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Lawmakers vote down bill that would end tenure for Utah college professors

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 23 2011 6:55 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would prevent state universities from offering tenure to future professors failed to advance on a 9-3 vote Wednesday in the House Education Committee.

HB485 sponsoring Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, said he believes a free market, competitive approach results in the best people competing for jobs, and tenure runs contrary to that principal.

"No one is entitled to guaranteed employment," Herrod said.

The Utah County Republican told the committee tenure is expensive and professorships shouldn't be promised, especially in times of economic hardship.

"There's nothing we can do with those individuals who currently have tenure," he said. "We have this large, unfunded liability."

University officials spoke in opposition to the legislation, including William Sederburg, Utah's commissioner of higher education.

"Passage of this bill will really be damaging to the state of Utah," Sederburg told the committee.

Herrod's concern that poor professors are being guaranteed a job isn't as big of a problem as alleged, Sederburg said. If anything, tenure helps secure the best of the best, he said.

"Many, many, many faculty members are weeded out in that process," he said. "It is very much a minority of professors that have tenure."

Sederburg also told the committee schools can revoke tenure in times of financial strain, or as a result of poor performance.

Herrod amended the bill since it was first introduced. He made an allowance for the state's two research universities, the University of Utah and Utah State University, to enter into 10-year contracts with professors.

Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, voted against the bill, saying it would weaken Utah's appeal to the best and brightest professors.

"Right now, the world is organized in such a way that I think we would put our institutions at a disadvantage," he said. 

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

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