The speaker of the Iowa House called a bill to ban tenure for professors at Iowa's public universities "a live round" as it advanced in the House and Senate this week.
While the chambers have slightly different versions of the bill, both would ultimately ban tenure systems at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
University officials say tenure systems are meant to protect academic freedom and innovation. Most Republicans on the House Education Committee voted on Wednesday to ban it, likely the first time the proposal has advanced this far.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said Thursday that GOP lawmakers have been frustrated with what they see as unfair treatment of university students who express politically conservative views.
“And it always has been just a conversation, that’s all that’s ever happened,” Grassley said. “And I think our [House Republican] caucus is really to the point now where we feel we invest millions and millions of dollars every year in higher education—we think it’s something that needs to have a serious look.”
Grassley said he is still trying to determine how many House Republicans support the bill, but said it is “definitely a live round right now.”
Republican Sens. Jim Carlin of Sioux City and Ken Rozenboom of Oskaloosa voted Thursday to advance a similar bill in the Senate.
Keith Saunders is a lobbyist for the Board of Regents and the University of Iowa. He said tenured faculty bring a lot of external research funding to the state, and that would be diminished if this bill passes and it becomes extremely difficult to attract talent.
“It would make Iowa an educational backwater that no one would want to be associated with in higher education,” Saunders said. “We understand you are frustrated with the actions of a few on our campus, but this bill would actively harm the entire state of Iowa and would harm the institutions specifically.”
Carlin and Rozenboom also mentioned concerns about the political affiliation of college professors and the ability for politically conservative students to freely express their opinions.
Some business and agriculture groups also oppose this proposal because they say it would hurt Iowa’s education system, research community, and economy.
No other state has banned tenure.