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December 13, 2012 10:00 AM Tenure Trouble for Texas Tech

By Daniel Luzer

Texas Tech professor James Wetherbe doesn’t much like tenure. A professor of business at Texas Tech, he’s long opposed the practice, arguing that he believes it “can allow ineffective teachers to remain at schools while driving up student costs.”

This may have caused his university to oppose him getting, well, a tenure track job. That’s what Wetherbe seems to be arguing anyway. According to an article by Tom Fowler and Douglas Belkin in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Wetherbe claims in a federal lawsuit that his views on tenure have spurred officials at Texas Tech University, the Lubbock school he joined in 2000, to oppose his advancement, including to business-school dean. He calls it an ironic twist to the argument that tenure helps ensure academic freedom.
In the past year, he claims, Texas Tech Provost Bob Smith blocked his nomination for two promotions—one to a named professorship given to academics highly regarded in their field, and the other to be dean of the Rawls College of Business—due in part to his views on tenure.

“My academic freedom is being challenged for my views on tenure, yet I’m taking on this battle without having the protection of tenure,” Wetherbe said.

I’m not really sure what he means by this. Perhaps I’m missing something but it seems he’s free to express his feelings on tenure, and even keep his job. The university has simply declined to appoint him to a more prestigious position. That’s hardly challenging academic freedom. Academic freedom doesn’t mean “getting appointed dean.”

The Paul Whitfield Horn Professorship, the highest honor bestowed upon a faculty member at Texas Tech, is tenure track. Smith explained to Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed that “university policy requires all professors to be tenure-track, and for all Horn Professors to be professors by that definition.” The dean of the college is not necessarily tenure track (though it stands to reason that the best dean is probably not one opposed to longstanding Texas Teach human resources policy).

A search committee has apparently recommended Wetherbe twice for the Horn Professorship.

Earlier in his career Wetherbe resigned his tenure while serving as a business professor at the University of Minnesota. At the time he held a joint appointment at another university and Minnesota tried to pressure him to return, arguing that if he didn’t he’d have to give up his coveted tenure. Wetherbe said it was an easy choice.

As a result of the Wetherbe fiasco Bobby Stevenson, a software millionaire and Texas Tech benefactor, has withdrawn four annual scholarships he funded and taken back a $9 million gift promised the university.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer