Two major higher education bills on the schedule for the last week of the legislative session

One bill addresses the faculty tenure system and the other would ban DEI offices at public universities.

By Sarah AschMay 22, 2023 10:15 am,

It’s crunch time for Texas lawmakers. Five months into the 88th legislative session, one more week remains for lawmakers to get their work done – unless they go into a special session. 

Already, lawmakers have passed some 3,000 bills, many of them ceremonial or honoring various Texans for their service to the state.

This week, lawmakers will discuss many of the top priorities set by Republican leaders who control both houses, including property tax relief and the budget. 

But much of this session has been busy with culture war issues, including a measure on the agenda right now that would ban offices of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, at public colleges in Texas.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, who covers the statehouse for the Texas Newsroom, said the House is slated to give final approval to their version of the bill this week.

“They already gave it preliminary approval last week, but they added an interesting amendment,” Martínez-Beltrán said. “Under the House version, the programs in public colleges will still be nixed. However, universities would have to make reasonable efforts to reassign the employees of the DEI offices to other places within the university. And the House version also requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to work with public universities in tracking the impact of the bill on recruiting rates, as well as acceptance and graduation rates of students.”

Martínez-Beltrán clarified that this bill takes aim at dedicated DEI offices, but not at DEI components of other programs. This is important because a lot of federal funding is tied to diversity, equity and inclusion metrics, he said.

“A lot of programs have some DEI component, particularly federal programs. We’ve also heard about how this could have an impact on NCAA and sports teams in colleges,” he said. “However, the bill, at least under the House version, specifically talks about how it won’t impact these types of programs or these types of initiatives. It’s going straight after the offices of DEI. Not necessarily the other components that are lingering throughout the university system.”

Those who support the bill say DEI officers give preferential and differential treatment to individuals on the basis of race, sex, color or ethnicity, Martínez-Beltrán said. 

“However, those who oppose this bill say that the programs are the reason why our schools are getting more diverse and why we have more representation,” he said. 

Lawmakers are also set to discuss a bill related to faculty tenure at public universities this week.

“Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is going after higher education and one of his priorities is also to end tenure in college, in public colleges in this state,” Martínez-Beltrán said. “He’s been saying that professors have this guaranteed lifetime appointment and that pretty much we have a lot of lazy professors who are giving their woke ideas to students.”

However, Martínez-Beltrán said the House version of the bill is very different from what the Senate passed and sent to the House last month. 

“The Senate, again, would ban public universities from offering tenure to new faculty. The professors that currently have tenure will be able to keep it. However, the House version does not end tenure,” he said. “Instead, it would codify tenure and put some guardrails around it. And this version again seems more palatable for Republicans in the House.”

Martínez-Beltrán said it’s also worth keeping an eye out for bills that appeared to be dead in this last week of the session.

“I don’t know how much (lawmakers are) going to be able to accomplish, but I know the days are going to be long and they’re starting to get sneaky,” he said. “We already know that this week, they will consider an amendment that would implement school vouchers. We thought that school vouchers were going to be dead as of last week. But now we’re seeing that the Senate is trying to revive the proposal and try to get something done for Gov. Abbott.”

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