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Bill Seeks to End Tenure System in Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Missouri lawmaker who is proposing eliminating tenure for professors at all of the state’s two- and four-year public colleges and universities says tenure is an outdated system that is no longer needed to protect teachers from being unjustly fired.

Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, said eliminating tenure would save public money, give schools more flexibility and bring higher education in line with other industries, The Kansas City Star reported.

Brattin, a military veteran who owns a Cass County construction company, said his bill would end tenure-track hiring in 2018 but would not take tenure from those who have already earned it.

To earn tenure, associate professors must publish several research articles and have a history of successful teaching over a probationary period that can last seven years.

The bill would also require public colleges to publish “estimated costs of degrees, employment opportunities expected for graduates, average salaries of previous graduates, and a summary of the job market” for a specific degree.

Opponents contend ending tenure would cause teachers to leave Missouri and put the state at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting professors and researchers.

“Should this ill-conceived bill become law in Missouri, it will immediately become extremely difficult to attract talented faculty members and to retain good faculty,” said Gary Ebersole, a tenured professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Ben Trachtenberg, an associate law professor at the University of Missouri, where he chairs the Columbia campus’s Faculty Council on University Policy, agreed.

“I think an economist would suggest that if there are two jobs that pay the same, and one has much more job security, that’s the one that’s going to be more exciting to prospective employees,” Trachtenberg said.

Brattin said he’s heard those arguments before, but he believes other laws protect teachers from being unjustly removed.

Also, he contends ending tenure would let college administrators end low-enrollment academic programs and eliminate high-paid professors who teach courses students aren’t interested in. Tenure also means professors couldn’t be forced to retire.

“The American higher education system is the only place in the world that does this,” he said. “We need to ensure people are worth the salt they are being paid.”

Tenure became policy at nearly every U.S. college and university by the late 1950s and early 1960s, said Hans-Joerg Tiede, a senior program officer in the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance for the American Association of University Professors. He said it was established to protect academic freedom and defend open research or teaching on controversial subject matter without fear of retribution.

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