By Piper Hutchinson, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Senate Committee on Education unanimously advanced a resolution Thursday that would create a task force to study tenure for college professors.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, would create the Task Force on Tenure in Postsecondary Education. The task force would report back to lawmakers with suggestions on changing tenure policies in the state.
The resolution’s language suggests that Cathey, acting in line with Republican lawmakers in other states, is concerned about possible indoctrination of students at Louisiana universities.
“Postsecondary students should be confident that they are being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, including those that are dissenting,” the resolution reads. The resolution seeks to ensure that “faculty members are not using their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.”
While the original resolution called for just two faculty representatives on the task force, Cathey amended the bill to allow for one from each of Louisiana’s university systems. Cathey said that he was asked to do this by Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana system.
The resolution has been met with a backlash from professors. The Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates passed a resolution condemning Cathey’s proposal, as did the LSU Faculty Senate.
LSU Faculty Senate President Mandi Lopez testified against the resolution.
“Novel ideas that go against convention often meet resistance, but it is these ideas and the subsequent endeavors that change the world,” Lopez said. “Tenure allows experts to test the boundaries of conventional wisdom, without fear of reprisal or interference.”
Henderson also testified before the committee, advocating the importance of tenure.
“Tenure does not protect against incompetence or malfeasance or other issues of cause,” Henderson said. Since 1940, he said, the American Association of University Professors “issued their first statement on tenure and academic freedom that’s been a bedrock component of what we do.”
Henderson said that while he thought that Cathey had pure intentions, he disagreed with the language about indoctrination. Henderson said that from his perspective, a task force was not necessary, but he said that he would participate.
“I will be an active participant as well as all the others that are appointed to it,” Henderson said. “And I think at the end of the day, it will result in an unequivocal statement of the value of indeterminate tenure in our work.”
Henderson also lamented the way that tenure is viewed in some circles.
“Unfortunately, we are in a time where caricatures about a concept are what people are against, and sometimes they can create that caricature and say, ‘This is the straw man, and I’m going to defeat you.’ Even if a straw man has no basis in reality,” Henderson said.
In an interview, LSU President William Tate IV said that he did not oppose the task force.
“Democracy is about having conversations,” Tate said.
Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, said that he was concerned that free speech is not being respected on college campuses.
“It seems like tenure, at his height, was probably like I said in the late ‘60s,1970s,” he said. “They had a lot of political discourse, and they wanted professors to speak their mind. But it seems like we’re going in the opposite direction.”
“They’re not respecting the First Amendment anymore,” Talbot said. “It used to be valued. Now we have college campuses telling people you can’t come here.”
Cathey said that the outcome of the task force is not certain.
“Maybe a recommendation actually strengthens tenure,” Cathey said.
Cathey’s tweets tell a different story.
Earlier this month, Cathey tweeted that faculty who break the law should lose their tenure. He followed that up with several broader comments on tenure.
“Would never advocate for tenure for anyone in any profession!” Cathey tweeted.
“I’ll still never understand why you need a system to create job protection for you!” Cathey said in another tweet in the same thread. “Shouldn’t your work as a professor keep you employed?”