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The 88th Regular Session: Mixed Results, Clear Path Forward

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The 88th Regular Session ended on Memorial Day after a tumultuous ride for faculty interests. The three major governance reform bills, SB 16, SB 17, and SB 18, suffered varied fates, and created a mixed result for Texas faculty at public institutions.

SB 16, the purported Critical Race Theory bill, did not pass. The bill did not specifically name or define CRT. Instead, it provided unworkably vague language related to compelling or attempting to compel student beliefs. Though the Senate passed the bill, the House responded to our arguments, and did not give the bill a committee hearing.

Though the bill failed, Lt. Governor Patrick has called on Governor Abbott to place the bill on the call for a special session. Though we don’t see an indication that the governor will do so, we continue to view the issues as very much alive.

SB 17, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bill, passed. The bill underwent massive changes in the legislative process. Though some changes were positive, the ultimate result was very damaging to current DEI efforts and employees, and creates a seriously muddled landscape that institutions are struggling to understand. The effective date of the bill is January 1, 2024. We will be working to aggregate institutional response and share with our members during the implementation period.

SB 18, the Tenure Bill, started as a prospective prohibition on tenure at all public higher education institutions in Texas. The bill finally passed by the Legislature preserves tenure, adds legislative requirements for tenure policies, and includes a critical amendment we championed clarifying tenured faculty’s property interests. We are closely monitoring the implementation of SB 18 for changes to existing tenure policies or unintended consequences. The progress we made on this bill during the process was very important to the preservation of meaningful tenure rights in Texas.

The defeat of SB 16, the meaningful battle over SB 17, and the hard turn of SB 18 occurred largely as a result of strong faculty engagement throughout the process. TACT members provided written testimony, in-person public testimony, and critical legislator contacts throughout the session. We were able to observe first-hand your important involvement at the Capitol on these issues, against very strong political pressure coming the other way.

Though our results may have been mixed in the 88th Session, we must learn from and adapt to the experience. DEI and tenure policies are now enshrined in statute, and will be more easily subject to future amendment. The CRT issue is clearly not going away any time soon. On the positive side, faculty have been required to communicate with the Legislature and the public about the actual facts and value of tenure, DEI programs, and general academic freedom. Our interests are now much subject to public discourse.

As a strong professional association, TACT will be critical in addressing this new paradigm. We must continue to refine our factual communications, engage actively with legislators in the interim, and engage allied interest groups to ensure that the Legislature fully understands the value we bring to the state, and the critical principles on which a healthy higher education system operates, starting with academic freedom. We need to amplify our message with broad membership and commitment to support vigilance, and action. Public policy engagement is our clear path forward.

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