ACLS Letter to Iowa Lawmakers Opposing Legislation to End Tenure at Public Universities
On Friday, March 5, 2021, Iowa lawmakers will vote on legislation that would end tenure for faculty at Iowa’s three public universities.
ACLS issued the following letter to leaders of the Iowa House of Representatives and State Senate, as well as Governor Kim Reyonlds strongly opposing such measures and urging that they uphold employment protections for faculty:
The Honorable Kim Reynolds, Governor
The Honorable Jake Chapman, President, Iowa Senate
The Honorable Jack Whitver, Majority Leader, Iowa Senate
The Honorable Pat Grassley, Speaker, Iowa House of Representatives
The Honorable Matt Windschitl, Majority Leader, Iowa House of Representatives
The Honorable Zach Wahls, Minority Leader, Iowa Senate
The Honorable Todd Prichard, Minority Leader, Iowa House of Representatives
Dr. Michael Richards, President, Iowa Board of Regents
For generations, Iowa’s public higher education system has served as a beacon for opportunity and fresh thinking in academia.
That spirit, coupled with the freedom to pursue research exploring alternatives to standard problem solving, allowed John Vincent Atanasoff the resources and support to experiment in the field of electronics in the 1930s as a young faculty member at Iowa State. In 1939, with a $650 grant from the college and assistance from Clifford Berry, one of the school’s promising graduate students, he constructed the Atanasoff–Berry computer, the first digital computer, right on the Ames campus, and changed the world.
Recent developments in the Iowa State Legislature suggest that the state’s great history of supporting scholars and scientists is in decline. Legislators are considering a devastating step backward that will undermine the high-quality education the state has worked so hard to build.
The American Council of Learned Societies strongly encourages lawmakers to vote against House File 496 and Senate File 41, which would remove the status of tenure for professors and discontinue the practice at Iowa’s three public universities. We call on Governor Kim Reynolds to decline to sign any such legislation into law.
ACLS proudly stands by the principles first articulated by the American Association of University Professors in 1915 and promulgated in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities), and now endorsed by hundreds of educational and scholarly organizations in the United States.
Tenure was designed precisely in the recognition that scholars and scientists need academic freedom – protection from short-sighted or politically motivated actions. It is in no way meant to provide a free pass for faculty to teach and do and say whatever they wish without consequence. Even after tenure has been granted, misconduct by tenured faculty may be punished by involuntary separation. Under conditions of publicly demonstrated extreme financial exigency, institutions may let faculty go.
Knowledge is crucial to an educated citizenry. It needs strong defenses. Removing tenure in Iowa would undermine research and irrevocably damage the reputation of its schools, making it difficult for them to recruit students and faculty around the world.
We encourage Iowa’s lawmakers to celebrate the achievements of their great public universities and recognize the need for the limited protections tenure affords. We call on them to work with the Board of Regents and administrators to reinforce principles and practices that advance knowledge for the greater good, especially in communities beyond campus; to promote the circulation of knowledge and truths based in facts; and to encourage healthy, respectful debate and critical thinking on all perspectives on your campuses.
Dr. Linda K. Kerber, the renowned legal historian and May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts and Professor of History Emerita, Lecturer in Law at The University of Iowa, recently delivered the 2020 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture, ACLS’s highest public honor, to a virtual audience of more than 500 peers, students, and friends. A New Yorker by birth and a graduate of Barnard and Columbia, as a woman in the early 1970s she found few opportunities to teach in higher ed, until she received an invitation from the University of Iowa. “Living in Iowa,” she commented of her early post-doc years there, “I learned that New York City is not necessarily the intellectual center of the world.”
At ACLS we believe every state should invest in building outstanding institutions like Iowa’s. We hope that this latest act of political posturing does not set back a system of public higher education admired across the country.
The American Council of Learned Societies
The following ACLS Member Societies have signed on to this statement:
American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
American Association of Geographers
American Comparative Literature Association
American Folklore Society
American Historical Association
American Musicological Society
American Philosophical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society for Environmental History
American Society for Theatre Research
American Sociological Association
American Studies Association
Association for Asian Studies
Association for Jewish Studies
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Economic History Association
College Art Association
German Studies Association
History of Science Society
Linguistic Society of America
Middle East Studies Association
Modern Language Association
National Communication Association
Organization of American Historians
Rhetoric Society of America
Sixteenth Century Society & Conference
Society of Architectural Historians
Society of Biblical Literature
Society for Ethnomusicology
World History Association