Last week, the North Dakota House of Representatives passed HB 1446, creating a pilot program which would provide for post-tenure review of faculty members at two universities. The bill will now head to the Senate. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has long held that tenure reform, if done well, will play a salutary role in improving the quality of teaching and research in higher education. We fear that this bill, however, will not adequately meet those objectives and could in fact have unforeseen outcomes that will defeat its important purposes.
This bill is designed to make it easier to dismiss professors who, once they have achieved tenure, have stopped pulling their weight and are dragging upon their institutions. Everyone who has spent time in higher education is familiar with the refrain, “We’d like to get rid of him. He doesn’t do anything productive, but he has tenure.” It is true that this bill might have a positive effect on this issue.
However, the provisions of this bill, as a side effect, could punish faculty beyond those who answer to this description. Consider the professor who advocates for currently out-of-fashion ideas or subjects, such as Shakespeare studies or U.S. military history. She may enroll fewer students or have fewer advisees than faculty doing more in vogue research, but such professors are often the intellectual lifeblood of the university, keeping alive its traditional subjects and fields of study. Without the university to serve as a home for such knowledge, it will wither and die.
There is also potential for abuse under this draft legislation. For example, a department chair might assign disfavored faculty to courses with lower enrollment. Presidents who might be inclined to get rid of a critic of the university’s fiscal discipline might find a pathway via this legislation as written. We share a desire to control the runaway cost of higher education and to improve the quality of education in colleges and universities, but we are concerned about the draft bill’s unintended consequences.
ACTA urges the legislature, working with the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, to amend this draft bill and enhance its potential to create incentives for better teaching and learning, while safeguarding academic freedom, encouraging cutting-edge research, and promoting intellectual diversity.
Media Contact: Gabrielle Anglin
Phone: (260) 609-3486