The state legislature has no place in university personnel decisions. Academics, and the tenure awarded to hard-working faculty who improve their fields, is the university’s domain, not the state’s.
Apparently, Assemblymember Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, feels differently. A bill he introduced earlier this year, most recently amended on Aug. 24, attempts to alter the tenure process at California’s public university systems to “encourage and reward” service on and off-campus.
While the legislature cannot force such rules down the University of California’s throat — per state law, they can only request that the UC change its practices here — the system could still be affected if this bill passes, and the California State University does not have the same legislative protection. Regardless, Lara’s bill is a bad idea and must not come to fruition.
Both the UC and the CSU are in dire straits as a result of plummeting state funding. At UC Berkeley, for example, state funds now account for just 11 percent of the budget.
Faculty retention is one of the many challenges that both systems face as a result of extraordinarily limited funds, and Lara’s bill threatens to make the problem even worse. By imposing on tenure rules, professors could easily decide to flee to another college where job security is less challenging to come by.
The UC also already considers service as a factor in its tenure process, which is one of the reasons why the university officially opposes the bill.
According to the UC Office of the President’s website, tenure candidates must include a “bio-bibliography” detailing their “university service and public service” as part of their review file. Since the UC already encourages at least some of the public service this legislation seeks to require, enforcing more specific requirements would add little, if any, value.
Admittedly, the intent behind Lara’s legislation is admirable. Faculty members should use their talents to contribute to the communities around them.
This bill would place more of an emphasis on public service outside a faculty member’s college, but intellectual service is the most important service faculty members provide. And especially given the universities’ funding crisis, it is unreasonable for the state to step in and further burden our higher education institutions.
Even if the state funded the entire budgets of both the UC and the CSU, such an action from the legislature in the academic arena would be inappropriate and overreaching. It is not the legislature’s place to dictate how universities manage their faculty.
The UC is right to oppose this legislation. Lara’s bill should be stopped in its tracks.