Academic Freedom

Indiana Lawmakers Send GOP Bill Targeting Tenure to Governor’s Desk

classroom lecture chairs
Roel Dierckens via Unsplash

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Indiana granted final approval Thursday to a bill that would impose new regulations on tenure for faculty at public colleges and universities.

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk. The proposal mirrors conservative-led efforts in other states to influence higher education they view as unfriendly or hostile to conservative students and professors.

State senators voted 33-12, largely along party lines, to concur on the bill Thursday evening.

Indiana’s measure is less definitive than others. It would establish a post-tenure review process to be conducted every five years and create a policy preventing faculty from gaining tenure or promotions if they are “unlikely to foster a culture of free inquiry, free expression and intellectual diversity within the institution.”

Opponents at colleges say it would effectively do away with tenure, a coveted status ensuring employment that can be terminated only under specific circumstances. The practice has traditionally been considered a way to protect faculty from being terminated over what they teach and research.

“It’s really undermining free speech and academic freedom in every state institution in Indiana,” Democratic state Sen. Shelli Yodder said Thursday.

Conservative criticism of higher education has led to dozens of attempts in recent years to limit tenure and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, commonly referred to as DEI. Bills introduced in Nebraska this year, for instance, would ban DEI programs at state colleges and universities and eliminate tenure.

Republican state Sen. Spencer Deery, the bill’s author, told lawmakers the bill explicitly protects tenured faculty from retaliation over their political views and criticism of their employers.

Indiana University President Pamela Whitten expressed concern in February about the institution’s ability to compete with other states in attracting faculty talent if the bill becomes law.

The board of trustees, some of whom are appointed by the governor, would review professors’ tenure every five years to ensure they have promoted “intellectual diversity” and introduced students to a “variety of political or ideological frameworks.” The bill defines “intellectual diversity” as varied scholarly perspectives on “an extensive range of public policy issues.”

Deery has said he wants to make college campuses more welcoming for conservative students and professors. After Thursday’s vote, Deery called the bill a win for “free expression” in a written statement and a “victory for those of us who believe universities should challenge students by fostering intellectually diverse communities.”

The bill would add “cultural and intellectual diversity issues” to the purview of diversity committees, offices or individuals who work on such efforts. The bill would prohibit institutions from making promotions or admissions based on statements regarding DEI or “related topics.”

It also would require that public colleges and universities establish a complaint process for violations of the new standards.