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No vote but lots of testimony on senate tenure bill

Brandon Smith
IPB News

The House Committee on Education heard over three hours of testimony Wednesday on a bill that would change Indiana’s tenure rules and put trustees appointed by the legislature on university boards.

Senate Bill 202 authored by Sen. Spencer Deery of West Lafayette allows trustees to revoke tenure to faculty who fail to teach “diverse viewpoints” in their classrooms. He opened by chastising the media and IU President Pamela Whitten, who told Indiana Public Media the bill would put academic freedom at risk.

Read more: Small protest of IU leadership, conservatism on campus

Deery said his bill is not an attack on tenure and pointed to a clause that he said would protect professors for views expressed outside the classroom.

“That is a big deal for tenured faculty and in Indiana,” he said. “Anybody who favors and understands the reasons why we have tenure should be supportive of that and celebrate that change.”

Dozens of faculty, students and officials from Indiana’s public universities took to the podium to disagree.

Read more: Bill would hand legislature increased control over state universities

IU History Professor Jonathan Schlesinger drew parallels to his own study.

“In the People's Republic of China, educators long ago lost their independence to political boards, and the result was brain drain,” he said.

Deery also faced harsh questioning from Democrat colleagues, including State Representative Ed Delaney of Indianapolis.

“You're requiring the professors, for example in sociology or political science, to give a range of opinions and to be neutral. In effect, you are neutering, N-E-U-T-E-R-I-N-G your faculty,” he said, spelling out the word. “That's what you're trying to do.”

Deery said his bill is intended to make conservative students feel more comfortable on campus and increase college attendance.

The committee postponed its vote on the bill, and its next meeting has not yet been scheduled.