Louisiana’s higher ed tenure task force slow to materialize

Deadline to name members has passed; it meets next week

By: - July 26, 2022 10:24 am

A photo of Keeny Hall at Louisiana Tech University from September 2016. (Creative Commons license)

With less than a week before it is required to meet for the first time, just half of the required slots on a legislative panel reviewing tenure for college professors have been filled. 

The Task Force for Tenure in Higher Education will study tenure policies at Louisiana’s colleges and universities and recommend any changes it considers necessary. Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, sponsored the legislation, which has been en vogue in other Republican-led states that view colleges as bastions of liberal indoctrination.  

Tenure provides an indefinite academic appointment to qualifying faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in their field. Academics with tenure can only be terminated for cause, and it typically only happens in extreme circumstances. Tenure  is viewed as a key part of academic freedom at American public universities and a shield against political, corporate and religious intervention.

The tenure task force is meant to be made up of 19 members. They include the Senate president, the House speaker, the chairs of the House and Senate education committees or their designees. Three members each from the House and Senate, the commissioner of higher education or a designee, the president of each university system or a designee and a faculty member from each university system also comprise the panel.

The resolution required that the members be named by July 15. 

So far, faculty representatives from three of the four systems have been selected, as well as a designee for the commissioner of higher education and designees for the presidents of each system. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, and Dennis Shields, president of the Southern University System, are the only system presidents that will personally serve on the committee. 

The only legislative member the Louisiana Illuminator has been able to confirm has been named to the committee is Cathey, who Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, has selected as his designee and will chair the committee. 

Four days after the deadline, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said he had not yet named House members to the committee. He did not respond when asked when he would name them. 

Cortez did not respond to requests for comment about which senators he would select.  A legislative spokesperson did not provide any information regarding the unnamed members of the task force. 

Cathey, acting in line with conservative lawmakers in other states, included language in his resolution that indicated he is concerned with liberal indoctrination by university faculty. 

“Postsecondary education students should be confident that they are being exposed to the spectrum of viewpoints, including those that are dissenting; that they are graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge; and that faculty members are not using their courses for the purposes of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination,” the resolution reads. 

Bob Mann, a tenured mass communication professor at LSU, is known for criticism of his employer and Louisiana politicians. He was formerly communications director for Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and press secretary for the U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston’s campaign.  

A frequent target of Cathey’s criticism, Mann said it was good to hear “that (legislative) leadership may be slow walking and are really not interested in complying with the stipulations to study committee,” but he is still worried it may present a risk to tenure. 

Study committees and task forces are commonly used as a fall back option when legislators proposing controversial measures do not yet have the votes to approve an actual bill. They are created in concurrent resolutions that do not need the governor’s signature, and they don’t always result in legislation. 

The task force is meant to submit its non-binding report by March 1, 2023.

A previous version of this article stated that Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, would be the only system president to serve on the task force. A spokesperson for Southern University initially provided incorrect information regarding who would be representing the Southern University System on the board. The article has been updated to reflect the latest information provided to the Louisiana Illuminator. 

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.