Apparently, Iowa's politicians intend to enrich the tenure experience by annual gladiatorial games at state schools, regardless of tenure:

  1. those being evaluated below some threshold shall be terminated, and

  2. after (1), the 5 remaining lowest scoring professors will be put to a public student vote, and the one with the least student support shall be terminated.

The source looks legit - blog of the AAUP. I'm not sure if this is enacted, or proposed (I think proposed). I'm also not entirely sure how to link this to an answerable question fit for Academia.SE, but maybe:

  • Is this a joke I didn't get, or is it true?

  • Is it part of a broader wave?

  • Does this contradict any case law, or is being fought already somehow; or will professors just have to live with it?

If this is true, and stands in Iowa, to be worried for the US at large one just has to look at how quality of life legislation spread like a wild fire once enacted in one place.

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    When student evaluations of teaching allow open comments, they often revel sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes. While I am not a lawyer, terminating someone for potentially "protected" reasons, is likely illegal.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:21
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    @Moriarty The difference as you know is that politicians try to determine what to do whereas academics try to determine what is true. Representative democracy may work for the former, but certainly not the latter. If 70% of the population doesn't believe in smoking, you can outlaw it. If 70% of the population doesn't believe in evolution, it doesn't do any good to pretend it is false.
    – Corvus
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:53
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    This is a particularly cynical interpretation of democratisation of universities.
    – gerrit
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:29
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    @Corvus Re "academics try to determine what is true", that seems (in my experience, anyway) to be mostly true in STEM fields, though even there you'll find the occasional academic who'll ignore facts in order to keep riding his/her particular hobbyhorse. In the humanities & social sciences, the hobbyhorse riders seem to be the majority.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


Proposals to "reform" or end tenure are not new—they have been going around for several decades at least (as I remember such stories when I was an undergraduate in the 1990's).

This is not yet enacted legislation—it is merely a proposal that, as far as I can tell, probably has not even had any hearings yet. As such, I would suspect that such a bill would be shot down in committee, as the proposed methods would probably violate at least some sort of labor laws, as the faculty would in effect be judged by students with whom they have never interacted. Such "popularity contests" would pretty much dry up any opportunities for faculty recruitment. (Who would want to work at such a school?)

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    The point that students would judge professors that didn't teach them is excellent; so at least in this form it seems unlikely to be constitutional. As someone - other than you apparently :) - who's never seen such idiotic attempts, I'm still worried that a somewhat mollified version could pass. I +1ed of course; just my 5 cents. Apr 22, 2015 at 19:01
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    It seems overwhelmingly likely that this is just political grandstanding -- it's too absurd to be a serious proposal. But in any event, student evaluations are a terrible metric to use for this purpose because they closely reflect expected course grade -- and thus incentivize faculty not to make their classes demanding. If jobs depended on a metric like this, you could be sure that any remaining vestiges of actual content would evaporate and rampant grade inflation would follow.
    – Corvus
    Apr 22, 2015 at 20:21
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    The inanity is not limited to politicians. Several years ago, the Vice-President for Academic Affairs at my school proposed that all faculty scoring below average (whatever he meant by that) on course evaluations should be terminated. He became almost apoplectic when one of my math colleagues informed him that he was proposing to eliminate half the faculty. Much as we would like to believe otherwise, we are not living in a higher education version of Lake Woebegone. Apr 22, 2015 at 20:49
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    @ChrisLeary I'm told that our administration once proposed something like this as a requirement for tenure. When the faculty senate and such pointed out that student evaluations correlate very poorly with learning outcomes, the administration engaged in classic bureacracythink: they suggested lowering the bar from top half of a meaningless metric to top 80% of a meaningless metric. At least the flip of a coin was being replaced by the roll of a die, I guess. Fortunately none of this was ever enacted.
    – Corvus
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:27
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    @ChrisLeary - apparently the qualifications for being promoted into an academic vice-presidency do not require mastery of basic statistics. :-) Apr 23, 2015 at 12:00

The follow-up post to the aforelinked post mentioned above answers most of your questions. Specifically:

  • The bill is not a joke, it was actually submitted as proposed legislation.
  • The proposed bill, like many before it, is a very clearly a Bad Idea™. To quote from the blog:

    The absolute nuttiness of the bill is the best defense against its ever becoming law. Iowa, though, has other protections. Katherine Tachau, President of the University of Iowa AAUP chapter, informs me that this dead-on-arrival bill was intercepted by the Iowa Senate Education Committee chair, a professor at Iowa State, who sent it to a subcommittee chaired by another ally of education. Tachau writes, “I’m inclined to think that this bill belongs to the large category of ill-informed bills on any number of subjects with no chance of passage with which the records of all legislatures are replete.” I agree.

    It does not appear that this bill has any chance whatsoever of actually becoming legislation.

  • Unfortunately, this bill is not alone; there are other examples of the teaching professions being attached through legislation.
  • Thanks for pointing the follow-up blog post out, and I hope that author is right in his opinion of it having no chance of passage (the opinion supported by relevant people involved in legislating in Iowa). I agree that one must be vigilant though. Crazy bills have managed to pass, and it only takes one precedent for the case law machine to go into overdrive. Apr 23, 2015 at 3:04
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    So if it doesn't die quickly, academics need to shout, hard. Not only in Iowa, but across the USA and internationally.
    – gerrit
    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:53
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    Then there was this bill that should make Pi 3.2 by law... but that was in Michigan, I think!?
    – Alexander
    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:18
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    Neither life, liberty, nor property are safe while the legislature is in session... Just sayin'... Apr 23, 2015 at 12:18
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    @Alexander - I believe you're thinking of the Indiana Pi bill, an early testament to the brilliance and fortitude of the legislature of the Hoosier State (whose recent actions have been so much in the news of late). Sadly the legislators of 1897 were not made of stern enough stuff and it was never enacted into law, and thus even to this day students at such great seats of learning such as Purdue and Notre Dame must still labor to memorize long lists of the digits of pi rather than the much simpler value of 3.2. What a shame, what a waste... :-) Apr 23, 2015 at 12:28

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