North Dakota moves tenure reform forward

, Spencer Irvine, 1 Comment

North Dakota, a state not often in the national headlines, is making waves due to state lawmakers advancing a bill couched as reforming tenure in colleges and universities. Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Lefor called the bill a “tenure with responsibilities” act.

Lefor said, “If we want to be competitive in the future, we have to give all the universities the authority … to have oversight for their university.”

House Bill 1446 advanced out of committee and was passed 66-27 in a floor vote. It is currently being considered by the state senate.

Accuracy in Academia previously reported on the tenure bill as it was being considered in the state’s House of Representatives and the controversy surrounding the bill.

Eric Grabowsky, an associate professor of communication at Dickinson State University, was quoted in The Dickinson Press about his views on the bill. He told the news outlet that there “still has not been any planned campus-wide discussion of the tenure bill” and that “it is an anti-whistleblower bill in disguise.”

Grabowsky recently penned a letter to the editor to express similar concerns and said that putting North Dakota into the national conversation “about the future of tenure is certainly relevant for various important considerations.”

Another college professor, Keith Whittington, echoed similar concerns about the bill. In Reason, Whittington reiterated his written testimony to the North Dakota Senate Education Committee, “Such sweeping discretion to revoke tenure and terminate a faculty member would effectively subvert the very purpose of granting tenure protections in the first place.”

Another complicating factor is the North Dakota’s State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) did not take a position on the bill until later in the legislative process.

Prior to their position change, a Fargo, North Dakota resident wrote a letter to the editor which blasted the SBHE for remaining neutral on the bill and pointed to the state’s constitution. The resident claimed the state gave the SBHE “full authority” over higher education institutions in North Dakota and the workings should be free from political influence.

When the SBHE took a position and opposed the bill, it also proposed to conduct a joint study with the state legislature. The SBHE’s eight voting members voted unanimously to oppose the bill.

Conservatives, for years, have criticized tenure as protecting politicized professors on the taxpayer dime and pointed to Florida’s reforms as a model going forward. But the North Dakota bill goes further than Florida’s reforms and could open a door for misuse by politicians, which is one reason why several academics are voicing their opposition to it.