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Lawmaker's bill would end tenure for Utah professors

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 14 2011 3:53 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A House bill to eliminate tenure for professors at Utah's public universities has higher education officials concerned because of its impact on their ability to recruit quality faculty.

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, told The Associated Press that professors who receive tenure cannot be held accountable by taxpayers and the benefits of competition are removed.

"The taxpayers shouldn't be writing a blank check," Herrod said.

Although Herrod believes Utah would be the first to ban tenure, he said federal funding cuts to higher education grants will force other states to consider it. Fewer dollars means universities will need to be more flexible in their faculty needs, something tenure prevents.

Instead of a "lifetime contract," professors would be evaluated like any other state employee if House Bill 485 were passed, Herrod said. The best professors would be retained by a university or college, even if they aren't the most experienced.

"Competition brings out the best in people," Herrod said. "I have a hard time believing professors don't want to compete."

The prohibition on tenures would begin July 1. Any professor tenured by that date would remain tenured.

Utah Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg said they are "very opposed" to the bill. If tenure were removed, the state's universities would not be able to recruit top-flight faculty, no matter how much they offered.

The University of Utah and Utah State University would be hit especially hard as major research institutions that compete for faculty nationally. Both universities are also partners in the Utah Science and Technology Research Initiative, which funds technology research that can be commercialized.

Through USTAR, professors have been recruited from schools such as Harvard University, University of Virginia and University of Texas. The USTAR faculty includes Mario Capecchi, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his genetic research.

"It would be hugely expensive to even try, and I don't think you could ever recruit the type of talent we want," Sederburg said. "It would significantly hurt the state's economy."

Tenure is often misunderstood, Sederburg said. In Utah, tenured professors still get reviewed every three years and can be fired at any time for just cause.

It takes about five years to qualify for tenure, Sederburg said, but it is not guaranteed. Before granting tenure, student evaluations, peer reviews and administrative reports are all considered.

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