- Lawmakers in Kentucky are seeking to allow public colleges and universities to terminate tenured faculty members in the event of programmatic changes, a break from traditional means of severance from long-serving professors. Inside Higher Ed reports that the bill, which one legislator said has the backing of college presidents in the state, mirrors similar efforts in Tennessee and Wisconsin, where tenure protections have come up as a legislative talking point on fiscal austerity in higher ed spending.
- The bill has yet to be taken up by the state's House of Representatives, but some observers say the changes could significantly impact Kentucky's public universities in their ability to retain and attract top teaching and research talent.
- Supporters of the bill say that limiting potential faculty cuts to closing or reduced programs protects faculty members from unnecessary dismissal. "The protections for academic freedom are still intact (under state law)," said Sen. Chris McDaniel in an interview with the Courier-Journal. "This language just affects the potentially eliminated programs."
It would appear that reducing tenure protections for faculty members is the first coordinated step between campuses and legislators to help reduce programs which do not attract large numbers in enrollment, research funding or philanthropic support. And while it may be offensive to faculty members, it seems that this is a strategic play to avoid negative public feedback, while also reducing associated personnel costs in pension, which has also been a source of spending angst in conservative states in recent years.
The costs of endorsing, even privately, the idea of lawmakers shelving tenured faculty members can be dangerous for college executives, however. In some states, like Wyoming, where higher education has recently faced funding crises because of reduced tax revenue and disappearing industry, colleges and universities may soon surface as industrial partners that aid in job creation and economic growth in vulnerable state districts. And to grow, they will need experienced faculty members who can attract federal research funding, promote academic value to corporate and private donors and aid in bringing out-of-state students to campuses for specific programs of strength.