North Dakota tenure bill passes committee despite intense opposition
Despite overwhelming testimony opposing the bill, the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee passed HB 1446 after a few modifications. The bill now goes to the house floor for a vote.
BISMARCK — After deliberation and several modifications, North Dakota House Bill 1446, also known as the "Tenure with Responsibilities Act," which proposes new responsibilities for tenured professors and would make it easier for university presidents to terminate them, received a surprising "do pass" from the House Government and Veterans Affairs committee in an 8 to 3 vote on Friday.
Support of the bill comes as a shock to many as overwhelming testimony during the hearings opposed the bill. University administrators, professors, student groups, education organizations and leaders from across the state and nation expressed opposition to the bill. The sole on-record support came from the author of the bill, House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson; and Dickinson State University President Steve Easton.
The hearing, held at 8:30 a.m. CST on February 17, moved forward the bill to the house floor for vote by the full body of legislators at a future date yet to be set to the calendar.
The modified version of the bill includes changes from Lefor and additional modifications from the committee. The changes are being touted as addressing the concerns raised by opponents, including apprehension that the bill's potential impact on academic freedom and the stability and security of tenured positions would harm recruitment and retention of faculty in the state.
Among the changes, the committee removed portions mandating that faculty members generate more tuition or grant revenue than the combined costs of employing them, as well as the portion outlining that the compensation of tenured faculty members must reflect their administrative responsibilities.
The amendments also included the removal of a section that prevented faculty members from filing appeals or reviews, explicitly providing appeals rights directly to the chancellor.
Rounding out the amendments were portions of the bill that mandated recruitment obligations of tenured faculty, as well as some of the most controversial elements of the bill that outlined a responsibility for tenured professors to act in the best interest of the institution in avoiding the use of social media or third-party internet platforms to disparage the institution or campus personnel.
Associate Professor of Communication at Dickinson State University, Dr. Eric Grabowsky, remains one of many vocal opponents of the legislation.
Grabowsky, speaking as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a professor at Dickinson State University, argued that while President Easton has advocated for the bill as a private citizen, the administration has not officially endorsed a view on it, and there has been no planned campus-wide discussion. He warns that even in its newest version, the bill is an "anti-whistleblower bill in disguise" and should be rejected.
“As far as I know, DSU administration has not officially endorsed a view of moving forward in the context of the potential passage and implementation of HB 1446. And, to this point in time, from President Easton or other persons in upper management, there still has not been any planned campus-wide discussion of the tenure bill,” he said. “I will reiterate what I have said before. Don't fall for HB 1446. Even in its newest version, it is an anti-whistleblower bill in disguise.”
The Faculty Senate of Dickinson State announced its support for the NDUS Council of College Faculties' Resolution that is in opposition to HB 1446. The Faculty Senate, led by Professor Paul Johanson, held a consensus vote on February 9, 2023, to formally declare their position on the matter.
As tensions continue to rise regarding the potential implications of the proposed legislation, the Faculty Senate's decision adds to the ongoing discussion on the future of academic freedom and job security for tenured professors in North Dakota.
The North Dakota State University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott stated in his testimony that the State Board of Higher Education has not taken a stance on the bill, and weeks removed from the initial testimony, no on-record formal stance has been taken by the NDUS, as of the publication of this article.
The modified version of the bill will now be presented to the North Dakota State Legislature for a vote. The bill's fate remains uncertain, with many individuals and groups on both sides of the issue continuing to express their views.
In testimony before the committee, both written or oral, the following individuals and organizations stood in opposition to House Bill 1446:
Daniel R. Rice, Former Dean and Professor Emeritus
Holly J. Hassel
Karen H. Lewis
Jessica Santini, Council of College Faculties Executive Committee
Florin D. Salajan
Erin M. Price
Alexander J. Wagner, Professor of Physics
Shannon L. Meier
Robert Kibler, Minot State University
Kelsey R. Menge
Adelyn Emter, North Dakota Student Association
Irene Mulvey, American Association of University Professors
Nick Archuleta, North Dakota United
Andrew Alexis Varvel
Liz Legerski, UND United Executive Committee
Paul J. Johanson
Robert Newman, Chair, University Senate, UND
David D. Terry, Faculty Senate of Bismarck State College
Derek VanderMolen, Williston State College Faculty Senate
Birgit M. Pruess
Melissa A. Moser, Lake Region State College Faculty Senate
Eric J. Murphy, Representative District 43
In testimony before the committee, the following individuals supported House Bill 1446:
Mike Lefor, House Majority Leader and Author