Letter: Legislator doesn't seem to understand the purpose of tenure

Petros and Kehn writes, "The purpose of tenure is to promote the free expression of ideas and to better serve the interest of the institution and the students."

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North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, introduced a bill into the North Dakota Legislature claiming to address the need to accelerate workforce development. A major problem is the bill fails to specify exactly how workforce development is going to be improved. In fact, the bill seeks to place the total power for a tenured faculty person’s employment in the hands of the university president without any recourse or due process.

One major omission from the bill is the apparent lack of understanding the purpose of tenure. The purpose of tenure is to promote the free expression of ideas and to better serve the interest of the institution and the students. The implementation of this bill would severely limit the ability of tenured faculty to engage in robust debates about educational policy and practices and allow university presidents unfettered authority to remove a faculty member for disagreeing with them. Placing such power in the hands of a single individual - a university president - will be a disaster.

Some opponents of tenure argue that it does nothing but provide job protection to professors. However tenured professors can be fired from their positions for “just cause.” The university must in writing detail the reasons for this dismissal. The fired faculty can then seek due process by bringing an appeal before the Standing Committee on Faculty Rights of their institution. The SCOFR is comprised of five full professors that are elected from their peers. The committee then hears the case and makes a recommendation to the president. The president’s decision is final.

Thomas Petros, one of the authors of this letter, has served extensively on the SCOFR at the University of North Dakota while several tenured professors have been let go. if Lefor had done his homework, he might have noticed that the president can fire tenured faculty after they have been afforded due process. Therefore, we are left to wonder why Lefor wants to completely remove accountability from university presidents. Surely Lefor does not want to allow autocratic presidents on campuses in the North Dakota University System.

We urge strong opposition to this bill from presidents of all campuses, members of the SBHE, the chancellor of the NDUS and members of the legislative assembly. Support for this bill will enable university presidents to avoid any accountability for potential arbitrary and capricious employment decisions they might make.


Thomas Petros and Andre Kehn live in Grand Forks.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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