Thursday, April 18, 2024

Louisiana task force to scrutinize university tenure is made up of people who support tenure

by BIZ Magazine

By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator

People who support higher education faculty tenure will make up most of a new state task force meant to assess whether Louisiana’s public colleges and universities should even use it. 

The 19-person task force will be dominated by academics and politicians skeptical of the panel’s stated mission. Just two of the members, Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, and Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, have criticized tenure practices publicly. 

Four others appointed by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, are House members who voted against studying the efficacy of tenure at all. They include Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, and Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.of Delhi.

“If we remove tenure, what will that do for our competitiveness for researchers and for professors?” asked Thomas, a former educator who holds a doctorate in psychology.

The Louisiana Legislature agreed to set up a Task Force on Tenure in Public Postsecondary Education this past spring through a resolution from Cathey, who will serve as the task force’s chairman.  The group is supposed to study tenure policies at Louisiana’s public colleges and universities and recommend changes it considers necessary by March 1. 

Tenure provides an indefinite academic appointment to qualifying faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in their field. Academics with tenure can only be terminated for cause, and it typically only happens in extreme circumstances. Tenure  is viewed as a key part of academic freedom at American public universities and a shield against political, corporate and religious intervention.

Cathey, who has voiced his support for abolishing tenure, included language in the resolution that indicates his concern that professors are using their positions to indoctrinate students. 

“Postsecondary education students should be confident that they are being exposed to the spectrum of viewpoints, including those that are dissenting; that they are graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge; and that faculty members are not using their courses for the purposes of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination,” the resolution reads. 

But university faculty and higher education administrators who have benefited from tenure already will fill many of the task force seats not filled by legislators.

University of Louisiana system Jim Henderson and Southern University system Chancellor-President Dennis Shields will participate. Henderson has already stated that he opposes efforts to weaken or abolish faculty tenure, though he did not oppose the creation of the task force. 

Joseph Savoie, president of University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Philip Auter, a communication professor at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Albert Samuels, head of Southern University’s political science department, will also sit on the committee. 

The LSU system will be represented by Christof Stumpf, a biological sciences professor from LSU at Alexandria, and Richard DiCarlo, an interim dean of the LSU New Orleans Health Sciences School of Medicine. DiCarlo was appointed by LSU President William Tate to serve on the committee. 

Tate could have served on the task force himself, but wanted to give his seat to another LSU faculty member, said Ernie Ballard, LSU’s spokesman. 

The Louisiana Community and Technical College system does not offer tenure, but will be represented on the task force by William Wainwright, chancellor of Northshore Technical Community College, and Debra Jackson, a biology professor at Louisiana Delta Community College. 

Other legislators on the task force include Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, Sen. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, who chairs the House Committee on Education.  All three voted to create the task force, but haven’t shared their positions on tenure yet. 

Bouie previously served as an administrator and faculty member at Southern University at New Orleans.

Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, also has a seat on the task force as a chairman of the Senate Education Committee, but hasn’t said whether he will personally serve on the committee himself or appoint another person to his position. He could not be reached for comment. 

Legislators sometimes use task forces as a fallback option when they propose controversial measures that do not have enough support yet to get approval.

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