The Volokh Conspiracy

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Academic Freedom

State "Higher Ed Reform" Roundup: North Dakota

North Dakota attack on tenure barely defeated


Republican state legislatures across the country are debating significant reforms in state university systems. Some of the reform proposals are fairly modest, but others would substantially transform how higher education work in public universities. In several instances, those bills are now moving toward some resolution, and so a series of posts checking in on where things stand seems in order.

First up is North Dakota. As I've noted before, North Dakota was considering very significant changes to the tenure system in the state universities. HB 1446 was sponsored by the House majority leader, and Republicans enjoy sizable majorities in both legislative chambers. Unsurprisingly, the bill sailed through the lower chamber. Amendments in the House cut some of the particularly egregious components of the original bill, but left in place the core commitment to gutting tenure. By the time the bill got the Senate it was being pitched as a pilot program that would only have an immediate effect on two campuses. I submitted testimony to the Senate critical of the bill, which left essentially unconstrained discretion in the hands of senior university officials to fire tenured members of the faculty. The bill was widely panned in submitted testimony to both the House and the Senate. The Senate Education Committee sent the bill to the Senate floor with the recommendation that it be passed into law, though it stripped the language about it being a pilot program in an apparent effort to reassure the other campuses that they would be spared from the reform.

HB 1446 failed to pass the Senate in a 21-23 vote on March 31. A motion to reconsider failed by a vote of 23-24. The"Tenure with Responsibilities Act" is dead for now, but there is clearly plenty of support in the legislature for severely weakening tenure and faculty governance.