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Cutting off your nose…


As expected, the culture war virus is spreading from Texas and Florida:

HOUSE BILL 9: REMOVING DEI OFFICES: House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, is the second DEI bill related to higher education filed this session. It would require Kentucky’s public colleges and universities to defund all DEI offices and trainings, eliminate race-based scholarships and end administrative promotion of those “discriminatory concepts.” Decker’s bill primarily targets university administration. Professors would have freedom over their curriculum under this bill. The bill was filed on Jan. 19 and sent to the House Education Committee on Jan. 25, though no further action has yet been taken.

If this passes there will be wringing of hands and rending of garments but it will largely be performative. University administration (here and elsewhere) is broadly incapable of managing faculty with anything but a sharp stick (effective for both beating and poking!) which means that the workforce in all of the United States most likely to enthusiastically accept the principles of DEI experience it as the same kind of coercion that they experience in every other interaction with administration (mandatory meetings, “voluntary” mandatory meetings, quasi-mandatory workshops, reports, reviews, etc.). Administrators will whinge about losing a way to abuse faculty but they never really care much about DEI in the first place.

HOUSE BILL 228: UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEE REVIEW PROCESS: House Bill 228, sponsored by Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, would introduce a statewide performance evaluation process for all state universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. All faculty evaluations would have to be completed at least once every four years, and would allow university employees to be fired for failing to meet “performance and productivity requirements.” Critics of the bill say it would eliminate tenure in the state, which protects university employees from being fired without cause. Tipton has pushed back on this criticism, saying the bill is not meant to target tenure. It was introduced in the House on Jan. 10 and was sent to the House Education Committee on Jan. 17. The bill was discussed in the committee on Jan. 23, but no further action has been taken.

This is the big one, effectively killing tenure and turning all faculty into four year contract employees. UK will suffer; it’s a big flagship university but it’s not University of Florida or University of Texas, and the best candidates in many fields will a) not come here, or b) leave as soon as they can if they know they’ll never have real tenure. Administration will squawk a bit because it will make recruiting and retention harder but most admins fantasize daily at the prospect of arbitrarily firing tenured faculty, and so of course it will be administration that polishes and maintains the legislature’s guillotine.

I will admit to some vague optimism regarding at least the second of these bills. Both houses of the Kentucky State Legislature are chock full o’ UK grads, and the flagship institution is regarded as a source of pride in the Commonwealth above and beyond its role as professional sports franchise. This esteem does not extend to the University of Louisville or to the regional state universities (NKU, EKU, WKU). The legislature understands that Kentucky is neither Texas nor Florida, larger states with more diversified economies that can better weather the process of gutting the system of higher education. I’m no expert on the Kentucky legislature (where the GOP currently sports huge supermajorities in both houses) but I suspect the second bill will get a bit of pushback.

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