NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Tenure and DEI in Texas

As many of you know, Texas is nearing the end of its current biennial session. While many bills have been written, debated, and passed this session, three Senate bills (SB 16, 17, and 18) still under consideration are targeted at public institutions of higher education. As of the writing of this article, these three bills have passed the Texas Senate and have been passed on to the House, where SB 17 and 18 were scheduled for initial hearings on May 8, 2023. There is a range of possible outcomes at this point, but a likely trajectory appears to be that the House will introduce its own revisions or versions of these Senate bills. Whether or how they make it to the full legislature for discussion and vote is dependent on rules, procedures, and politics.

The University of Houston administration has testified to the legislature about these bills and has made legislators aware of the impact that these bills are projected to have on the Texas economy as a result of many factors (e.g., faculty and staff leaving, difficulty in recruiting, reduced quality and possibly numbers of trained students/postdocs, and increased reluctance for businesses to stay or relocate to Texas). UH and stakeholder groups like the UH Faculty Senate are communicating and collaborating with other Texas institutions and faculty senates. While UH does not communicate about this frequently, you can be assured that many efforts have been undertaken to educate the legislators on the importance of our University’s core values and programs.

Tenure is a protection that is awarded to meritorious faculty after rigorous recruitment, sustained outstanding job performance, and national review. The protections afforded by tenure support the open intellectual inquiry and development of critical thinking skills that university faculty try to instill in their students. UH has one of the most highly diverse student populations in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. UH values this diversity and has put personnel, policies, and training in place to support the institutional values surrounding DEI, which are geared toward eliminating discrimination based on any protected category.

This article is intended to inform the faculty and staff about these bills through links to the bills, articles about the bills, and brief descriptions. This is a quickly changing landscape and by the time that you read this, it may have changed again. However, we hope that the links and descriptions are still useful.

Links to the Passed Senate Bills 16–18

Senate Bill 16

This is considered by many to be an anti-CRT (anti-critical race theory) bill, although more general language is used, and there are some questions as to how it would be applied. The bill prohibits the compelling of certain beliefs that a person belonging to a particular protected class (e.g., sex, race, or ethnicity) is superior or inferior to any other person. The institutions must establish a process for reporting potential violations, due process during the investigation, and disciplinary action taken against the faculty member, including revocation of tenure and/or termination.

Senate Bill 17

In short, this bill appears to outlaw DEI offices/staff, training, and the use of DEI as a filter or criterion in faculty hiring. As above, processes must be developed to monitor and act on reported violations. There are exclusions for federally required collection of information/reporting, teaching DEI, and scholarship in DEI, among others. UH has been discussing ideas on how to continue to support our core values in the event of the full passage of a bill.

Senate Bill 18

In short, this is the bill that would eliminate the possibility for tenure for faculty hired after a certain date. It does allow for an institution to create some other kind of system-tiered employment so long as there is an annual review. The Texas House has produced a draft bill that seems to do the opposite – it enshrines tenure and academic freedom, as reported in the Texas Tribune on May 7 and in Inside Higher Ed on May 9. One concern about tenure has been that faculty who have become research inactive and who may also not be meeting expectations in teaching were unduly protected. UH and other Texas universities have policies to identify and address these scenarios in ways that afford due process.

Faculty Senate Resolution on Academic Freedom and Tenure

At the May 10 Faculty Senate meeting, Senators adopted a resolution affirming academic freedom and tenure at the University of Houston. The resolution supports the values of diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression, affirms that faculty exercise freedom in matters relating to curriculum and scholarship, and reaffirms the provision of tenure in Texas public institutions of higher education. Read the full resolution on the Faculty Senate website.