DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa House bill, HF 49, that eliminates tenure at Iowa’s Regents universities advanced the out of subcommittee on Tuesday.
Iowa’s Regents universities include Iowa State University in Ames, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
The Iowa Board of Regents define tenure as “a contractual employment status under which faculty members can receive job security in order to create and maintain an atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas and inquiry necessary for educating Iowa’s students and advancing knowledge in democracy.”
Tenured professors can be terminated if they do not meet employment obligations or in cases of program termination or financial hardship for the university. The tenure system does make it difficult, if not impossible, to remove professors for any other reason. At Regent universities, tenure track professors have a probationary period that lasts approximately six years.
According to the Iowa Board of Regents 2020 Tenure Report, in the 2019-2020 school year, there were 2,495 tenured professors representing 41 percent of the 6,028 professors on the three campuses. There were an additional 782 tenure-track professors (13 percent). This represents a slight decline since the 2017-2018 school year when there were 2,560 tenured professors and 840 tenure-track professors.
State Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he sponsored the bill because he was concerned about the erosion of free speech on campus.
“The assault on free-speech on our college campuses by some university professors who demand absolute conformity to their way of thinking convinces me that they believe they are untouchable because of tenure,” Holt told The Iowa Torch.
“If tenure is taken away, perhaps they will understand that their jobs could be at risk if they violate the fundamental rights of their students. There are very few occupations that have such protections. I do not believe that tenure fosters quality, excellence or peak performance,” he added.
State Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, who chaired the subcommittee and supported the bill, told The Iowa Torch that he believes tenure protects bad professors.
“Tenure protects bad professors and those who completely mistreat students based-on their sincerely held beliefs,” he said.
Wheeler pointed out that Iowa’s Regent universities should have a diversity of thought.
“We want our campuses to be free and fair. We want actual diversity of thought, not the one-way street we see so much. Iowans are noticing the increasing radical leftism taking place, and attacks on conservatives at the universities they are funding. There are a lot of concerns on what is happening on the campuses and in the classrooms,” he added.
State Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, opposed the bill in subcommittee and told The Iowa Torch that it would harm Regents universities.
“HF 49 is a bill that will have a detrimental effect on our public universities. We would be the only state in the country to eliminate tenure for university faculty,” she said. “We would not only lose key faculty members in every department, we would not be able to replace them with quality researchers and educators. This bill would cause students to leave Iowa for other institutions where faculty are respected and valued.”
State Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who also served on the subcommittee and supported the bill, told The Iowa Torch that the bill was not about competitiveness.
“This bill isn’t about competitiveness at our Regents Universities, it’s about ensuring the freedoms of our citizens and the entitled attitude of tenured professors who limit free speech and thought,” he said.
The bill advances for consideration by the full Iowa House Education Committee.