Bill eliminating tenure moves through Iowa Senate


The State Capitol Building’s golden dome makes it easy to spot when nearing Iowa’s largest city. 

Devyn Leeson

A bill to abolish tenure at public universities has made its way back to the Iowa Legislature after passing subcommittee.

The bill, which would eliminate tenure at the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State, passed with two votes from Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, and Jerry Behn, R-Boone.

“I’m a business person,” Zaun told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. “We reward people based on their job performance. … I don’t think any professor should have a guaranteed job. That’s my philosophical difference.”

An identical bill sponsored by Zaun in 2018 passed a subcommittee but never got a vote in the education committee that is chaired by Republican Sen. Amy Sinclair. While Sinclair still chairs that committee, the makeup of the Iowa Senate has changed slightly since the midterm election increased the number of senate Republicans to 32.

Iowa State currently has 979 tenured faculty and 383 faculty members on a tenure track, according to the Board of Regents annual faculty tenure report.

Academic tenure gives employees of a university some defense against firing unless for specific causes or under extraordinary circumstances. Generally, tenure is given to eligible faculty members to promote academic freedom. By eliminating tenure, the number of reasons to fire a faculty member would be expanded.

“The bill provides that acceptable grounds for termination of employment of any member of a regents university’s faculty shall include but not be limited to just cause, program discontinuance and financial exigency,” according to the bill.

If passed, the legislation would also bypass the Board of Regents who currently oversee the individual policies of each of the three regent universities.

No states currently have laws that would abolish tenure at public universities, according to the American Association of University Professors website, but similar efforts to get rid of tenure have been worked toward in Wisconsin and Missouri.