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Stephen Finley, chair of the African & African American Studies Department, was recently targeted by Turning Point USA, a right-wing group that criticizes professors across the country for teaching topics they deem radical.This is part of an increasing partisan animosity toward higher education principles like tenure that protect the unique knowledge distributed by people like Finley. This hostility has also manifested itself in bills banning the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” and more generally of racism in public schools controlled by Republican politicians.LSU President William Tate recently told the Reveille that “[tenure is] designed to provide security for people to be able to articulate the truth without retribution.”
I completely agree with the president. But if Tate claims to value tenure, he must take a stand against legislation that seeks to destroy it.State Sen. Stewart Cathey (R-Monroe) has introduced SCR 6, which creates a task force to review tenure policies in the state. The bill’s introduction follows similar legislation across the country limiting academic freedom.With bills like SCR 6 being brought up in the Legislature, tenure needs fierce defenders—like university presidents—so that academics like Finley can feel free to discuss and distribute their research “without retribution.”Tate told the Reveille that “there is no attack [on tenure]” and that he does not oppose the task force created by the bill, saying, “democracy is about having conversations."The conversation that Cathey seemingly intends to have, though, is not about strengthening tenure but about stripping away its protections bit by bit.In response to a recent Reveille story about the LSU Faculty Senate violating open meetings law, Cathey tweeted, "I think breaking the law should lead to a revocation of tenure!”
This statement speaks to Cathey’s feelings on the role tenure plays in the university, and it doesn’t inspire hope in his intentions for academic freedom at the flagship.One of the main objectives for Cathey’s proposed task force is to “perform an in-depth review of the merits of and need for tenure,” which implies that tenure isn’t a foundational aspect of the educational ecosystem but rather a policy that should be controlled by the increasingly partisan Louisiana Legislature.LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard said in a statement to the Reveille that “President Tate has stated publicly that he is supportive of tenure. But the university doesn’t take a position on any piece of legislation.” This is a dubious statement considering that the university employs a government relations team who can be seen lobbying for and against legislation at the Capitol on a regular basis. This is not to mention that the university's annual appropriation is included in a "piece of legislation" that the university surely has opinons on.On an issue as critical to the university's mission as tenure, Tate needs to stand by his words that the university is “one of the last places we have where the truth is foundational” and fiercely defend one of the few tools that protects truth, even if it means angering the Legislature.Turning Point USA ended its blog post about Finley by saying that “CRT is an aggressive invasion of college campuses, and professors advocating for these teachings should be condemned.”How can faculty like Finley feel confident expressing their views “without retribution” when the university is unwilling to defend their foundational freedom of tenure in the face of an increasingly hostile, partisan legislature?Charlie Stephens is a 21-year-old political communication junior from Baton Rouge.
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