Statehouses’ Targeting of Diversity and Tenure Is Starting to Scare Away Faculty Job Candidates
Recently proposed and passed legislation that targets tenure and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are having a chilling effect on the recruitment of faculty members and administrators to Florida and Texas, where some of the highest profile of such laws and bills have been undertaken.
Not all of the proposed bills have become law yet, and the full extent to which candidates are being dissuaded from pursuing opportunities in both states is difficult to calculate. But faculty and union leaders there say would-be faculty members are questioning whether it’s wise to accept jobs where their research or teaching could be subject to political interference, public institutions’ DEI work is being curtailed, and the job security tenure has traditionally afforded is being undermined.
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Recently proposed and passed legislation that targets tenure and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts is having a chilling effect on the recruitment of faculty members and administrators in Florida and Texas, where some of the highest profile laws and bills of that type have been undertaken.
Not all of the proposed bills have become law yet, and the full extent to which candidates are being dissuaded from pursuing opportunities in the two states is difficult to calculate. But faculty and union leaders there say that would-be faculty members are questioning whether it’s wise to accept jobs where their research or teaching could be subject to political interference, public institutions’ efforts to promote diversity are being curtailed, and the job security that tenure has traditionally afforded is undermined.
In Florida, some candidates’ concerns are so profound that they’re turning down job offers in the state — despite not having other offers, said Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, a union representing faculty at all 12 of the state’s public universities, a private one, and community colleges. “That’s really a whole other level of job-search failure,” he said. (The public-university governing board in Florida approved a post-tenure-review process in March; a bill that would ban diversity statements, overhaul general-education course requirements, and prohibit colleges from spending state and federal dollars on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts is on Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk.)
At least one Florida lawmaker has noted similar issues. Sen. Shevrin D. Jones, a Democrat and vice chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Education, said in a committee hearing last month that one state university — which he did not name — had seen more than 300 “reconsiderations” of job offers in the last month.
Meanwhile, supporters of the anti-DEI and tenure bills have argued that they’ve had either no effect, or even a positive one. Sen. Erin Grall, the author of SB 266, which targets diversity and inclusion programs, said before the Senate vote on the measure that it upheld academic principles. “I believe that this is true academic freedom in this bill,” Grall, a Republican, said. “This encourages all voices to be heard, robust debate to happen, and merit and academic rigor to be the utmost importance at all of our colleges and universities.” Grall’s office did not return a request for comment on the bill’s impact on faculty hiring.
And Raymond Rodrigues, chancellor of Florida’s state-university system, said that a post-tenure-review policy passed in the mid-1990s proved such measures didn’t affect faculty recruitment. “We know that adopting post-tenure review did not stop people, highly talented faculty members, from coming to the state of Florida,” Rodrigues said in March. “And I can say that with conviction,” he added, because even those faculty members who testified in opposition to this year’s policy chose to come to Florida, knowing that there was already a post-tenure-review policy in place. (The new policy standardizes post-tenure review every five years across the state’s public universities)
Equality is not a DEI value.
In Texas, faculty members’ concerns are also acute, said Diana Marculescu, the chair of the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Texas at Austin. Applications for open jobs, Marculescu said, are down 17 percent from last year, despite ramped-up efforts to reach out directly to promising candidates. And at least half of the scholars the department has interviewed have asked about how the proposed legislation would affect them.
The Texas Senate last month approved a bill that would eliminate tenure at the state’s public institutions, and the legislature is considering a number of DEI-related bills. One, which is pending in the House higher-education committee, would require an institution’s board of trustees to approve the hiring of top administrators, the posting of jobs, and the adoption of core classes. It also would mandate institutions to submit an annual report confirming that they do not require diversity statements or have an office of diversity, equity, and inclusion or any DEI employees. That bill’s author, State Rep. Matthew Shaheen, a Republican, said in a statement emailed to The Chronicle that he believed it would have a positive impact on hiring. “Texas universities are required to act with equality under the law, the principle that undergirds our civil rights. Equality is not a DEI value,” Shaheen wrote. “Ending failed, divisive DEI policies will make Texas universities more appealing and will allow our state to attract the most qualified faculty, something DEI policies oppose.” (The office of State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican and author of the tenure bill, and co-author of the Senate version of Shaheen’s bill, did not return a request for comment.)
Efforts to quantify candidates’ hesitancy to take jobs in the two states can’t account for candidates who self-select out of the hiring process during its early stages, said Matthew Lata, president of Florida State University’s chapter of the state union, the UFF. Lata said he’s spoken with two dozen people who expressed reservations about following through with a job application — or even submitting one — for fear of Florida’s political climate. “While administration is saying to us, ‘How many of these cases can you document?,’ the fact is, most of it occurs in the preliminary-discussions phase,” he said.
All that, faculty members and labor leaders say, has come despite skepticism in some circles that hiring will be significantly curtailed, or that any potential effects wouldn’t become clear until after potential legislation passed. The reverberations, Lata said, are already apparent: “It is happening. It is happening now,” he said. “We’re not saying the sky is falling.”
The Effects of Uncertainty
Candidates for administrative jobs are expressing hesitation, too, said Zachary A. Smith, a managing partner at WittKieffer and the search firm’s education-practice leader. “There are definitely candidates who tell us they will not look in Texas or Florida because of what’s going on around diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Smith said. WittKieffer, he said, is following its clients’ lead; at least one Texas institution has already asked the firm to remove DEI-related language in its job postings.
When candidates do raise concerns about the political climate, faculty-hiring committees have to acknowledge the possible threat to their ways of working, and are unable to offer reassurance or certainty to worried applicants, Gothard said. “The only answers they can give right now are, ‘Well, if Governor DeSantis had his way, yes, you would be targeted, and yes, the state does want to limit what can and cannot be taught, studied or researched on our campuses,’” he said.
James Klein, president of the Texas Association of College Teachers, said he’s hopeful that the Texas House will curb bills aimed at tenure and diversity and equity efforts. He tries to remind prospective faculty members that “we’re still fighting against this.” But Klein, a professor of history at Del Mar College, a two-year institution, has found himself torn between that possibility and a sense of obligation. “I want good faculty to come here to Texas, but I want to do right by people that I’m counseling as well,” he said. “It’d be hard for me to tell them to come here to Texas because we just don’t know what the situation is going to be like.”
Marculescu, too, isn’t convinced the bills will pass in the Texas House, but knows she can’t make job applicants any promises. Amid the uncertainty, she said, she’s spent “easily double” the time on faculty searches as she normally would. That time is split between having frank conversations with candidates and doing the research it takes to be fully informed in those conversations.
Like Marculescu, Stuart A. Wright, chair of the department of sociology, social work, and criminal justice at Lamar University, in Beaumont, Texas, has been putting in extra hours to keep his faculty members updated on bills as they’re introduced. Wright, a Texas native who’s been at Lamar for nearly 40 years, is hopeful the bills in his state won’t meet with final approval. He’s watched similar “sword rattling” from lawmakers before, and those bills didn’t become law. Still, he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” If passed, Wright said, the bills would “cause irreparable harm to the state, to the economy, to academic freedom, and to higher education.”
That’s really a whole other level of job-search failure.
Wright doesn’t think the full effect of the political climate on future hiring efforts has “really taken hold just yet.” The two job searches with which he’s been involved in recent months yielded “pretty robust pools,” he said, which he attributes to a scarcity of tenure-track jobs in his field.
The situation could become more serious as the next academic job cycle begins, with many faculty members announcing their retirement or departure in the coming weeks, said Gothard, of the Florida union.
The timing of the legislative calendar relative to the academic hiring schedule likely means that it’s still unknown how extensive the damage has been to the appeal of states like Florida and Texas — or Ohio, where a sweeping Senate bill would ban many diversity projects and require annual faculty performance reviews, among other stipulations (though its sponsor has said an amendment is forthcoming). Because most of the searches that are active today most likely began in October or November, before the introduction of anti-DEI and tenure bills, the searches now wrapping up may not be a true barometer of candidates’ attitudes about current events, said Caroline T. Clark, chair of Ohio State University’s Faculty Council. “It’s more what people are worried about happening than what has probably happened as of yet,” Clark said. “I know people have applied for jobs here, accepted jobs here. And presumably they will come.”