Tenure in Louisiana has faced attacks from the state house, prompting concerns from some professors.
Academic tenure, which all but guarantees job security for professors that have completed certain educational and research criteria set by their respective college, is intended to allow professors to complete their research without fear of outside influences.
“The idea behind it historically has been that tenure is a way of ensuring that the ideas within the academy are protected from systems of power or influence so that people can think more freely about issues that may arise,” said Roy Heidelberg, a tenured associate professor in the E.J. Ourso College of Business.
Such a system is what has drawn the ire of Sen. Stewart Cathey Jr., R-Monroe, who is among many conservative politicians in Louisiana who believe the current academic tenure system has enshrined singular viewpoints among higher education faculty.
“Postsecondary students should be confident that they are being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, including those that are dissenting,” said Cathey’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, which passed the state Senate unanimously and the state House by a margin of 60-30 in 2022.
The resolution sought to establish a task force to study academic tenure and make recommendations based on its findings, but Cathey told the Louisiana Illuminator in January that he would no longer be convening the task force.
Instead, Cathey said he would draft a bill to address academic tenure directly. The move all but eliminates any chance for public input that would have been allowed under the task force, as the contents of the bill likely aren’t going to be revealed until its unveiling in the state Senate.
Many professors believe the bill isn't receiving any specialized input from those it would most severely affect.
“We have no additional information on the contents of this alleged bill or the individuals with whom he is consulting, though we have been told that the senator has not spoken with anyone from LSU about this new approach," LSU Faculty Senate President Inessa Babayev said at a Faculty Senate meeting.
If the new bill is introduced and ultimately passed, Louisiana would join in a trend of conservative states such as Florida and Georgia in wounding academic tenure, which is something many academics say Louisiana and LSU can’t afford to do.
“If something were to happen to tenure in Louisiana or at LSU, I think that you would find it will be much more difficult for LSU to attract faculty members,” Heidelberg said.
“If you want to be known for your research, if you want this university to be an R1 in good standing with a national reputation, you need to be able to attract people to come at a senior level," said Robert Mann, a tenured mass communication professor.
On the prospect of the Cathey’s bill passing, Mann said, “There’s no way anybody would be that stupid to come to a state like this or to Florida.”
The Faculty Senate passed a resolution to “reaffirm protections of academic freedom and tenure” when the initial bill to set up the task force passed.
“We stand by the Faculty Senate’s original affirmation of support for tenure and academic freedom,” Bazayev said.
LSU President William F. Tate IV followed suit in the most recent LSU Board of Supervisors meeting.
“The reason that we have tenure is so that these faculty members who are outstanding have an opportunity to speak the truth without any intervention at all…So, if you want to know where I stand on this matter, I personally believe that we ought to invest in our faculty and their ability to give us the truth because it is truly the core of what a place like LSU should be," Tate said.
But not all academics are convinced of the administration’s response to the academic tenure attacks.
“The higher education leaders in the state have shown no backbone when it comes to fighting for their schools in the past. The only reason this hasn’t gone anywhere really...is because there’s been a Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, who I think everyone assumed would veto the bill,” Mann said.
With Gov. Edwards term limited, the fate of academic tenure may rely on the upcoming gubernatorial election, where candidate Jeff Landry, who has been endorsed by Louisiana's state Republican Party, has shown a willingness to weaken faculty protections.