Tenure to Continue on Utah College Campuses for Now

Friday, February 10, 2012

The tenure system at Utah universities will survive for at least another year.

The House Education Committee voted 10-4 to snuff a bill Wednesday that sought to bar Utah institutions of higher learning from offering lifetime job protection to incoming faculty. Utah would have been the first state to ban tenure by legislative action under HB322, according to associate commissioner of higher education David Buhler.

"This bill is not only unnecessary, but it would be detrimental to the reputation of the state," Buhler told the committee, rejecting the sponsor’s contention that tenure is a guarantee of lifetime employment for professors. "They are reviewed every year on their performance and might be dismissed if they are not measuring up."

The House Education Committee last year killed similar legislation, but Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, resurrected the proposal with partial exemptions for the University of Utah and Utah State University, reserving for these research schools the ability to offer 10-year contracts.

"There’s been no academic research that tenure benefits the system. I believe competition brings out the best. I believe in the capitalist system," he said. "It is this body’s job to look out for our consumers, and that’s the taxpayer and the student. I’m tired of following other states. Let’s lead."

He noted that 42 percent of Utah professors are tenured.

"If we think tenure is so valuable, why don’t we have 100 percent on tenure? Are we not creating two classes of individuals?" said Herrod, who has taught as an adjunct at Utah Valley University. "It’s ironic that tenure is supposed to protect academic freedom. I’ve had dozens of individuals contact me saying they are not in favor of tenure, but are afraid to speak out."

The bill’s opponents said eliminating tenure would severely undermine the ability of Utah universities to attract and retain qualified faculty. Speaking on behalf of the chief academic officers at the state’s eight public campuses, Southern Utah University provost Brad Cook argued that all the state’s school are tied to a national job market where tenure is the norm.

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