UTSA faculty react to Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s proposal to end tenure


Gauri Raje, News Editor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed ending tenure for new faculty hires at Texas public universities in an attempt to stop the teaching of critical race theory. Patrick also suggested the possibility of revoking tenure for professors who teach critical race theory. The proposal, which came days before the March 1 primary elections in Texas, drew a lot of criticism for the negative effect it would have on higher education in Texas.

Steven Kellman, professor of comparative literature at UTSA, argued that Patrick was using critical race theory as a way to target tenure for faculty members across various disciplines, including faculty members that do not have anything to do with the subject.

“It seems to me that Dan Patrick’s proposal uses critical race theory as kind of a red herring. I think he’s really out to get tenure, and critical race theory is a pretext to that,” Kellman said. “As part of his proposal, we should note that he wants to eliminate tenure for all new hires, regardless of what they teach. We also should note that most faculty members at [the] university have nothing to do with critical race theory … I mean, if all hires come in without the possibility of tenure, it means that eventually, within a generation or so, tenure won’t exist at all.”

The American Association of University Professors defines tenure as “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.” According to the association, tenure serves as a way to protect academic freedom, while also promoting research and innovation. Given the importance of tenure in facilitating the success of higher education, Kellman argued that the Lt. Gov.’s proposal conveyed his lack of understanding of the subject, adding that tenure as it currently exists is not “absolute.”

I don’t think Dan Patrick really understands what a university is or what it’s supposed to be, what research involves, and he wants it under his control so that it just becomes another unit of the state legislature,” Kellman said. 

“Also … research takes many years before there’s any kind of fruition. And that’s why tenure exists — to give people the freedom of several years to work on a project without having political pressures applied to them. Take that away and, you know, they’re going from year to year [thinking] can they count on having a laboratory in two years, if they’re just starting an experiment right now?” 

Kellman also pointed out that Patrick’s proposal to get rid of tenure could potentially harm the ability of public universities in Texas to attract well-qualified faculty.

“If Dan Patrick has his way, and all new hires come in without the possibility of tenure, no qualified faculty member is going to apply for a position in a Texas university. They will go to other universities where their contributions are respected and where they have the possibility of tenure,” Kellman said.

Sonya Aleman, Associate Professor at UTSA’s Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies, also identified the effect a lack of tenure would have on recruiting qualified faculty as a cause of fear.

“That is a really big fear of mine — that we’re just gonna cut out a huge pool of potential fantastic educators, researchers, people who could mentor and train students, who won’t even consider, not just UTSA, but Texas in general,” Aleman said. 

Aleman, a specialist in critical race theory, explained the meaning behind the phrase, which has become a part of the American lexicon over the last few years. 

 “Critical race theory is a way to capture an understanding of how race, racial categories, racialization and everything related to that [including] white supremacy, privilege and all of that operates in the world. So, it’s the approach for looking at all those systems and phenomena for the way they are created, the way they evolve, the way they’re sustained, the way they interact with each other. So it’s the understanding of race, racism most simply … a way of understanding how race and racism operate in our world,” Aleman said. 

According to Aleman, the politicization of education has been an ongoing phenomenon, and Patrick’s current proposal is just a part of the larger system of controlling what is taught in public educational institutions. Aleman argued that while knowledge tends to be considered free of bias, that may not always be the reality. 

 “I mean the reality is that education has already and always been politicized … so even what we consider now, the important knowledge — what’s in our core curriculum, what becomes the … standard in K-12 education — those are all political decisions. They have not been made all the time, in fact very rarely, by educator[s],” Aleman said.  “…people have been debating and fighting what that knowledge should consist of, what it should be, what it should include, what it shouldn’t — you know, since we created a mass public education system — so, this is just part of that continued process of relying on political will and political agenda to make those determinations as opposed to an educational environment that, for example, is student-driven,” Aleman added.

Aleman further explained the negative impact of the rhetoric surrounding critical race theory on education in Texas, especially the ability to analyze information critically.

“I do think it’s incredibly dangerous for education … right now from K-16, which is a way to understand elementary all the way to college. It has terrible repercussions for ideally what the educational system should offer because it wants to shut down many kinds of conversations,” Aleman said. “It limits the ability to create critical thinkers and civically engaged people who are able to take competing ideas and weigh important elements of both of them to be able to make self-determined decisions. If we eliminate opportunities to do that in one space, then we’re doing it across the board.” 

A similar concern was voiced by Socorro Morales, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Morales pointed out that the debate surrounding critical race theory, which has now bled into higher education in Texas, doesn’t focus on critical race theory as “a body of literature or a field of study.”

“ … it’s more focused on any sort of teaching related to race at all. And so I think it’s not that surprising that it’s making its way into higher ed, only because, you know, I think the goals ultimately I feel are the same in terms of trying to prevent you know needed discussions around race, around racism particularly, with things that have just been happening,” Morales said. 

Patrick’s proposal comes after the Texas legislature passed S.B. 3, which limits how race and the history of racism are taught in K-12. Morales pointed out the successful passage of the Senate Bill as having played a part in expanding the ongoing debate surrounding critical race theory in higher education.

“And so, I think part of the reason why it’s making its way across higher ed is because some of these policies have been successful at the K-12 level. So … with Senate Bill 3 that was passed [in Texas] just a couple of months ago, in Sept. 2021, I mean that was certainly an attack on, again, communities of color, teachers of color and people that basically feel like they cannot speak about the history of the U.S. without being truthful about it when it comes to race. And so, I think these legislators are seeing, ‘Well, that passed at the K-12 level, why not move it to higher ed,’” Morales said.

According to Morales, higher educational institutions serve as a place to engage in discussions about controversial and important issues, adding that limiting what can be discussed goes against this perception.

“If higher education is supposed to be the space where we challenge ideas or we have dialogues about whatever these topics are, that we want to say are either controversial or difficult to talk about or whatever the word is, then limiting how we do that would certainly go against … how [universities] should function,” Morales said. “If we’re saying that university campuses are intended to facilitate those conversations, but we’re gonna limit what that looks like, then that’s certainly going against, I think, what the perception is of higher ed…”

As a public university, UTSA would be directly impacted if Patrick’s proposal becomes law. Morales emphasized the importance of the university making its stand on the issue known as a way to assure faculty.

“I do think institutions have the ability to at least make their position known. And so, although they’re not necessarily legislators or what not, I think it is important when universities put in writing what they support,” Morales said. “For UTSA … faculty senate or [the] president … or the provosts or all of the above to say we stand with our faculty and, you know, we will continue to provide an environment that’s gonna be basically thinking about that population that this bill is intended to attack I think does go a long way, because the alternative is saying nothing and then, as a faculty member, as a student, I don’t know where my university really stands with that because they didn’t say anything.”