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The same day the Iowa Legislature kept alive proposals to end faculty tenure across its public universities, nearly 30 national academic associations or societies either penned statements or signed letters urging the governor and lawmakers to reject 'this latest act of political posturing.”
'Recent developments in the Iowa State Legislature suggest that the state's great history of supporting scholars and scientists is in decline,” Joy Connolly, president of The American Council of Learned Societies, wrote Thursday in a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds and state legislative leaders.
'Legislators are considering a devastating step backward that will undermine the high-quality education the state has worked so hard to build,” Connolly wrote in the letter signed by dozens of her council's member groups, including the American Comparative Literature Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Historical Association, and the Rhetoric Society of America.
Both the Iowa House and Senate this session have advanced bills that would make Iowa the first in the nation to eliminate tenure - an esteemed faculty appointment to which elite professors and researchers aspire in pursuit of the academic freedom it affords and the recognition it offers.
'The American Council of Learned Societies strongly encourages lawmakers to vote against House File 496 and Senate File 41, which would remove the status of tenure for professors and discontinue the practice at Iowa's three public universities,” Connolly wrote in her letter. 'We call on Gov. Kim Reynolds to decline to sign any such legislation into law.”
Although the House version of the tenure-elimination measure is alive, the Senate version didn't make it through the full education committee before the funnel deadline - meaning it's dead for this session.
Lawmakers backing the measures to stop tenure - which they say offers rarely breached protection for faculty - have argued administrators need more freedom to fire 'bad professors,” including those perceived as suppressing speech, which has become a central issue for the public universities this legislative session.
Other bills introduced this year addressing or involving free speech and the First Amendment on regent campuses include ones spelling out training mandates, making law violation ramifications, barring certain diversity training, and requiring university reports on employee political affiliation.
Freedom of speech
A Thursday statement from Henry Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, addresses three of Iowa's legislative proposals that 'raise troubling concerns about academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus.”
Criticizing first the tenure-elimination proposal, Reichman said the academic appointment is awarded after a lengthy probationary period, allows for just cause dismissal and affords universities an important tool to recruit and retain top faculty.
He also criticized the proposal to make university employees report political affiliations, 'ostensibly in search of greater ideological ‘balance.'”
'The dangers posed by such a move to both personal privacy and to freedom of association and belief should be obvious,” Reichman wrote. 'The idea that the composition of the faculty must somehow reflect the distribution of political affiliation among the citizenry fails to recognize that the whole point of academic freedom is to insulate professional judgment from political control.”
Airing reports those proposals might 'face a difficult path to passage,” Reichman suggested a third proposal aimed at guaranteed free speech on campus appears 'more likely to gain approval.”
'Such ‘campus free speech' bills are largely solutions in search of a problem,” he wrote. 'Fear that the free exchange of ideas no longer occurs on campuses is grossly exaggerated.”
Most of today's campus free-speech dust-ups are about 'balancing unobstructed dialogue with need to make all constituencies on campus feel included.”
'A genuine rise in campus censorship of ideas would therefore be cause for great concern,” Reichman wrote. 'What we are seeing, however, are most often difficult situations in a polarized political environment in which, for the most part, campuses are doing well at protecting the rights of both speakers and protesters.”
The regents-related legislation 'would not only be unnecessary, but it could also impose on institutions potentially costly and overly bureaucratic burdens. Universities should manage free speech regulations, he argued, not lawmakers.
'Higher education faces many problems, but the absence of free speech is not foremost among them,” according to Reichman. 'Legislators would better serve the people of Iowa by focusing on solutions to bigger problems, such as restoring full funding for higher education, rather than creating new bureaucracy and new reporting requirements to regulate a largely nonexistent crisis.”
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