House education chair says professor review bill is not aimed at limiting tenure in Kentucky

By: - January 22, 2024 4:51 pm

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, shown testifying in a committee last year, has proposed House Bill 228, which mandates a new review process for faculty and administrators at Kentucky’s public universities. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s public universities and colleges could remove faculty who fall short of new “productivity requirements” under a bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Education Committee.

Rep. James Tipton’s House Bill 228 would require the boards of Kentucky’s public universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to establish a process to review faculty’s “performance and productivity” every four years. Faculty members who do not meet the requirements in their review could be removed from their position “regardless of status.” 

Tipton, of Taylorsville, told a Kentucky Lantern reporter last week the bill “has nothing to do with ending tenure” and described it as a “post-tenure review bill.” 

Tipton’s House Education Committee will consider the bill Tuesday morning. 

“We’re in a time now where we have to have accountability, we have to have transparency, we have to have efficiency. And I think this will allow universities to be more efficient,” Tipton said  Thursday. “And if somebody is not fulfilling their performance on the job, they should have a mechanism to address that situation.” 

Under the legislation, faculty members could not be removed until 10 days after receiving written notice and must be given an opportunity to introduce testimony or have legal defense. 

Kentucky law already allows faculty and administrators to be removed for incompetency, neglect, refusal to perform their duties or immoral conduct.

Tipton said that HB 228 expands the causes for firing to include meeting a university’s performance and productivity requirements. Any decisions on employment appointment could be delegated to university presidents. 

The bill says university boards would have to establish their evaluation processes and provide them to faculty members by Jan. 1, 2025. The processes would become effective July 1, 2025. 

The American Association of University Professors defines academic tenure as indefinite appointments that “can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.” Professors usually earn tenure after teaching and conducting research for six to seven years. 

“The principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, which is necessary for all who teach and conduct research in higher education,” AAUP’s website says. “When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech, publications, or research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge.”

At the University of Kentucky, faculty who are working to earn tenure are evaluated every two years.

Tipton said he crafted the legislation to provide consistency across all public institutions, as state law currently has different sections about employment for the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, other universities and KCTCS. 

Tipton referred to 2022 legislation he sponsored and was signed into law to increase oversight of Kentucky State University. That included review of tenured faculty, as well as funding to cover budget falls at the university. 

Republicans in other states have recently pushed or enacted legislation that would limit or end academic tenure. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former Republican presidential candidate, signed a law in 2022 that made it harder for state university professors to retain tenure and required university boards to review them every five years. 

The Texas Senate passed a bill that would kill tenure in that state last year, but the House gave a counter proposal that allowed professors to be fired by schools for “professional incompetence” or “conduct involving moral turpitude.” 

In 2023, an Iowan Republican legislator who proposed a failed bill that would ban tenure at public universities said he would likely not bring similar legislation forward again, but wanted institutions to know lawmakers were still “paying attention” to issues such as freedom of speech on Iowa college campuses.

Tipton said he did not review proposals from other states while working on his bill.  

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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