Commentary: Schooling Patrick in the politics of tenure – San Antonio Express-News

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to remake public colleges and universities into photo ops for “Home on the Range” – spaces in which seldom is heard a discouraging word. He might want to brush up on his history.
If Mary Poppins wrote a history of the United States, it would surely contain a spoonful of sugar and nothing sour. No mention of slavery, extermination of Native Americans, Jim Crow, internment of Japanese Americans, or misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia or antisemitism. It might earn Poppins appointment as official historian of the state of Texas.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to remake public colleges and universities into photo ops for “Home on the Range” — spaces in which seldom is heard a discouraging word. To that end, he has proclaimed his legislative priority for next year to be revoking tenure for professors who teach “critical race theory” and ending tenure for all new hires.
Since Patrick prefers only happy thoughts, he might not be familiar with a dark page in the history of the flagship University of Texas at Austin. By the early 1940s, its board of regents had come under the control of right-wing zealots intent on rooting out all dangerous thinkers. And they counted supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt as dangerous.
So in 1941, they tried to fire four tenured economics professors because they advocated New Deal principles and programs. In 1942, the regents fired four nontenured instructors for defending federal labor laws. They also tried to ban the teaching of novelist John Dos Passos’ respected trilogy “U.S.A.” And in 1944, they fired Homer P. Rainey, who, as president of the university, tried to stand up for academic freedom.
In the immediate aftermath, the American Association of University Professors blacklisted UT-Austin. Many faculty members left for institutions more genuinely committed to higher education. Many talented people decided not to join the faculty in the first place. It took the university many decades to recover from this assault and purge. It still has not attained the prestige of some rival state universities such as University of California, Berkeley; UCLA; and the University of Michigan.
Patrick’s plan would devastate UT — and Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas State, the University of Houston, UTSA and all the other state institutions — again. Ending tenure for all new hires would, in effect, would mean no new instructors worthy of being hired by a serious university. No competent, self-respecting teacher/scholar would want to work at a school in which the job could be terminated at any time based on ideological whim.
Patrick’s aversion to recognizing our country’s dark history of racism is so acute that he would even fire professors who have already earned tenure if they taught a theory he will not accept. An earlier version of our lieutenant governor might have tried to purge the faculty of anyone who taught the theory of relativity, the theory of evolution or the Copernican theory. Will his next move be to purge the state’s colleges and universities of anyone who supports the theory of anthropogenic climate change?
Most professors have no professional connection to critical race theory. Yet they could not be hired with the expectation of tenure in a state institution in Texas. Critical race theory doesn’t enter into the teaching of astronomy, mathematics, Latin, computer science, chemistry and most other subjects.
It is clear that critical race theory is just a pretext for Patrick’s goal of doing away with tenure entirely. Under the system of tenure, employed in almost every major American college and university, candidates have seven years in which to prove, by meritorious teaching, research and service, that they are worthy of a permanent position. With tenure, they can still be fired for legitimate cause, but they are sheltered from arbitrary termination. They possess the freedom to pursue fresh ideas and knowledge without fear of recrimination.
Without academic freedom, we are left with just an academy, and Ambrose Bierce’s Cynic’s dictionary defines “Academy” as “a modern school where football is taught.”
Steven G. Kellman is professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


By Kwetu Buzz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.