Professors in Texas are concerned about state’s political climate, survey finds


A new survey from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) shows a majority of instructors in the South — about two-thirds — are so worried about ongoing political interference that they’d tell colleagues considering a move to their state to stay away.

States included in the survey were Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

Among the Texas professors, the survey found nearly a 5th (19.1%) of respondents have already left, while more than a quarter (28.7%) plan to interview elsewhere in the next year.

Pat Heintzelman is president of the Texas Faculty Association (TFA), which defends member’s academic freedoms and speech rights.

“I understand why they wouldn’t recommend coming here … because higher education is under attack,” Heintzelman told KERA about the Texas professors in the survey. “Simply, it’s just under attack. And I don’t think it’s over. I think the next legislative session will be worse. And I don’t know how many more rights faculty will lose.”

The TFA and AAUP jointly issued the press release of survey results. It was prompted by a run of legislation across the South targeting tenure; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) departments; and the teaching of American history, including race, slavery and Critical Race Theory, or CRT.

In Texas, Senate Bill 17 requires DEI departments in state colleges and universities be dismantled by January 2024. Another bill, SB 18, would’ve ended tenure, but it was amended to make tenure tougher to achieve and maintain.

In Texas, the survey showed the top issue behind the drive to leave the state was ‘political climate” (56.8%). That was even higher than a desire for better pay (52.9%).

Heintzelman worries for the future of Texas higher ed teachers and students.

“This survey,” she said, ‘is just a first step to see the chilling effect of how much top-notch faculty are going to come to apply to work in this environment when they can go somewhere else.”

She called the political shift in higher education a crisis for professors here and other states.

“You work so hard to get your education so that you can teach on a university or college campus. And now basically you’re losing all your rights,” she said. “The Legislature wants to legislate what you teach in the classroom. We try to teach them (students) how, not what, to think for themselves. How to become an informed citizen. How to think critically.”

She, and many professors surveyed, fear that skill to think critically is now at risk in Texas.

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