In February, the Faculty Council of The University of Texas at Austin voted 41-5 in favor of a resolution “affirming the fundamental rights of academic freedom in its broadest sense, inclusive of research and teaching of race and gender theory”. The response from Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was immediate as he issued a statement which I quote in part: “Tenured professors must not be able to hide behind the phrase ‘academic freedom’ and then proceed to poison the minds of our next generation…..Universities across Texas are being taken over by tenured leftist professors, and it is high time that more oversight is provided…..During the upcoming 88th Legislative Session, one of my priorities will be eliminating tenure at all public universities in Texas…..”. There is a lot to like about Patrick’s response on this issue, on which I share his disgust with the UT faculty posture, and as a former member of the board of regents of one of our public universities, I am not a stranger to the controversies involved. Here are some thoughts and a caution:
- First, as well-noted in a recent essay on academic freedom by Nate Hochman, a National Review Fellow, the concept of academic freedom was never intended to be an absolute entitlement; rather, its just exercise operates within the confines of pre-existing institutional obligations, primarily to the pursuit of truth. And he quotes Russell Kirk as follows on the fundamental nature of these institutional confines: “Academic freedom may properly be restrained, in some degree, by the right of any society to ensure its own preservation”.
- Second, without this foundational understanding of academic freedom in pursuit of the truth, there can be no basis for the “rights” that have become attached to professional tenure.
- So to have any impact on tenure as we have come to know it, there must be a return to the original purpose of academic freedom in pursuit of truth, which will involve a major overhaul of academic culture. Short of that, I would caution the Lt. Gov. to be careful, because the progressive left is so dominant in higher education that, sad to say, the only means by which alternative views have any voice at all can be attributed to tenure, however flawed it has become.