Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at a press conference in 2021. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Friday that he wants to end professor tenure for all new hires at Texas public universities in an effort to combat faculty who he says “indoctrinate” students with teachings about critical race theory.

“Go to a private school, let them raise their own funds to teach, but we’re not going to fund them,” Patrick said. “I’m not going to pay for that nonsense.”

Patrick, who is running for reelection in the Republican primary, also proposed a change to state law that could make teaching critical race theory grounds for revoking tenure. His announcement signals a major fight at the Texas Capitol over how college students learn about the history of race and racism in the United States.

Conservatives over the past year have used “critical race theory” as a broad label to attack progressive teachings and books — at both college and K-12 levels — that address race and gender.

Patrick also proposed changing the tenure review period from every six years to annually.

Patrick said his latest priority is in response to the University of Texas at Austin Faculty Council after the group passed a nonbinding resolution Monday to reaffirm their academic freedom to teach on issues of racial justice and critical race theory.

“Legislative proposals and enactments seek to prohibit academic discussions of racism and related issues if the discussion would be ‘divisive’ or suggest ‘blame’ or cause ‘psychological distress,’” the resolution stated. “But fail to recognize that these criteria … chill the capacity of educators to exercise their academic freedom and use their expertise to make determinations regarding content and discussions that will serve educational purposes.”

Patrick’s desire to ban the teaching raised major concerns among professors who worry that it sets a dangerous precedent if state lawmakers place restrictions on what can be taught in the classroom, as well as violating the tenet of academic freedom.

Academic freedom ensures that professors have the right to discuss their subject matter expertise in the classroom, which the University of Texas Board of Regents and most universities have approved as part of its rules and regulations.

The proposal to end tenure, a protection put in place to allow professors to pursue research and teachings without threat of termination or political pressure, would fundamentally change the way Texas universities operate in terms of hiring, teaching and research. And it could impose major challenges for Texas universities to recruit and retain researchers and scholars from across the country.

“There’s always been attempts to interfere in higher education but I have never seen anything as egregious as this attack,” said Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors. “This is an attempt to have government control of scholarship and teaching. That is a complete disaster. I’ve never seen anything this bad.”

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