May 1, 2024 - Politics

Republicans threaten to strike back at UT faculty amid protest response backlash

State police stand in front of the University of Texas Tower.

State police deployed on Monday at the University of Texas. Photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

Texas lawmakers may hammer University of Texas faculty after they circulated a letter this week declaring no confidence in university president Jay Hartzell.

Why it matters: Tensions are high between the university's broadly liberal faculty and the largely conservative Legislature that controls the university's purse strings.

Catch up quick: Faculty are upset with how Hartzell responded to pro-Palestinian protests.

  • The letter, signed by nearly 600 faculty members as of Tuesday afternoon, accuses Hartzell of having "needlessly put students, staff and faculty in danger" by calling police to campus last week and says he "has violated our trust."
  • It also says Hartzell "capitulated to political pressure" in shutting down the Division of Campus and Community Engagement in the wake of a state law ordering public universities to shutter offices related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Context: At least 130 people have been arrested at campus protests since last week, with some of the charges dropped and others still processing, as of Tuesday afternoon.

What they're saying: "I'll see your 500 woke faculty and raise you the Texas Legislature," Cody Harris, a House Republican representing parts of East Texas, wrote on X this week. "The vast majority of us think @JCHartzell is doing a fantastic job cleaning up after the snot-nosed, entitled, mindless brats created by those 500 faculty."

  • "I suspect the 89th [Legislature] will put forth countless reforms to return our institutions of higher education to its original purpose of discovery and dissemination of knowledge not the far left advocacy and activism we are seeing today," Greg Sindelar, the CEO of the Austin-based conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, posted on X that was reposted by Dave Carney, a key campaign adviser to Gov. Greg Abbott.
  • TPPF higher education specialist Tom Lindsay tells Axios lawmakers are likely to introduce requirements that college students take 42 class-hours in American history and Western civilization.

The other side: "These are my constituents, actually," Austin state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat, wrote on X in response to Harris. "And the vast majority of them are angry because as Americans they have freedom in their DNA & get really angry when the heavy hand of the police state tries to stifle their voice."

Worth mentioning:
Hartzell did not respond to an Axios interview request.

Flashback: In 2022, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed eliminating tenure for new hires over concerns that professors were teaching critical race theory.

  • Instead, after the House speaker and university leaders said it would harm the recruitment and retention of faculty, the Legislature last year passed a measure that maintained tenure — but would allow politically appointed overseers to fire faculty for reasons including "professional incompetence" or "conduct involving moral turpitude."

What's next: Patrick recently asked senators to make sure the tenure reforms are being implemented, as well as to analyze the workings of faculty senates and to "make recommendations to prevent antisemitism on college campuses, while protecting First Amendment rights."


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