Texas House passes bill reforming tenure at public universities

The Texas House passed a bill on Tuesday that will reform how college tenure is administered at public universities in Texas.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), the author of Senate Bill (SB) 18, has been vocal about abolishing tenure, which was a legislative priority this session for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The bill passed the House by a vote of 83 to 61.

As the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. John Kuemplel (R-Seguin) has carried it through the House Committee on Higher Education, where it went through some reformulations that differ from its original intention.

Last week, the bill was blocked by a point of order levied by Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City). During Kuempel’s layout of the bill, the point of order was raised claiming the bill analysis was misleading. The maneuver was sustained and the bill was sent back to the House Committee on Higher Education.

During third reading on the House floor, Kuempel and Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) had a noteworthy exchange over the bill’s language.

Dutton expressed he had reread the bill, which he said neither eliminates tenure nor changes anything about the tenure process as it exists in the university system. Kuempel agreed with that sentiment and expressed that this bill is a way of establishing legal standards that universities can use when establishing processes of administering and revoking tenure. 

The House committee substitute has reformulated the language of the original Senate version to express that tenure can be granted through a governing board, on the recommendation of the university’s chief executive officer and university system’s chancellor. The original Senate version would have outright banned professor tenure at public universities.

Public university presidents are appointed by the board of regents, whose members are appointed by the governor. 

The common definition of tenure is defined in the statement submitted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1940 which explained the associations between support for academic freedom and the “sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive.”

The bill passed today by the House defines “due process” in the case of dismissing a tenured professor. It includes professional incompetence, failure to meet professional responsibilities, and being “engaged in conduct involving moral turpitude” as justifications for termination. Many who spoke in opposition to the bill levied criticisms about some of these parameters. 

Now that the House has passed its version, the Senate must accept the changes before the bill is sent to the governor’s desk. Since the language and intention of the bill have changed over the legislative process this session, it is possible if not probable that SB 18 will be sent to a conference committee to have its changes hashed out.