North Texas Daily

Faculty groups release statement regarding academic freedom, CRT

Faculty groups release statement regarding academic freedom, CRT

Faculty groups release statement regarding academic freedom, CRT
March 25
10:00 2022

Faculty groups at the university have released a joint statement regarding Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s recent proposal to end tenure for professors who teach critical race theory, as the university has yet to make a public statement about the issue.

Tenure refers to lifelong job security at a university and, under the current state education code, can only be revoked for “incompetency, neglect of duty, or other good cause.”

The statement was co-signed by the university’s Black Faculty Network, La Colectiva, International Faculty Network, Women’s Faculty Network, Neurodiversity Professional Network and the Faculty Senate’s Committee on the Status of Faculty with Disabilities. It urges “university administration to take a clear stand in defense of the right of faculty members to teach critical race theory and other topics relevant to local and global social injustices.”

Patrick told The Texas Tribune on Feb. 18 that he is “not going to pay for that nonsense,” regarding CRT and has proposed a change to state law that would make teaching it grounds for tenure revocation at public universities. His statements follow the University of Texas Faculty Council’s nonbinding Feb. 14 resolution defending faculty freedom to teach on race, gender and CRT.

CRT is an academic and legal framework often taught in law school which suggests that systemic racism is part of American society. Over recent years, the term has been loosely used to describe any level of education regarding racism and diversity.

Patrick’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Tony Carey, a political science professor and head of the Black Faculty Network, drafted the joint statement on CRT and academic freedom that has now received 120 faculty signatures. The statement condemns Patrick’s proposal and asks university administration to make it clear where it stands on the issue and defend the rights of faculty to discuss race, gender, sexuality and other related topics in their classes.

“The ability to have a candid conversation and be able to vet the scientific historic academic literature on these topics and think about them in a critical way is really a centerpiece, not only to higher education, but I think to democracies in general,” Carey said.

In response to Patrick’s proposals, universities such as the University of Texas at Austin have pledged to defend their faculty. The University of North Texas has not released a response, leaving some professors worried about what potential future legislation may cause.

“I need to know that should this law be enacted there’s a giant powerful institution who has my back,” said Jacqueline Vickery, a media arts professor and Women’s Faculty Network executive. “I want to know that UNT will protect my right to teach and research truth.”

Other universities including Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University and the University of Houston also took after UT Austin and voiced their support of academic freedom.

“At this time, the university does not have a statement on this matter,” said Jim Berscheidt, vice president for University Brand Strategy and Communications.

On March 9, the university held a faculty senate meeting, in which President Neal Smatresk acknowledged the concerns about academic freedom. Smatresk noted the current political election season as a potential reason for Patrick’s remarks and said he did not believe that such a legislative move would actually happen.

“I want you all to remember it is a political season, and people are running for office,” Smatresk said. “[…] I have no reason to believe it’s anything other than rhetoric.”

Smatresk said he would support professors but does not want to make a public statement that would draw attention to the university. He encouraged faculty to continue to “teach what you need to teach” and said he would defend professors in doing so.

“I think this really gets to the heart of who we are as a university and I don’t think we have the liberty to just sit back and wait to see what the legislature does,” Carey said. “I think we have to actually affirm our values that we say we care about.”

Some professors believe even if Patrick’s proposal does not go further, his remarks have already made an impact.

“Whether the law passes or not, it’s already damaging,” Vickery said. “Many faculty, especially non-tenured faculty, adjuncts, and graduate students, will understandably be hesitant to teach CRT or any topics related to systemic oppressions.”

Featured Illustration By J. Robynn Aviles

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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