Debate swirls over legislation removing tenure for future faculty

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Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Bill would end tenure at state universities for new hires
A new bill that would, among other things, eliminate tenure for future UNC system and community college professors is the source of renewed debate.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A new bill that would, among other things, eliminate tenure for future University of North Carolina system and community college professors is the source of renewed debate. House Bill 715, filed last week, addresses issues from minimum class size to the format for applications. It would also remove the possibility of tenure for faculty hired on or after July 1, 2024.

The bill is officially known as the Higher Education Modernization & Affordability Act.

Current faculty in the UNC system say it will make their universities non-competitive when trying to recruit new talent.

"At the end of the day, we would be losing faculty to Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, Duke, lots of other private, public universities that are also competing for the same talent," said Daniel Kreiss, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism.

Those fears were echoed by students on campus at Chapel Hill as well.

"If two schools are equal in every other way except for the money, which one are you going to go for? It's going to be the money," said senior Jessica Matthews.

Freshman Dev Patel said he's already had a professor leave for a better opportunity at another school.

"One of my favorite professors, he already left to go to a different school," he said. "So if they're getting rid of job security, I just -- I don't think it's that good of an idea."

Proponents of higher education reform say it would streamline an archaic system, and place new checks and balances on colleges and universities.

"The accountability measures for the university system are not as strong as they could be, so I think that's one of the things this bill does, is strengthen those accountability measures," said Jenna Robinson, President of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

In a statement to ABC11, the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. David Willis, R-Union, said:

"Our higher education system has operated unchecked for decades and costs for the taxpayers and students have skyrocketed. The State of North Carolina appropriates billions of dollars each budget cycle to the public higher education systems and costs continue to rise at rates that are unsustainable.

"Salaries are one of the biggest expenses for constituent institutions of the UNC System and the North Carolina Community College System, and they need to be better managed and regularly evaluated through rigorous study. This bill would also streamline the application process for community colleges and universities, maximize transfer credits from the Career and College Promise Transfer Pathway Program, and encourage optimal utilization of ROTC scholarships and Pell Grants, among other provisions in order to ease the burden on students.

"It is time that we modernize the entire system, reduce costs, and make earning a degree more attainable for students and their families."

The recent debate about tenure at Chapel Hill is also informing this most recent debate. In 2021, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones had her tenure vetoed by the school's Board of Governors, leading to large-scale protests. While she ultimately was offered tenure, Kreiss said he's not sure faith in the system has fully recovered.

"Researchers are a protected institution in society because we can ask hard questions," he said. "We can ask hard questions about climate change, we can follow the data of where it leads us as opposed to changing our results based on whatever political winds are blowing."