Bad idea has a shot in the Legislature

January 22, 2024 3:00 am

University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

A proposal in the Nebraska Legislature would do away with tenure for the state’s public college professors. Similar bills have been introduced in the legislatures of Texas, Florida, North Dakota and Iowa. And if there’s anyone we want to emulate, it’s Texas, Florida, North Dakota and Iowa. Right?

If state senators want the brain drain to flow faster, by all means support this bill. Punting on tenure is a surefire way to hamstring the state’s public colleges and universities from attracting the best and brightest in academia to Nebraska. 

Some full disclosure: First, I am part of the adjunct faculty at a Nebraska college, so tenure is not the track on which I move, nor would this bill, should it become law, affect my school because it is private. Nevertheless, I work with those for whom tenure is serious business and a long-established, professional milestone for many. Second, State Sen. Loren Lippincott, who introduced Legislative Bill1064, the bill that would eliminate tenure, coincidentally is my representative in the Legislature.

For starters, tenure is not a permanent get out of jail free card. Yes, it gives those who earn it full academic freedom and makes their firing more difficult, but certainly not impossible. Throw in budget cuts, incompetence and “cause,” a controversy waiting to happen — from immorality to policy violations —, and schools can indeed give tenured faculty the hook.

Still, tenure is job security for professors and good news for college administrators when they can keep elite minds on campus rather than in the labs and libraries of the Fortune 500.

More than simply the traditional idea of academic freedom, tenure underpins the free and unfettered exchange of ideas. Consider the research compiled and made available from college professors that better humanity without paying a corporate piper for knowledge that can advance health, make us more productive, enhance creativity and solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Among Lippincott’s beefs with the state’s collegiate academicians is this, which he offered in an email to the Nebraska Examiner: “As tax-paying citizens, we have a right to expect that our tax dollars will be used to educate and edify our students, not indoctrinate them with leftist ideology.” He also cited, without specifics, poorly performing profs. He was earlier quoted as saying he was offering the bill because he disagreed with the thinking of some professors, ironically the argument for academic freedom and tenure.

I suppose “indoctrination” is a possibility. Remember, however, that college should introduce students to new ideas, some of which they may find fascinating, others repugnant and surely a few with nothing more than a shrug. If college students are not being exposed to new ideas, they should ask for their money back. Nor should they ever adhere to any idea without a critical, intellectual challenge. That’s the process of learning. Plus, colleges have guard rails for students who believe they have been mistreated. 

What most caught my eye in Lippincott’s dissing of higher education, however, was his invoking of the w-word: woke. He wrote that “… woke ideology is being pushed at the University of Nebraska.”

“Woke,” if you’re keeping score at home, is the catch-all bogeyman that no one seems to be able to define in particular, but almost everyone of a certain political persuasion is against. Perhaps they only know it when they see it, or maybe they only see it when it runs counter to their own opinions.

I defended wokeness in this space a couple of years ago ( during Nebraska’s gubernatorial primary, when GOP hopefuls littered the campaign landscape with “woke warnings” without ever bothering to explain the word to us. 

Most surely view the sin of language misappropriation as venial; the consequences can be serious, however. That’s because when “woke” is your argument, you’re in the neighborhood of book banners, history rewriters and those obsessed with the gender of total strangers.

Lippincott’s proposal is headed to the Legislature’s Education Committee, which, at a hearing last July after the 2023 session, heard a conspiracy theorist promote the idea that global cabals were selling Marxist ideology to Nebraska schoolchildren via the classroom; a state school board member warning the committee about Nebraska schools teaching critical race theory (pro tip: no one is) and the admission by the committee chair, parroting a Florida state history standard, that people “benefit from their background,” including the enslaved.

To which I would say, “Wake up, people!” LB1064 — a really bad idea for a number of reasons — has a shot.

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George Ayoub
George Ayoub

George Ayoub filed nearly 5,000 columns, editorials and features in 21 years as a journalist for the Grand Island Independent. His columns also appeared in the Omaha World-Herald and Kearney Hub. His work has been recognized by the Nebraska Press Association and the Associated Press. He was awarded a national prize by Gatehouse Media for a 34-part series focusing on the impact of cancer on families of victims and survivors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty and Academic Support Staff at Hastings College. Ayoub has published two short novels, “Warm, for Christmas” and “Dust in Grissom.” In 2019 he published “Confluence,” the biography of former Omaha World-Herald publisher and CEO John Gottschalk.