By Shelby Brown —

A last-minute addition to the state budget would allow universities to fire tenured professors if the institution changes or removes an academic program. The provision, added by Sen. Chris McDaniel, would effectively suspend tenure for two years.

“(The bill) would allow the (board of trustees) to dismiss tenured faculty whenever they judge that there is a need to modify or cancel an academic program; this makes holding tenure worthless,” Professor David Owen said. “Tenure is essential to a vibrant research university as it insulates the discovery of new knowledge and construction of new understandings from political demands.”

Owen said suspending tenure, even temporarily, would hinder faculty recruitment and retention.

In an email blast, Pan-African Studies professor Ricky Jones addressed administration on behalf of a furious faculty.

“Make no mistake, we see this as an attack on tenure (no matter how it is couched politically), which is foundational to the modern professorate. Any move that sets us on a path to weaken or destroy it is problematic,” Jones said.

McDaniel told The Courier-Journal he consulted with several unnamed trustees and university presidents who support the initiative.

“Dr. Postel and Mr. Grissom have not had any discussions with legislators related to tenure. The university’s governance document, The Redbook, spells out our policies regarding tenure. Our intent is to continue to follow those policies. We will continue to monitor the measure as it is debated in the General Assembly,” U of L Spokesperson John Karman said in a statement.

The statement from the university and a similar statement from UK contradict McDaniel’s prior claims.

After the statement’s release, Susan Jarosi, the America Association of University Professors President, said she was skeptical of McDaniel’s comments. She addressed her quote in the Courier-Journal article.

“My quote was part of a larger explanation of the destructive ‘effect’ that Sen. McDaniel’s exploitative and manipulative claim would have on our efforts to build trust within our community. I do not want to see those efforts undermined in the least,” Jarosi said.

Jones said the initiative is an attack on tenure, which he called foundational to the modern professorate.

“We sincerely hope you all are not supportive of such a deleterious initiative. We also hope you will not be silent about your opposition in that silence can be interpreted as complicity,” Jones said in the email to faculty and administrators.

The Arts & Science Faculty Assembly has been outspoken about tenure’s importance. The AAUP launched a tenure initiative in September 2017 after the board announced a review of the university’s tenure policy.

Jarosi said tenure is the cornerstone of a university.

“I hope that you will remain engaged on this issue and know that Dr. Postel and the board of trustees had no hand whatsoever in crafting the legislation or lobbying for it to be reinserted into the budget bill. As much as we are better when we act as one faculty, the same goes for one university. Sen. McDaniel probably knows how well the tactic of divide and conquer can work in an environment where trust has been eroded,” Jarosi said.

File photo / The Louisville Cardinal