Dan Patrick's Illiberal Attack on Higher EdRoundup
tags: Texas, higher education, free speech, academic freedom, Dan Patrick
Jonathan Marks, a contributor to Commentary’s blog, is the author of Let’s Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education.
Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, has proposed to eliminate tenure in the University of Texas system.
The argument against tenure has a respectable conservative pedigree. It isn’t obvious that professors, after some years of satisfactory service, should enjoy an indefinite appointment, revokable only under extraordinary circumstances. That’s worth debating. But Patrick isn’t against tenure for the usual reasons: that it supports unproductive professors, rewards people who are good at keeping their mouths shut, or denies universities the same flexibility in shaping their workforces as other institutions have. Patrick is against tenure because some professors at the University of Texas crossed him.
As Patrick explains in his refreshingly frank statement on the matter, he is “outraged by the University of Texas at Austin’s Faculty Council’s 41-5 vote on a resolution in support of teaching critical race theory.” He refers to a resolution that “supports the rights and academic freedom of faculty to design courses, curriculum, and pedagogy, and to conduct related scholarly research.” It is true, as Patrick says, that the resolution was occasioned by and refers to a campaign, reaching across numerous state legislatures and dozens of bills, that target critical race theory. Critical race theory is a constellation of ideas going back at least to the 1970s that stress the supposed inadequacies of the civil rights movement.
It is also true that the present campaign against critical race theory is objectionable for reasons many conservatives would have recognized until only yesterday. In the 1990s, the conservative fight against “political correctness” was waged against speech-limiting campus codes that, lacking clear definitions of hate speech, would inevitably encroach on freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas. Today, legislatures in many states, including Texas, wish to prevent teachers from making CRT “part of a course.” The Texas bill ensures, among other maxims, that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race,” that “members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex,” and that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.”
Here that ambiguous “making part of the course” does harmful work. It suggests that one can’t include as part of a course syllabus arguments in favor of affirmative action, much less more radical arguments about the character of the American founding, even if that course syllabus otherwise consisted mainly of arguments against affirmative action and in praise of the American Founding.
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