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In Texas, Plan to End Tenure for CRT Professors Draws Ire

February 28, 2022 by Reece Nations
In Texas, Plan to End Tenure for CRT Professors Draws Ire
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

PASADENA, Texas — Days after the University of Texas at Austin’s Faculty Council approved a resolution reaffirming instructors’ rights to teach critical race theory, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rebuked the move during a press call with reporters.

Patrick, who presides over the state Senate and can push or stall legislation, vowed to prevent public universities and colleges from using taxpayer funds to “indoctrinate” students. He then proposed legislation that would end professor tenure for new hires at public institutions for higher learning and revoke tenure from professors who teach critical race theory.

“Hiding behind this academic freedom argument just doesn’t work,” Patrick said during the press conference. “We believe in academic freedom. But everyone has guidelines in life. Everyone has barriers, everyone has boundaries. We’re all held accountable, but they’re saying ‘We don’t want to be held accountable. We will teach anything we want to any student anytime we want including critical race theory.’”

These plans for combatting the teaching of CRT are different from last year’s efforts by Republican state legislators to curb its teaching in public schools, as previously reported in The Well News.  

Bills passed during 2021’s legislation session prohibited the discussion of widely debated social matters in K-12 classrooms without defining what a “controversial issue” actually is.

Critical race theory is a theoretical framework explaining how structural and racial disparities propagate in contemporary society through laws and policies. It was never present in K-12 public school curriculum the way it is at the university level. However, Patrick’s proposal to permanently ban critical race theory in public universities targets instructors who teach the framework in its traditional sense.

Alexander Okwonna, who serves as president of both the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education and the Texas Association of College Technical Educators, told The Well News that lawmakers’ actions to curb the teaching of systemic racial equity issues is exactly why the theory was developed in the first place.

“It’s very ironic that the very thing that they’re fighting is the very reason why it was created,” Okwonna, who also serves as a dean of natural science and health science at San Jacinto College, said. “The very thing that his job is to do — uphold the First Amendment — it seems like he’s doing the opposite of that. His comments and his [actions] seem like the exact opposite of what his role is to do in upholding the Constitution and the First Amendment.”

Patrick, who seeks his third term as Texas’s lieutenant governor this year, also referenced the Liberty Institute at UT-Austin in denouncing critical race theory. The Liberty Institute was conceived by Patrick and the school’s private donors to create a think-tank for preserving and promoting conservative ideals in higher education, like individual liberty, free-market enterprise and limited government.

However, by construing the institute’s purpose as a counter to critical race theory, Okwonna said Patrick is again misrepresenting the academic framework as something other than a set of alternative concepts to expand students’ thinking on matters of race relations and racial equity. In higher education, students are meant to freely discuss and interpret a wide range of ideas, theories and concepts to nurture understanding without any of them being labeled as extremist or destructive to society’s fabric.

“It’s a form of policing thought,” Okwonna told The Well News. “That’s one of the things that I think they’re overstepping their boundaries on. I think the Lt. Gov.’s job is to give our public institutions of education the support that they need for student success. And that means encouraging professors and students to discuss theories and issues that some people may find uncomfortable.”

Patrick’s interpretation of CRT implies it teaches students to vilify White people and condemn all of them for the systemic inequities Black people experience, Okwonna said. Through his remarks and actions, Patrick is playing into the fears of his constituents and posturing himself and his allies as voices of reason in the face of absurdity and hysteria.

In actuality, Okwonna said shouting down differing viewpoints is only further fueling the fears of Patrick’s base. By refusing to raise the awareness of everyday social inequities, Okwonna said they are bound to thrive under heightened racial tensions and polarization.

Patrick’s comments have led some to consider leaving the education sector or retiring.

“The purpose of education is about critical thinking,” Okwonna told The Well News. “It’s about looking at things from multiple views in trying to understand a concept or phenomenon. And I think that fear of raising consciousness and being able to critically look at what’s happening in the world is preventing some from questioning whether these laws that we currently have are supporting all people.”

Okwonna continued, “It’s about having that critical view of things. I think it’s very surprising that they want to control that and try to inhibit it from happening.” 

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com.

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