Texas Senate committees ordered to review university tenure, public school library books
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s marching orders come after he threatened to revoke tenure for some professors at public universities who teach about critical race theory and its history.
After the Texas Legislature passed controversial legislation that limits what students K-12 are taught in the state’s public schools, the lieutenant governor has now tasked state senators with monitoring similar historical subject matter in higher education.
On a list of 84 interim charges released Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick included a directive for the Texas Senate’s Higher Education Committee to ensure that tenets of what’s known as critical race theory — generally described as an academic discipline that examines the roles of race and racism in American history and how they function in law and society — are not taught in higher education courses. Patrick is also calling for a review of the state’s policies on granting or revoking tenure for university professors at public institutions, which he expressed interest in during a February debate on critical race theory.
Interim charges generally include a list of tasks that evaluate current legislation but also serve as a blueprint for what lawmakers could consider when they reconvene in Austin. The 88th Texas Legislature will begin in early 2023.
In a charge entitled “Strengthening United States History Requirements,” Patrick instructs the committee to “Examine current course requirements for students in United States History, and ensure elements of Critical Race Theory are not currently included in course curriculum.” It also requests the committee “consider and recommend methods to ensure students receive accurate historical information related to the founding and establishment of the United States.”
Additionally, Patrick wants lawmakers to review whether the boards of regents across Texas have enough authority over decided subject matter and “make recommendations on changes to law to ensure boards of regents have appropriate approval authority related to course content and instruction.”
Banning critical race theory became a political rallying cry for conservatives although the theory isn’t taught in public schools. But the issue led faculty and staff at the University of Texas at Austin to assert its independence on issues related to subject matter. In February, the UT Austin Faculty Council issued a resolution that affirmed “the fundamental rights of faculty to academic freedom in its broadest sense, inclusive of research and teaching of race and gender theory.”
Patrick decried the resolution and proposed revoking tenure for future university hires to combat the teaching of critical race theory in higher education.
“We are not going to allow a handful of professors who do not represent the entire group to teach and indoctrinate students with critical race theory, that we are inherently racist as a nation,” he said at the time. “We will change those rules and we will take tenure to be reviewed annually.” Under current policy, tenure is reviewed every six years.
As part of his interim charges, Patrick instructed the committee to study and revise policies related to tenure, including a review of dismissal policies at state colleges and universities and “make recommendations to revise current tenure policies, and provide boards of regents with additional authority to review and address issues with tenured faculty.”
The Texas Faculty Association, a non-profit organization founded to advocate for higher education faculty and staff, said Patrick’s proposal would be crippling for higher education, Houston Public Media reported last month.
“It's an outright attack on higher education," Pat Heintzelman, the association’s president, told HPM. "We have to fight this at the Legislature, and we’re going to get started soon. We are starting."
Heintzelman said," tenure requires professors to meet a high bar to ensure they are performing according to expectations."
"They have to fight for tenure. They have to meet the rigorous standards for teaching, research and service, and they still have post tenure review afterward. They’re held accountable before and after they get tenure," she said.
On the public education front, Patrick ordered the Texas Senate Education Committee to review materials in school libraries and servers. Specially, Patrick wants an assessment of adoption, placement and review policies for materials in libraries to ensure they are age-appropriate and that parents and the public have a “prominent” role in the selection process.
The charge comes as challenges from the public to school libraries over content have increased, with the majority of the debate involving books on gender, racism and sexuality, the Texas Standard reported. The challenges follow an effort by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, to have school districts across the state to inform him of their book inventories in schools. Krause included on the list about 850 works he thought could “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," NPR reported.
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