Legislation banning term at Iowa’s public universities is unlikely to move forward, but a Republican lawmaker said he hopes institutions know lawmakers are paying attention to issues like free speech on Iowa college campuses “.
“I’m tired, and a lot of lawmakers are tired of playing slap on the mole with some of the issues that are going on at our universities,” said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison. “…I probably won’t bring up that bill again, but I will say this, I hope you take back the message.”
Holt on Tuesday chaired a home education subcommittee on House File 48, which proposed banning tenure at Iowa’s public universities. Lobbyists at the State Board of Regents, business associations and agricultural groups have registered to oppose the law.
The law would affect professors at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Faculty members are offered tenure as a form of job security “to create and maintain an atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas and investigations necessary for the education of Iowa’s students and the advancement of knowledge in the democracy,” according to it the website of the Board of Regents.
GET THE TOMORROW HEADLINES IN YOUR INBOX
University system spokesmen said during the meeting that tenured professors must go through a rigorous review process that takes six to seven years, and that tenured professors still undergo annual reviews, during which issues in teaching can be addressed.
Rachel Boon, the Regents’ chief academic officer, said the idea that tenured professors could not be fired for any reason was wrong. There are several reasons a tenured faculty may be fired for “good cause,” she said, which can mean anything from professional dishonesty to demonstrated incompetence to serious dereliction of duty.
“There are myths about faculty members just not showing up to teach, it would be dereliction of duty,” Boon said. “That would be something we could address. That’s reason, serious misconduct, and anything that’s prohibited by law, prohibited by board policy… All of these are things we look at annually to help us manage our faculty ranks.”
Laws banning terms of office were last brought up in the 2021 session, spurred by concerns from Republican lawmakers that universities are stifling free speech for conservative students. Keith Saunders, the Regents’ chief government relations officer, said he understands there are some tenured faculty at Iowa universities who have said or done controversial things.
“Don’t throw away an entire system that has enabled us to become one of the best education systems in the country,” Saunders said. “Let’s deal with them instead. And we do.”
Tenure is one of Iowa’s higher education institutions’ most sought-after recruiting strategies, Saunders said, and doing away with it would make it difficult to attract qualified educators and researchers. The nullification of the term would reverse the 150-year achievement that Iowa’s university system has worked to build, he said.
Other speakers from organizations such as the Iowa Chamber Alliance, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association spoke out against the bill at the subcommittee meeting, reiterating concerns that the moratorium would harm Iowa in both research and staffing would disadvantage.
“When our salaries are lower than other institutions, we need every advantage possible to attract the best and brightest,” Saunders said. “Without a tenure that is viewed as the ultimate achievement of a faculty member, we become an educational laggard when that cannot be offered in Iowa.”
Holt said he understands lobbyists’ concerns and is unlikely to bring the legislation up again. But he said Iowa universities need to address concerns that conservative students have expressed about “how their values are being attacked in some classrooms.” But he said universities are doing a good job of tackling these issues, citing the dean of UI College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics addressing members of the House Government Oversight Committee in 2021 for action on students’ rights to free speech excused.
“I would only appreciate it if you would take back the message that we’re watching,” Holt said.