge in service to an ideology is incredible and poses a real and present danger to the future of higher education in the United States. The AAUP stands resolute in our core mission to advance and protect academic freedom and quality in education in the face of these perverse and duplicitous threats at political interference.

Publication Date: 
Saturday, February 19, 2022