The House Education Committee last year killed similar legislation, but Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, resurrected the proposal with partial exemptions for the University of Utah and Utah State University, reserving for these research schools the ability to offer 10-year contracts.
"There's been no academic research that tenure benefits the system. I believe competition brings out the best. I believe in the capitalist system," he said. "It is this body's job to look out for our consumers, and that's the taxpayer and the student. I'm tired of following other states. Let's lead."
He noted that 42 percent of Utah professors are tenured.
"If we think tenure is so valuable, why don't we have 100 percent on tenure? Are we not creating two classes of individuals?" said Herrod, who has taught as an adjunct at Utah Valley University. "It's ironic that tenure is supposed to protect academic freedom. I've had dozens of individuals contact me saying they are not in favor of tenure, but are afraid to speak out."
The bill's opponents said eliminating tenure would severely undermine the ability of Utah universities to attract and retain qualified faculty. Speaking on behalf of the chief academic officers at the state's eight public campuses, Southern Utah University provost Brad Cook argued that all the state's school are tied to a national job market where tenure is the norm.
The tenure system builds a more stable academic work force, ensures only high-performers win protection and requires them to keep performing, Cook said.
"I have two tenured faculty members that we are looking at terminating, not for cause, but because they are not competent. The system works," he said.