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Proposal for new tenure policy puts Alamo Colleges leaders at odds with faculty

A wall of windows with pillars holding banners with the Alamo Colleges symbol in each of the five colleges' colors at the community college system's central office.
Camille Phillips
/
TPR

The political fight over tenure and academic freedom simmering in Austin has bubbled over into a debate about employment policies at the Alamo Colleges.

It’s been more than a decade since the Alamo Colleges paused its tenure program — full-time faculty hired prior to 2011 have tenure, but faculty hired since then do not.

The community college system’s leaders and faculty agree that a new policy should be implemented to better protect faculty while also holding them accountable, and they formed a faculty working group more than a year ago to come up with a plan.

In May, the faculty working group recommended implementing a new tenure policy, but the chancellor and the college presidents want to stop short of offering tenure. During September’s board meeting, administrators presented a plan that would replace annual contracts with multi-year contracts instead.

“What we're going to present tonight to the board and to the larger community, I believe, is a best in class plan looking at the landscape of urban community colleges within the state of Texas and also nationally,” Chancellor Mike Flores said before the presentation.

“It provides job security for 55% of our current faculty — 442 faculty members that teach at all five of the colleges. And it honors professional attainment with a recognition payment at the end of year six — which we have looked like as a probationary period — of $5,000,” Flores added.

But faculty members were concerned multi-year contracts won’t go far enough to protect them.

Nine faculty members spoke about the importance of tenure during the meeting’s public comments. Some spoke about the need to support the LGBTQ+ community and Mexican American Studies classes during the current political climate. Others spoke more generally about the ways tenure maintains academic freedom while creating a system to hold faculty accountable, and its importance as a hiring tool.

Later in the meeting during a presentation of the United Faculty Senates, Northeast Lakeview professor Caroline Davis said faculty are in favor of multi-year contracts but believe they should be offered within the framework of tenure.

She pointed to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s proposal to end tenure at Texas’s public colleges and universities as one of the reasons why.

“He said the quiet part out loud, right. And everybody heard it: ‘We want to do away with tenure, because we want to be able to control what is said.’ And I think that has struck a nerve and a chord at the same time,” Davis said.

Alamo Colleges administrators plan to work with the faculty working group to create a policy on academic freedom.

“That was something that we heard was very, very important to our faculty members: to ensure that academic freedom is protected at each of the Alamo Colleges, especially with the discourse that can be encountered today,” Flores said.

Davis acknowledged that plan, saying that it was a “good faith effort to answer some of our concerns,” and that faculty “are on fairly good terms” with administration, but there’s distrust due to the wider political environment.

“These things are being taken away for a reason,” Davis said. “Ultimately, tenure is the gold standard. And not just for faculty, but for a district at large. It's a stabilizing factor, it is a mark of attainment, it means something across higher education markets. It's not just a sort of good contract plan.”

Alamo Colleges trustees tabled taking any action on the plan for multi-year contracts at the end of September’s board meeting.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion today. We need to kind of digest a lot of what was discussed,” board chair Roberto Zárate said.

Earlier in the meeting, Zárate requested the United Faculty Senates share data from anonymous surveys they conducted of faculty ahead of the trustees’ committee meeting in October.

The Alamo Colleges stopped offering tenure to newly hired faculty members in 2011 due to concerns that it didn’t have a framework to hold faculty accountable.

The new framework for tenure created by the faculty working group would include accountability.

According to federal data, 58% of public two-year higher education institutions had a tenure system in 2019.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.