Dan Walters: Bill adds a new factor for gaining California university tenure

dwalters@sacbee.comSeptember 5, 2012 

It may seem self-evident, but it's nevertheless a matter of state law that teaching is an "essential responsibility," along with research, for members of the University of California's faculty and "a primary responsibility" for those in the California State University system.

Those declarations are the legal criteria upon which faculty members are to be hired, promoted and given the much-coveted status of "tenure" in both institutions.

OK so far. After all, what's more fundamentally important for any public institution of higher education, not to mention the taxpaying public, than teaching and research?

But if Gov. Jerry Brown signs a bill that whipped through both houses of the Legislature in the final, hectic hours of the 2012 session, that will change – radically, perhaps.

A third element would be required in the hiring and promotion of faculty members. It's called "service." The specifics of Assembly Bill 2132 appear to give great weight to political, or at least semi-political, activities favored by those on the political left.

They include, in the words of a legislative bill analysis, "developing programs for underserved populations" and "outreach programs developed to promote cultural diversity in the student body."

The California State University system would be required to make "service" an element with teaching and the bill "encourages" the constitutionally independent University of California to include "service" in its evaluations.

So who wants this change?

Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced the bill at the behest of the California Faculty Association and the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, because, according to Lara's office, "some faculty feel that their service activities have not been appropriately recognized for purposes of merit, promotion or tenure reviews."

The bill moved easily through both legislative houses on mostly party-line votes – Democrats for it, Republicans against – culminating with a 24-14 vote in the Senate and a 51-27 roll call in the Assembly.

It was one of dozens of union-supported bills that won legislative approval and landed on Brown's desk, which makes it typical of the last week in that sense.

AB 2132 should, however, have received more than cursory attention because of its underlying philosophical, or ideological, basis.

Public university faculty members should, of course, be free to engage in whatever extracurricular activities they wish, as long as they don't compromise their primary duties. But should other activities be equated with teaching or research? Would it stop at outreach or wind up including political activism?

This is one of those slippery slopes.

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