DES MOINES — A legislative proposal to prohibit Iowa’s public universities from offering tenure to faculty once again will be shelved.
But not before one Republican state lawmaker warned a regents official about what he described Tuesday as conservative students feeling unwelcome on campuses.
And another Republican state lawmaker, who has proposed banning tenure in the past, said he will not introduce another such proposal this year but will introduce a bill that takes a different approach in addressing his concerns with tenure.
Rep. Steve Holt, a Republican from Denison, had introduced legislation that would ban tenure and held a subcommittee hearing on it Wednesday at the Iowa Capitol. After hearing from multiple speakers who were all against the proposal — including a lobbyist who represents the state board that governs Iowa’s three public universities and works at the University of Iowa — Holt announced his intention to stop the bill from advancing.
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However, Holt also gave a stern warning he urged the regents’ lobbyists to take back to the universities: “I’m tired of playing Whac-A-Mole with these issues going on at universities,” he said. “I hope you take the message back … we’re watching them.”
After the meeting, Holt detailed what he said were complaints from conservative students at the UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
“I’ve been contacted by a lot of students in my district, some outside my district, regarding — for lack of a better term — just some of the irrational, woke stuff that’s going on on college campuses, the feeling that they’re denied free speech if you’re a conservative,” Holt said. “A university is a place where you’re supposed to be exposed to a universe of ideas. So I don’t care whether it’s liberal or conservative. Those thoughts should be welcomed in a university.”
Holt also told lobbyists for the universities and business groups that he is “not deaf and stupid” to the concerns they raised with any proposal to ban tenure. He declined to move House File 48 forward.
Keith Saunders, who lobbies legislators on behalf of the regents, said eliminating tenure would make Iowa universities incapable of competing for the best professors, which would hinder attempts to educate young Iowans and threaten research funding.
“It is a literal competition for us to keep the best and brightest,” Saunders said, adding that Iowa would become the only state in the nation without tenure if it was banned. “Without tenure, we’re not able to attract those faculty. … Iowa would unilaterally disarm. … If (tenure) is not able to be offered in Iowa, we would become an educational backwater.”
Roughly 42 percent of regents university faculty are tenured, and another 12 percent are on the track to tenure, a regents official said during the hearing. The official said roughly six or seven tenured faculty are dismissed over a 10-year period.
In the Senate, Brad Zaun, a Republican, has introduced tenure bans in the past. He said this year he will not introduce another such proposal; instead, he plans to introduce legislation that would require universities to conduct more frequent reviews of tenured faculty. Currently, tenure reviews are conducted every six or seven years, a regents official said. Zaun said his bill could reduce that period to every two or three years.
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years. And what I’ve learned in talking to the professors that are in our regents universities is that I was going about it the wrong way,” Zaun said. “If I do file a bill, the bill’s going to be pretty simple, that the tenure reviews are done on a more regular basis.”