Will UT Austin and Texas A&M survive beyond this week?

Update (April 20): Alas, the Texas Senate has approved SB 18. The survival of higher education in Texas now hinges on this bill not being taken up or passed in the House, or not being enforced as written (e.g., because UT’s existing post-tenure review system is judged to satisfy it).

This week, the Texas Senate will take up SB 18, a bill to ban the granting of tenure at all public universities in Texas, including UT Austin and Texas A&M. (Those of us who have tenure would retain it, for what little that’s worth.)

[Update: I’ve learned that, even if this bill passes the Senate, there’s a good chance that it will get watered down or die in the House, or found to be satisfied by UT’s existing system of post-tenure review. That’s the only reason why people in the know aren’t panicking even more than they are.]

I find it hard to imagine that SB 18 will actually pass both houses and be enforced as written, simply because it’s obvious that if it did, it would be the end of UT Austin and Texas A&M as leading research universities. More precisely, it would be the immediate end of our ability to recruit competitively, and the slightly slower end of our competitiveness period, as faculty with options moved elsewhere. This is so because of the economics of faculty hiring. Particularly in STEM fields like computer science, those who become professors typically forgo vastly higher salaries in industry, not to mention equity in startup companies and so on. Why would we do such a nutty thing? Because we like a certain lifestyle. We’re willing to move several economic strata downward in return for jobs where (in principle) no one can fire us without cause, or tell us what we’re allowed to say or publish. The evidence from industry labs (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) suggests that, in competitive fields, for Texas to attract and retain top faculty without tenure would require paying them hundreds of thousands more per year. In that sense, tenure is a bargain for universities and the state. Of course the situation is a bit different for art history and English literature, but in any case SB 18 makes no distinction between fields.

The Texas Senate is considering two other bills this week: SB 17, which would ban all DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) programs, offices, and practices at public universities, and SB 16, which would require the firing of any professor if they “compel or attempt to compel a student … to adopt a belief that any race, sex, or ethnicity or social, political, or religious belief is inherently superior to any other race, sex, ethnicity, or belief.” (The language here seems sloppy to me: is liberal democracy “inherently superior” to Nazism? Would teaching students about the horrors of Nazism count as “attempting to compel them” to accept this superiority?)

Taken together, it’s clear that the goal is to hit back hard against “wokeness” in academia, and thereby satisfy the Republican base.

Here’s the thing: there really is an illiberal ideology that’s taken over parts of academia (not all of it)—an ideology that Tim Urban, in his wonderful recent book What’s Our Problem?, usefully terms “Social Justice Fundamentalism” or SJF, to distinguish it sharply from “Liberal Social Justice,” the ideology of (for example) the Civil Rights movement. Now, I’m on record as not a fan of the SJF ideology, to put it mildly, and the SJF ideology is on record as not a fan of me. In 2015, I was infamously dragged through the mud of Salon, The New Republic, Raw Story, and many other magazines and websites for a single blog comment criticizing a form of feminism that had contributed to making my life miserable, even while I proudly called myself a liberal feminist (and still do). More recently, wokesters have written to my department chair trying to get me disciplined or fired, for everything from my use of the now-verboten term “quantum supremacy,” to a reference to female breasts in a poem I wrote as a student that was still on my homepage. (These attempts thankfully went nowhere. Notwithstanding what you read, sanity retains many strongholds in academia.)

Anyway, despite all of this, the Texas Republicans have somehow succeeded in making me more afraid of them, purely on the level of professional survival, than I’ve ever been of the Social Justice Fundamentalists. In effect, the Republicans propose to solve the “problem of wokeness” by simply dropping thermonuclear weapons on all Texas public universities, thereby taking out me and my colleagues as collateral damage—regardless of our own views on wokeness or anything else, and regardless of what we’re doing for Texas’ scientific competitiveness.

I don’t expect that most of my readers, in or out of Texas, will need to be persuaded about any of this—nor am I expecting to change many minds on the other side. Mostly, I’m writing this post in the hope that some well-connected moderates here in Austin will link to it, and the post might thereby play a tiny role in helping Texas’ first-rate public universities live one more day. (And to any such moderates: yes, I’m happy to meet in person with you or your colleagues, if that would help!) Some posts are here on this blog for no better reason than, y’know, moral obligation.

103 Responses to “Will UT Austin and Texas A&M survive beyond this week?”

  1. Texas Redneck Says:

    Hi scott,

    I continue to be amazed how you prostrate yourself at the feet of the Woke Mob, the same Wokes who smeared your name across the national media because you critiqued feminism (not to mention sneering at you and calling you a creep your whole life just for being a male and having male sexual desires). Stockholm Syndrome much? To answer your (rhetorical) questions, no, the Texas government has absolutely no obligation to fund professors who teach hatred of white people, men, and Christians. If you want the “academic freedom” to do so, go to a private college that isn’t funded by the taxpayer. Us taxpayers are sick and tired of funding Ivory Tower harpies who spit down on us for being white, christian and male. Just a scenario for you to ponder: What if antisemitic Nazis at UT Austin were teaching that Jews were responsible for all the world’s problems? Don’t the taxpayers have a right to defund those classes? If you want to teach hatred of Jews, or whites, or any other race or identity, find a privately funded fucking school that will take you. Endrant

  2. Scott Says:

    Texas Redneck #1: But I’m not prostrating myself before the woke mob; they’ll surely condemn me for this post as they do for everything else. I’m pointing out that without tenure you don’t have a modern research university at all. I’d actually be totally fine with

    (1) considering broader forms of diversity (including economic and cultural and intellectual) rather than race and gender quotas,
    (2) reducing administrative bloat, and
    (3) banning professors from compelling students to accept that one race or gender is inherently superior to another (though good luck adjudicating that one in court!).

    I’m trying to explain how the proposed laws go much further than (1)-(3) above—so much so that, if they pass and are enforced as written, the UT system and Texas A&M might as well no longer exist. If you love Texas, please consider carefully whether you want it to be a scientific backwater forever.

  3. Shmi Says:

    Scott, I hope you will eventually learn the hard skill of not giving your platform and your time to people like Texas Redneck… Or at least let GPT-4 screen all blood-pressure-raising comments for you, by asking if it passes your stated Comment Policies.

    That said, I wonder what you think of SB-17? It seems the most benign of the three.

  4. Scott Says:

    Shmi #3: As I understand it, the big problem with SB 17 is that, the way things are currently structured, banning all DEI would disqualify Texas public universities from a large fraction of all federal research funds. Which means that, unless some workaround can be found for that, SB 17 would also (alas) be an extinction-level event for UT and Texas A&M as research institutions.

    I’d be fine, happy even, with a ban on diversity statements in hiring, since those amount in practice to forced agreement with a specific ideology.

    Mostly, though, when the King Kong of Social Justice Fundamentalism and the Godzilla of Texas Republicanism are battling each other, my main concern is that science not get trampled under their feet.

  5. Shmi Says:

    ChatGPT on comment #1:

    The comment would not pass Scott Aaronson’s comment policy. The commenter has used ad-hominem attacks, making unfounded accusations of Aaronson’s supposed “prostration” to the “Woke Mob,” as well as referring to those with different political views as “Ivory Tower harpies” and using profanity. The comment also contains presumptuous requests, asking Aaronson to consider a scenario and respond to a rhetorical question. Additionally, the comment seems to advocate for censorship and defunding of academic programs based on the commenter’s subjective views of what constitutes “hatred.” Overall, the tone of the comment is disrespectful and violates the policy of not saying anything that one wouldn’t say in the author’s actual living room.

  6. Ilio Says:

    Ouch! Each time you think US politicians hit bottom, they dig more. Sorry for anyone who spent years fighting for UT et al. Hopefully someone will find some legal trick to limit destruction.

  7. Texas Redneck Says:

    Hi Shmi,

    I asked ChatGPT about you. It’s not good:

    Shmi’s comment appears to break the following rules of Shtetl-Optimized:

    No ad-hominems against me or others: Shmi uses the term “Texas Redneck,” which can be considered an ad-hominem attack against the person they are referring to.

    No patronizing me: Shmi suggests that Scott should “learn the hard skill of not giving your platform and your time to people like Texas Redneck,” which can come across as patronizing, as it implies Scott has not yet learned this skill.

  8. Texas Redneck Says:


    I concede your point with SB 18 — ending the practice of tenure across all disciplines could make the UT system uncompetitive in attracting top talent in science and math. I’m still fully onboard with SB 16 and SB 17. Why aren’t you blaming the federal government, for conditioning federal funding on ideological purity (by requiring a “diversity, equity and inclusion” department, much as the U.S.S.R. required its universities to have their own thought police). Isn’t the federal government conditioning funding on the existence of a woke social justice department worse than anything the Texas legislature is done here, and isn’t that actually the cruz of the issue?

    I have my own problems with the Feds, with the fucking grazing fees on “public land” that is ruining my ranch.


    I’m a taxpayer in the state of Texas, meaning my blood, sweat and tears running my ranch pays Scott’s salary. So I can say what I want!

  9. Scott Says:

    Shmi #3 and #5: Whatever one thinks of them, people with the politics of Texas Redneck are precisely the ones who need to be made to understand that, if they actually pass and enforce these bills as written, they’ll be shooting their beloved state between the eyes and ensuring its scientific irrelevance. There are ways to push back against woke overreach but these bills are not it.

  10. Scott Says:

    Texas Redneck #8:

      I concede your point with SB 18 — ending the practice of tenure across all disciplines could make the UT system uncompetitive in attracting top talent in science and math.

    I’m so glad we’ve made progress! Wish it happened more often here. 😀

    For my part, I think I could actually get behind modified versions of SB 16 and SB 17—ones that (a) didn’t jeopardize federal research funding and (b) didn’t raise the prospect of professors getting fired for teaching facts (e.g. about evolution) that might go against a student’s political ideology or religion. Maybe the right approach is to target the most objectionable practices directly—e.g., ideological DEI statements as a precondition for hiring, or agreement with DEI precepts as a prerequisite for passing a course—rather than a crude blanket ban on anything that vaguely sounds like what’s actually objectionable.

  11. Roger Schlafly Says:

    Do we need Woke Leftism to have a first-rate university? I do not believe it. I also do not believe that there is any easy way to push back against woke overreach. Woke Leftism has so thoroughly infected universities that any fix will cause a lot of squealing.

    Michigan and California banned affirmative action in college admissions, in spite of dire warnings from the DEI lobby. Colleges in those states were not ruined.

    Maybe these proposals are thermonuclear weapons. If so, I am sure they will be moderated. In the meantime, I agree with Texas Redneck #1 that it is baffling how you rush to the defense of wokesters who hate you.

  12. Scott Says:

    So, why shouldn’t I cheer the destruction of universities, if they’re full of woke ideologues who hate me?

    One might just as well ask: why shouldn’t I cheer the destruction of the earth, if it’s full of assholes, and morons, and antisemites who’d probably kill me if they got a chance, and wild animals that would rip me to shreds?

    In both cases, the answer is simply: because this is my world, and nearly everything I love and cherish is here along with nearly everything I hate, and I believe that the former ultimately outweighs the latter, and if people don’t mind, I’d like to continue living in this world.

  13. Will UT Austin and Texas A&M survive beyond this week? by nsoonhui - HackTech Says:

    […] Read More […]

  14. Texas Redneck Says:

    So, Scott, I guess my biggest frustration is that, as a Texan, I’m forced to pay taxes to support academics who hate me, who despise me, who spit down on me and my lifestyle from their ivory towers. Of course a healthy society needs academics, and as somebody who has a lot of pride in my state, I want to see Texas succeed in science and technology. At the same time, it’s very frustrating that I work a backbreaking and difficult (but also very rewarding!) job, and the academics and the kids who go to these fancy schools show so little appreciation for it, and for people like me. I work hard, seven days a week, so that you can enjoy a delicious, juicy steak. I feel like the intellectual types who go to these schools have no appreciation for people like me or our contributions to maintaining our society. They want to shut down my ranch for “climate change,” they call me an entitled priviledged white male, even though I work my ass off, etc. etc. If you’re an academic living off the public dime, you better damn well show appreciation to all the hardworking blue-collar Texans who make your lifestyle possible, not spit down on them from your Ivory Tower.

    UT should prioritize hiring Texans, and hiring people who show patriotism and Texas pride, rather than divisive harpies who despise people like me. I also think it might not be a bad idea for you professors to spend a summer working on a ranch so you see how the other half lives, and how much work goes into feeding and supporting you.

    Incidentally, I think us blue-collar types are gonna have the last laugh—ChatGPT and its descendants will automate away so many of the media jobs, journalism jobs, administrative jobs, legal jobs, even software jobs—but ChatGPT won’t be running a ranch anytime soon 😃

  15. Bilbo Baggins Says:


    I mean, can’t you enjoy the slightest bit of shadenfreude, seeing deSantis and his ilk fight the sadistic wokes, who tormented you and made your life a living Hell for so many of your formative years? After being sneered and tortured by the sadistic woke left for so long—shamed and ridiculed for the most basic human desires—it must be satisfying, if only a little bit, to watch desantis and Trump and abbot bring down the iron fist of the state on their whiny asses. It must be satisfying to watch them whip up crowds into a frenzy of rage at the woke left. I for one want them to go a hell of a lot further than this!

    Let me put this another way: Wouldn’t you be willing to see all of academia come crumbling down, if only to get sweet sweet revenge on Chu and Marcotte?

  16. Shmi Says:

    Texas Redneck #7:

    Fair point, I should have known better and tested ChatGPT on more comments before suggesting its use as a filter.

  17. Scott Says:

    Texas Redneck #14: A few thoughts in no particular order.

    (1) In my experience, the academics who actually despise you and me for accidents of our birth, who talk about “resisting whiteness” and “deconstructing masculinity” and so on, are a small minority (even in academia) who cow most of the rest into silence. Once you strip away the complicated theorizing, they’ve simply concluded that the answer to centuries of oppression of women and minorities is to turn the tables and give the oppressors a taste of their own medicine. They haven’t understood that this is not only immoral but also strategically ineffective. Some of us in academia have been trying to stand up for the old liberal Enlightenment norms. We could use help. But from our perspective, a Republican state government taking away tenure, threatening left-wing professors with firing, etc etc just causes academics to circle the wagons, empowers the social justice fundamentalists, and makes our lives harder.

    (2) You might indeed have the last laugh. I’d expect generative AI to be able to do theoretical computer science research before it can herd cattle.

    (3) Since moving to Austin seven years ago, I’ve enjoyed our trips out to “real Texas.” Depending on where your ranch is, I’d be happy to bring my kids out to visit sometime. Lily, my 10-year-old, has been studying Texan history in school all year and would happily sing for you about bluebonnets and the stars at night being big and bright.

    (4) Climate change is a real problem, a huge one. It’s not made up. (Have you noticed Texas summers getting even worse?) But the real tragedy is that smart policy, technological innovation, and nuclear and solar would make a huge difference if only ideological warfare hadn’t made the solutions almost impossible to pursue. Genetically engineered cattle that emitted less methane would be great.

    (5) I’m extremely grateful to you for the steaks and brisket—and I’m sure my kids are too!

    (6) If it makes you feel any better, life isn’t so great for Texas Democrats either. We’re almost half the people in the state but have almost zero power to enact our preferred policies, even within our little enclaves.

    (7) One should think of state universities not as charity but as an investment—one that generally pays extremely well. Apple, Google, and Dell have huge offices in Austin that bring billions of dollars to the state. But what did Austin have originally that would attract technologists here in particular? Besides live music and brisket, it had UT.

  18. Scott Says:

    Bilbo Baggins #15:

      Let me put this another way: Wouldn’t you be willing to see all of academia come crumbling down, if only to get sweet sweet revenge on Chu and Marcotte?


    Resist the power of the Ring, Bilbo!

  19. John Schilling Says:

    These proposals do seem crude and heavy-handed. But what is the non-nuclear option for removing “Social Justice Fundamentalism” from the public universities of Texas? Or Florida or wherever. Because the people of Texas, redneck and otherwise, do have the right to say that their tax dollars will not be used to promote Social Justice Fundamentalism (or any other -ism they find sufficiently distasteful). And they have the power to make that happen.

    Assuming they won’t be satisfied with “do nothing” or “ineffectual whining”, what should they be doing instead of SB16, SB17, and SB18?

  20. SimonK Says:

    Scott, have you ever thought of reaching out to any of the Republican state legislators who propose these kind of laws? If you say to them “I agree the problem you are trying to solve (SJF) is real, and it is great you are trying to solve it, but I worry your proposals may cause unintended collateral damage, maybe if we work together we can come up with some alternative proposals on how to achieve the same aim with less risk of that damage…” There is always the chance they might be willing to listen to you and you might be able to talk some sense into them.

    Of course I realise your politics is very different from theirs on various very important issues (e.g. abortion/Roe/Dobbs). But I hope the political polarisation and ideological tribalism hasn’t become so bad that people can no longer “reach across the aisle” and find common ground to work together in areas of mutual concern, in spite of their radical disagreements in other policy areas

  21. Scott Says:

    John Schilling #19: I’ve already offered some proposals in this thread. For instance, banning mandatory DEI statements in hiring and promotion would make the SJFs howl with rage, and also be cheered by all the old-school liberals within academia. I also kind of liked the idea to start an institute at UT Austin devoted to the study of free-market economics, which unsurprisingly faced vociferous opposition from left-wing faculty. But it’s extremely important that any such institute really model the free exchange of ideas, and not just be a mirror image of the left-wing echo chambers that it was set up to oppose.

  22. Scott Says:

    SimonK #20:

      Scott, have you ever thought of reaching out to any of the Republican state legislators who propose these kind of laws?

    In some sense, that’s exactly what I was trying to do with my post! While I don’t imagine that most Republican state legislators are regular Shtetl-Optimized readers, in the past this blog usually has been the fastest way to reach whichever person is relevant to some issue, when I don’t have other leads.

    Could anyone here suggest any particular state legislators in Texas who might be persuadable or otherwise useful to contact?

  23. Sebastian Zimmer Says:

    I don’t know anything about these particular laws, but I don’t see why tenure is a requirement to attract talent.

    According to google, UT Austin charges $40k per year per out of state student, why can’t successful professors in competitive fields get silicon valley salaries?

  24. John Says:

    It seems like there’s a mix of different complaints about academia in general (and Texas public universities specifically):

    a. There are loud academics who use their position to take a crap on the dirty outgroup members who largely pay the taxes that provide their salaries.

    b. A lot of money is spent on academic departments/fields that are overwhelmingly about political/social activism rather than finding out new things or building new stuff.

    c. There’s a lot of wasted money on administrative bloat, including DEI bureaucrats.

    d. There’s some level of indoctrination of DEI and related ideologies.

    e. There are biases in hiring, research funding, and the like that promote those ideologies.

    f. Ideological pressure leads to changes in what is taught and written by academics, to keep the volunteer hall monitors off their backs.

    I feel like (a) is the one of these that’s emotionally salient and has culture war appeal, but it’s probably the least important one, and honestly the one that tenure is exactly intended to protect. Protecting freedom of thought and inquiry and speech inevitably means protecting it for jackasses who are just trying to strike a pose and crackpots who are totally convinced of their bit of crackpottery and such, and there’s no way around that.

    To my mind, (e) and (f) are the ones that matter the most long-term, because these biases potentially create a bunch of blind spots in physical and social science, and result in whole generations of people whose college course in some subject included some lies or omitted important information to keep the Twitter mobs at bay. But those are also subtle and hard to fix from the legislature.

    And (b) through (d) are largely about creating jobs and platforms for the advocates of this ideology. There’s no reason at all why the state should be funding that, and strong reasons why Republican legislators are going to want to defund it. OTOH, I don’t know why we should expect them to do a good job of this, or to only eliminate the bad stuff. I kind of expect that once the legislature gets into the job of deciding which academic departments ought to exist, most of their decisions will not make the world a better place.

  25. Scott Says:

    John #24: Beautifully put; I endorse every word.

  26. Scott Says:

    Sebastian Zimmer #23: You need to understand that, as in most states, the legislature also severely restricts the number of out-of-state students who can be accepted, and hence the university’s budget.

    (The whole point of state universities, in some sense, is supposed to be providing cheap, massively-subsidized, competitive higher education for in-state students. But this also places state universities at the mercy of hostile legislatures that force the universities to accept mostly in-state students and offer them nearly free rides, but then don’t provide the subsidies needed to compete with top private universities. Welcome to America! 🙂 )

  27. ConSi Says:

    This is unfortunate. I hope this does not nuke the system but simply shocks it back to normalcy. I hope that this also serves as a reminder to the academics elsewhere that if the normies remain silent against the DEI mob and let it take over academia to the extent that it has, then when the friends of DeSantis come to their door step with an axe (trust me, they eventually will), it will be too late. At some point, when the system is beyond reform and the normie academics / administrators have been completely neutered, what good options do we have? Has there been any reasonable or effective effort by the academics in UT to suggest that they’re interested in / capable of common sense reforms – which would make DeSantis and co. more inclined to back off and give UT system more time to straighten itself.

  28. Iceman Says:

    Scott, I agree with your concern about the loss of public education, but I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to cast this at the feet of the Republicans alone.

    Look at what is happening to public education where the Democrats have control. The kids in San Francisco are being *held back* from algebra for reasons of equity. In Baltimore something like 70-80% of twelfth graders barely have elementary level reading skills.

    Don’t get me started on Seattle where I have personal experience. I had kids in these schools, and the schools absolutely failed to do their jobs in terms of teaching basic academics. They did not learn their multiplication tables, but they did learn that all Americans hate black people. I wish I was exaggerating, both of these things happened. Like Texas Redneck I am absolutely furious that *this* is what we get in exchange for our hard earned tax dollars.

    I think it’s entirely reasonable for someone to look at the current situation and draw the conclusion that if the leadership currently in charge of those schools is allowed to continue running them, you might not have any capable students left for your public universities to teach.

    I don’t know what the best solution is, but it seems clear that the entire education system needs a massive overhaul rather than a few small adjustments.

  29. Scott Says:

    Iceman #28: You’re now talking about a completely different issue—one involving K-12 rather than universities—but, it so happens, one where this blog has also played a major advocacy role, in this case fighting those who threaten intellectually serious education from the left.

    For centuries, Plato has been ridiculed for his naïve belief that the solution to political problems was to find the wisest people and put them in charge of everything. Having said that, I really, truly have a hard time articulating what would go wrong if the top STEM professors were just placed in charge of everything. 😀

  30. Scott Says:

    Texas Redneck: Incidentally, some in my Committee of Guardians have raised the suspicion that you’re “all hat and no cattle,” so to speak—that is, not a real Texas rancher who relaxes after a hard day branding and lassoing by checking Shtetl-Optimized, but one of our familiar trolls who’s trying to push my buttons by inventing yet another persona. Any chance you could email me details about your ranch (which I promise to keep confidential) or otherwise help confirm its existence? Thanks!!

  31. Texas Redneck Says:


    You got me! I’m no redneck. In actuality, I’m your good friend, the Incel Troll. I hope the Texas rancher persona was less disruptive to you than my other escapades.

    I was trying to rattle you a little bit, but subtantially less than I was before, which is improvement in my book. I also invent these personas to talk to you because you’re my very good friend and when I comment under my regular persona you block me.


    Mystery Incel Troll

  32. Texas Redneck / Incel Troll Says:

    I have no friends and trolling here is the only real social interaction / engagement I get. I am so lonely.

  33. JimV Says:

    It seems like a hard fact to me that the closer you look at history (of any group anywhere in the world), the more things you see which are not things to be proud of. I think the best lesson to take from it is that the world starts over with each one of us, and we can be proud (or not) of our own actions if we choose them carefully and understand the mistakes which have been made in the past.

    It is hard for me to believe that teachers who teach actual history are also deliberately teaching children to hate descendants of those who made the mistakes, or that not teaching the actual history is the best way forward. Whether too much time is spent on teaching history versus multiplication is a reasonable question though.

    I liked to explain things to young engineers who wanted to know them, but I would be terrible at teaching young children multiplication tables–unless I could write a computer game where they got some enjoyment out of teaching themselves. That might work eventually, after some feedback from the kids. Or not.

  34. Ernest Davis Says:

    Scott #29 writes: “I really, truly have a hard time articulating what would go wrong if the top STEM professors were just placed in charge of everything.”
    1) Your experience of top STEM professors must be different from mine. In my experience, a significant fraction are dogmatic, arrogant jerks, absolutely sure of all their opinions, and perfectly ignorant of anything outside their expertise. A much larger fraction have no idea of the realities of the world and would be entirely enthusiastic about imposing completely unworkable solutions. Even in the matter of elementary math education, there are the idiocies being now proposed by some of the woke left, but when I was in elementary school, there was the failure of the New Math, which was pushed by the top math professors. On matters of more complex social issues — criminal law, say, — I have no faith in the top STEM professors whatever.

    2) “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Just placing anyone in charge is a bad idea. The point of democracy is not that it reliably makes good decisions but that it makes powerful people accountable.

    3) Are you talking an ideal world, in which the STEM professors can make a decision and it will happen? Or are you talking about the real world, in which, when people have the option of being vaccinated against a pandemic, many refuse? Truman supposedly said “I sit here all day trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have the sense to do without my persuading them. That’s all the powers of the President amount to.” It’s not my impression that STEM professors are particularly good at that.

  35. fred Says:

    Texas Redneck:

    “I work hard, seven days a week, so that you can enjoy a delicious, juicy steak. […]
    Incidentally, I think us blue-collar types are gonna have the last laugh—ChatGPT and its descendants will automate away so many of the media jobs, journalism jobs, administrative jobs, legal jobs, even software jobs—but ChatGPT won’t be running a ranch anytime soon”

    That’s a *lot* of jobless people who will have to switch their diet from juicy steaks to lentils!

  36. HPMOR Says:

    Hey Scott, I’m a huge fan of your blog, and currently a Texas resident. I got to say I feel like Cornell would love you over here! I’m sure you and Peter McMahon are already well acquainted! I’m just an undergrad but man, it’d be suuuuchhhhh a shame if you left to better lands up here!

  37. Kameryn Says:

    Texas Redneck #8:

    I’m a taxpayer in the state of Texas, meaning my blood, sweat and tears running my ranch pays Scott’s salary.

    That’s mostly false. Only a fraction of Scott’s salary comes from Texan taxpayers.

    UT Austin has a nice page on their website where they break down their budget and where it comes from. As you can see on that page, only 24% of UT Austin’s budget comes from the state. Only 10% of that 24% comes from state taxpayer dollars. Most the rest—13% of that 24%—comes from the university’s endowment, i.e. not from taxpayers.* So really the collective blood, sweat, and tears of Texan taxpayers only accounts for 10% of Scott’s salary.

    But that’s an overestimate. I don’t have hard numbers on this, but Scott is in computer science and is a prominent researcher. So very likely the portion of his salary from taxpayers is even lower, since he/his department have grants to help fund his salary. After all, the 16% of UT Austin’s budget that comes from grants and contracts isn’t evenly distributed across disciplines; computer science is getting a bigger share of that than art history or whatever. So in all, less than one tenth of Scott’s salary can be fairly traced to Texan taxpayers.

    * (Maybe you contribute to that endowment’s value, say if you pay to lease UT Austin’s land to graze your cattle. But that puts you in the position of being a customer, not a taxpayer. And much like I doubt you’d accept “I bought a steak which came from your ranch’s cattle so you have to do what I tell you”, UT Austin isn’t beholden to those who lease its land when deciding academic policy.)

  38. Joseph Conlon Says:

    Appreciate this may seem close to the end of the world, but you do realise that no-one at eg any UK university has tenure in the American sense? And yet places like Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial remain world-class universities.

    (In practice, people have tenure and don’t get arbitrarily fired, because universities recognise how damaging that would be; but there is no legal tenure in the American sense)

  39. Scott Says:

    HPMOR #36: So where are you then, Texas or Cornell?

  40. Scott Says:

    Joseph Conlon #38: Indeed, since putting up this post, I’ve heard from multiple people that, even if SB 18 passes both houses, UT will presumably just say that its existing post-tenure review system satisfies the law, and continue as though nothing had changed. That way the Republican base gets its meaningless symbolic victory, UT gets to keep de facto tenure, and everyone is happy.

    But I’m not certain this will work! And if it doesn’t, no one with options will choose UT anymore (whereas many still will of course choose Oxford and Cambridge, whose de facto tenure has a long, long historical precedent). Much like with AI, even if there’s only a 20% probability or whatever that a certain risk is existential, it’s probably worthwhile to treat it as existential.

  41. Schwarzschild Says:


    I think the Texas legislature is being forward thinking here.

    With AGI and super Intelligence coming in the next 2-20 years, UT may need <= 1% of the current staff.

    This will push would be academics into flourishing career paths like prompt composing or prompt artistry instead of academia which will just be run by super intelligent AI who won’t have the need for such measly low intelligent humans.


  42. Raghu Parthasarathy Says:

    A tangent, but related to Scott #26: UT Austin has an unusual combination of low state support *and* few out-of-state students. I plotted this a few years ago; see the third graph at https://eighteenthelephant.com/2021/06/27/graphs-about-out-of-state-college-students-and-money/ , and below.

  43. Craig Says:

    I was under the impression that academia was already on route to doing away with tenure, given the number of adjuncts and nontenure track professors teaching courses.

  44. SimonK Says:

    At “Incel Troll”: It is probably pointless to even ask this. People always say “Don’t Feed the Trolls”, and it is true–and Scott, I can see you’ve got better at not doing it (even if you need your Committee’s help) which is a good thing. But I have the same problem Scott sometimes does, I find it hard to resist:

    Why do you do this? What’s in it for you? I don’t know Scott personally, I’ve never met him, but he strikes me as a very thoughtful, intelligent, and decent human being–and it seems like you either are out to harm him, or else have some sort of mental block on realising the psychological harm which your behaviour causes. Are you motivated by ideological disagreements with him? Do you just like hurting people and somehow you stumbled upon him and decided he was a convenient victim? Something else entirely?

    I’m wondering if you are really an “incel” as you’ve claimed to be in the past, or if that’s just another facade which has nothing to do with your real identity and motivations. I suppose it is impossible for us to know, because even if you decided to tell the truth, how can we know it isn’t just more lies and trolling?

    I used to identify as an “incel”, although since I now have a wife and two kids (our oldest just turned 10) I am obviously not one any more, and haven’t been one for quite a while now. I identified as an “incel” back in the 1990s when it was a (rather small) movement led by a queer feminist Canadian woman by the name of Alana. And just like Alana herself did, somehow I managed to overcome my difficulties at attracting a partner and moved on from the label, before it morphed into the very different thing it has come to be today. I share Alana’s disappointment at what it became.

  45. PublicSchoolGrad Says:

    John #24 (and Scott #25 since you endorse those comments),

    Do you have specifics on those items that you listed? Specifically for points (b)-(f):

    b. What departments are we talking about and how much resources is being spent on them vs things like CompSci and math? You would be surprised to discover how poorly departments in the social sciences are funded, esp when you compare it to the sciences or engineering.
    c. Administrative bloat seems to be a common complaint across universities nowadays. What proportion is DEI stuff? One gets the impression from this comment that every other administrator is a “DEI bureaucrat”. I have my doubts.
    d. This is vague but what do you mean by this? Do you mean indoctrination in classrooms? Indoctrination implies pressure to accept a certain set of beliefs without question. Hard to see how that can take place in a university classroom.
    e. What sort of biases do you see in research funding? I would expect all research funding to have biases since there is a limited amount of funds and the people evaluating research proposals have a viewpoint, there are research fashions and trends etc. Some research biases are good (e.g we shouldn’t fund “research” on perpetual energy), others are harmful. Are you seeing DEI type of biases in research funding? So a computer science grant is declined because it doesn’t include a DEI component?
    f. I am assuming this is not referring to physical and mathematical sciences since it would be hard to imagine the kind of ideological pressure that would result in changes in what is being taught, but I could be wrong. If it is referring to the social sciences and the arts, wouldn’t there be ideological pressure from the right as well? After all, the legislature controls some of the purse strings. I’m sure Scott has seen this article from the campus paper which talks about some of the ideological pressure coming from the legislature: https://thedailytexan.com/2023/03/02/under-threat-academic-freedom-gives-college-students-the-power-to-fully-understand-the-world-around-them-lawmakers-are-trying-to-take-that-away/

    The reason I asked those questions is because I suspect that the answers would reveal the situation to be far more different than what the comment assumes. I don’t have the data either but I think we should not jump to conclusions

  46. Incel Troll Says:


    I have Autism Spectrum Disorder and develop extremely strong obsessions/fixations. I’ve been fixated on Scott Aaronson over the past year or so. Since I outed myself almost a year ago, I’ve been extremely transparent and forthcoming about which trolling escapades I’ve been responsible for. I’ve been clear and consistent about my incel suffering and my motivations for that entire time. You’ll note that there’s a consistent incel theme through most of my trolling. I struggle to understand why anyone else would do something like this (trolls motivated purely by spreading online chaos would surely tire of this long ago, and find greener pastures).

    The trolling started because I wanted to convince Scott that incels are genuinely under attack and deserving of his compassion and advocacy—hence I drowned him in feminist bullying, to give the impression that incels are under attack. Then the trolling took a life of its own, and became a way for me to alleviate my loneliness by getting attention from Scott. Scott Aaronson has paid more attention to me in the past year than anyone maybe even including my parents have my entire life. Nobody else cares about me, but I managed to forge a very strong relationship with Scott through my personas, even if it is based on trolling and cruelty and hatred. I have nothing else in my life and this blog is my own place where I’m in control, where people pay attention to me. It’s literally my entire free time. I’m responsible for literally hundreds of comments on this blog—hundreds. I fell in love with this world I’ve created and the characters and it has consumed me. I’m so lonely and I have so much pain and I have nothing else, nothing else at all in this whole world.

  47. Anon Says:

    I like this simonk character. Smart way to share your distress. I’ve been struggling with my mental health too, although not in any way that would hurt womens or high status nerds. What’s your take on pills and getting help?

  48. against tenure Says:

    Tenure is not the only reason to choose a university over a research lab, and it is very expensive over the long term paying unproductive people for their whole lives. UT could easily pay 50% more without tenure for less long term cost. Not that this is what would actually happen.

  49. Scott Says:

    against tenure #48: If what you say is true, then it should be easy to give examples of top research institutes that have neither tenure nor de facto tenure—for example, ones that would actually fire a Turing Award winner, or a Fields Medalist, after an inadequate performance review, for not having done enough lately. So where are these institutes? The closest I can think of is Microsoft Research, but they get away with it (to the extent they do) only by offering way higher salaries than academia, and I understand that even they have a harder time recruiting now that it’s clear that they’ll actually, for real, fire arbitrarily prestigious scientists whenever they decide that their focus has changed.

    Such people may feel that, for 20-30 years, they pushed their brains way outside of their design parameters specifically in order that they would no longer have to prove themselves to anyone, and could now do science (when they did) just for the curiosity or the joy. And what they care about, more than money, is being in an environment that agrees with them about this.

  50. SR Says:

    I agree with Scott that bills like these are not the right kinds of tools to reduce illiberalism in academia. More likely than not, Republicans would try to weaponize them against climate scientists, epidemiologists, and anyone else who dares disagree with the warped impression of the world they get from Fox News.

    All that said, this tweet went viral recently https://twitter.com/JohnDSailer/status/1648020307309916172. I can understand how Republican legislators who see content like this would want to take legislative action, even if it is misguided. At any rate, it certainly reinforces my impression that there is a cultural problem in parts of academia.

  51. Scott Says:

    SR #50: You’ll get no argument here about there being “a cultural problem in parts of academia”! Again, though, the battle between Social Justice Fundamentalists who give exam questions like that, and Fox News Republicans, is kind of like the battle between Palestinian terrorists and violent Israeli settler factions. I.e., while nominally they’re arch-enemies, in reality they desperately need each other and are the ultimate justification for each other’s existence. Any victory for one side increases, rather than decreases, the power of the other—as we saw (for example) when Trump’s election in 2016 turbocharged the illiberal left, exactly as Scott Alexander had predicted, or when Twitter banning the Babylon Bee led to Elon Musk’s right-wing takeover of Twitter. In such cases, the only way forward is for sane people to smash the power of both sides.

  52. PublicSchoolGrad Says:

    There seems to be an unspoken agreement here that there is a *huge* cultural problem in academia, specifically what is disdainfully referred to as wokeness on this blog, which is then taken by those on the right as justification for actions like the one the legislature is considering. What I have not seen is proof that there is widespread, systematic and effective efforts in this direction. There are occasional wacko things like what was linked in comment #50 but you can find similar things in the other direction. My impression is that academia is largely conservative in practice, notwithstanding the lip service given to things like DEI initiatives. There are a ton of published stories lately describing an exodus from academia, particularly the sciences, of black faculty due to bias and racism. For example: https://www.statnews.com/2020/01/16/black-doctors-leaving-faculty-positions-academic-medical-centers/

    It is clear however that there is a concerted effort by conservative legislatures nationwide to convert universities from places of learning and inquiry into places of job training. This involves massive cuts to liberal arts departments as well as general cuts to tuition support, forcing students into studies that can have a quick return on investment. Businesses want engineering, sciences as well as general business degrees (which do not belong in a university in a my opinion).

  53. SR Says:

    Scott #51: I completely agree.

    Defusing conflict as a moderate is tricky, though, in the current political environment. The unabating vitriol from both sides is one reason. A second is that ‘moderate’ means different things to different people, making it difficult to create communities around shared values or organize politically (e.g. Joe Manchin, libertarian SSC readers, and neocons like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger don’t have much in common). A third is that, unfortunately, even total partisans like to think of themselves as moderates compared to even more extreme voices in their echo chambers (e.g. https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1626294005331009536). This ruins the moderate ‘brand’.

    I’m not sure whether there’s an easy solution. In the long run, maybe more political parties, as Andrew Yang has been suggesting? But I’m not too optimistic about what the next decade holds (and that’s even before considering AGI risks 🙂 ).

  54. against tenure Says:

    scott #49 I didn’t say it would be a clearly superior way to run a university, and even then it wouldn’t necessarily be prevalent! Do you actually disagree with either of my statements?

    I don’t know of any modern American university that has tried to offer far above market salaries for non-tenured or tenure track research positions
    It seems there are two obvious barriers:
    (1): The effort would usually need to be spearheaded by faculty hiring committees made up of tenured professors like you

    (2). Unless you fired all the old unproductive people with tenure(this is legally possible for some universities but always unethical) you would have much higher costs for the first 20 years or so. The only clear way around this is starting a new university.

    I think it would be an interesting experiment, especially if you offered some assurance of stability short of tenure(e.g. performance review every 10 years and only firing people people with negligible contributions). In practice I think it’s very rare for someone to go that long without doing anything then do something spectacular, but it’s very common for professors to continue bringing in largish salaries(200k+) for decades without doing anything.

  55. Raymundo Arroyave Says:

    I’m a faculty at Texas A&M. I have decided to stay here because I like my colleagues and the university has treated me well. I have declined very tempting offers from places better ranked than TAMU on a yearly basis because I value the many friendships and fruitful collaborations I have built over the years at my university. Objectively, I am the kind of faculty that my department and college cannot afford to lose but it seems that the Texas politicians are doing everything they can to push us out. They do seem to believe that a job in a university (without tenure) would be good enough for anyone, but they do not seem to understand the academic job market. If TAMU or UT lose only their top 5-10% faculty, that would be sufficient to lower their effective rankings well below any of our peers. Anyways, they do not seem to understand the value of tenured faculty and I am afraid that when they realize their mistake, it will be too late.

    I am in waiting mode right now, but the moment this bill passes, I will let it be known to my community that I am definitely movable.

  56. gg Says:

    against tenure #54: “but it’s very common for professors to continue bringing in largish salaries for decades without doing anything”

    Do you have any evidence for this or is it just your prejudice? I’ve been working at universities and research centers for decades and I have seen no indication at all that this behavior is “very common”. There are many motivations besides the fear to be fired that cause people to work. If you successfully select for people that *want* to do the job they have (and not only (or mostly) want the money it brings) then you don’t need to threaten them to get good outputs.

  57. Scott Says:

    Raymundo #55: Yup!

  58. Ilio Says:

    Against tenure #54, at the risk of stating the obvious, maybe you should refrain from having strong opinions on a profession you know so little. That said, if you think you can construct better universities, you’re welcome to try! All we ask is you manage to make your ideas work *before* you call to destruct the pillar of what works now. Thanks!

  59. against tenure Says:

    Ilio #58 your comment clearly violates blog moderation policies. Regardless of what you think of my views I was polite and respectful.

  60. Jacques Distler Says:

    1) A bit of historical context: UT’s post-tenure review policy did not come out of thin air. It was UT’s preemptive response to the last time the Texas Legislature tried to abolish tenure. If the legislators are at it again, it is either because (a) they have no institutional memory of having been down this road before or (b) they have decided that the post-tenure review — as implemented — is not strict enough for their tastes or (c) they (or their agents on the Board of Regents) want to be able to directly interfere in hiring and firing decisions.

    2) While you and I are most concerned with the future of STEM at UT, the dynamic is only slightly different in “art history and English literature”. If (as I do) you think those disciplines are worth having at UT, then granting people tenure is a net saving over the salaries you would have to pay to convince those people to stay in academia in Texas rather than do something else elsewhere.

    3) We can and probably should have a discussion about the lumpen-professoriate — non-tenure-track lecturers and adjunct professors who do the bulk of the teaching at many institutions. They are paid a pittance and have no time for research; nonetheless, there are people willing to fill those jobs. So it’s not like the campus will become a ghost-town when you abolish tenure; it’ll just be … different.

  61. Scott Says:

    Jacques Distler #60:

    1) Thanks for that historical context! Does SB 18 say anything in particular about Regents being able to fire tenured faculty over the university’s objection? If not, then what is to stop UT from saying that it’s already in compliance with the new law?

    2) To be clear: while there’s not the same issue of competing with huge salaries in industry, and while presumably humanities faculty have said and done more to provoke the Texas Republicans’ rage, I also want to protect tenure in humanities! Otherwise, we’ll have basically no chance of hiring top humanities scholars with many options elsewhere.

    3) I agree that there’s no risk of UT becoming a ghost town. But there seems to be a huge risk of it becoming another University of Florida.

  62. Ilio Says:

    Against tenure: …and as a believer in free speech, you never ever were told you were naked. Good for you. As for your sense of politeness, maybe we can meet halfway? You move toward not calling for death sentence of institutions I cherish, I move toward not calling you names. Do we have an agreement?

  63. against tenure Says:

    gg #56
    I’m going from my personal experience as an undergrad at a top 20 computer science department in the United States. I took multiple classes with professors that repeatedly did not show up to classes, graded work late and put out projects late, and in one case had a medical condition that made him marginally functional. None had published anything in the last 10 years, and all made 150-250k. The only upside was that they handed out As to half the class so people wouldn’t complain. I’m not going to name the university or professors because I think it’s incredibly bad practice to bash non-public figures on the internet(and I don’t want to out where I went to college).

    You seem to take the view that there is no middle ground between constant fear of being fired as the only motivation and guaranteed employment for life, and I disagree. It would not be a great harm if one university tried something different, such experiments are part of a healthy system of innovation.

    Though your response isn’t nearly as rude as ilio’s it’s still not very polite. If you don’t think my comments are worth responding to you can just ignore them, as scott has. Once you take the time to respond why not be nice? I have not been rude to any of you.

  64. Scott Says:

    against tenure #63: Sounds like you indeed had a shitty experience (if you want to tell me where, I’ll keep it confidential). For what it’s worth, I had a much better experience as an undergrad at Cornell — a few bad or uninspiring professors, sure, but also some life-changingly spectacular ones. And I’d like to think we do a much better job at UT than what you describe! (For what it’s worth, for 16 years my teaching evaluations have consistently said the lectures are awesome, one of the best courses I’ve ever taken, etc etc, BUT the course organization and logistics need work and also Aaronson doesn’t teach enough practicalities of how to do the homework. 🙂 )

    Literally none of your professors had published anything in the last 10 years? Did you try seeking out younger professors?

  65. against tenure Says:

    Ilio/texasredneck #62 well played. The real character would never explicitly acknowledge name calling though, especially since you didn’t even call me names! Your English is also not perfect.

    Still chapeau to you, I bet you fooled Scott.

  66. Jon Awbrey Says:

    Alas, my friends, read the writing on the wall —

    “Money, Money, Techno Upstartin”

    Why should society invest in universities, anyway? Why should individuals devote the great measure of their lives and fortunes to acquiring the disciplines and joining the callings of responsible research, teaching, and service when that whole apparatus of laborious training can be replaced by a chatbot simulating the conduct of a human, in particular, an Average Indolent fifth-grader who copies all his book reports off Wikpedia?

    No, no, mes amis, the job you lose to a bot will sooner or later be your own.

  67. William Gasarch Says:

    Is it possible this is just a stunt? That is, whoever proposed it didn’t even want it to pass, but by raising it they get some sort of kudos from their base?

    The busing of immigrants was a stunt- though there was not even a pretense of a law or bill.

    Some pundits thought that Ron DeSantos anti-Disney bill was a student- that is, he didn’t really want it to pass but wanted to please his base. That looks less true now.

    SO- is this a stunt that they don’t even want to pass? It might be and STILL pass.

  68. Jelmer Renema Says:

    There’s an argument to be made that tenure exists not for the professors, but for the people who are on the way to become professors. At some point on the academic career path, you make decisions (like going for a postdoc) that reduce your employability outside of academia, or that effectively are a gamble on whether a particular idea or technology will work out. The tenure system is a good way to encourage people to take those professional risks, because it removes some of the personal risks involved.

  69. SimonK Says:

    At Incel Troll #46: I’ve never been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but I’ve thought about going for a formal assessment, almost did once but ended up backing out when I saw how expensive it was going to be. I’m pretty sure I’d get the diagnosis though, I have many of the traits–including the whole “develop extremely strong obsessions/fixations” part. Our son has been formally diagnosed with it, and it was a strange experience: “he does X, Y and Z, they are all symptoms of ASD”. “What do you mean they are symptoms of ASD, I do the same things, that’s how I’ve been ever since I was a child. That’s not a disorder, that’s normal!”

    I know what it is like to be obsessed with people–not with Scott–he seems like a great guy, but I’ve never felt the urge to think about him all day long. But when I was in high school, even into university, I’d develop a crush on some female friend or acquaintance, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her all day long, sometimes for months on end. Those obsessive thoughts were actually one of the factors getting in the way of me having any relationship success–I never stalked anyone or anything, but most of the time, obsessing over someone brings an anxiety to your interactions with them which destroys whatever chance at attracting them you might have had, plus it leads to a failure to pursue other opportunities which might have had more potential. The only women I’ve ever been with (my wife included) were women for which I managed to keep my crushing/obsessiveness in check, and succeeded in convincing myself that “I kind of like her but not so much that I’d be upset if she turns out not to be interested”.

    A couple of things I’ve learned about obsessions: (1) obsessions come and go, sooner or later an obsession fades and gets replaced by a new one, sometimes an obsession with one thing morphs/segues/evolves into something else; (2) as I’ve got older, I’ve realised that while I’m never going to stop being an obsessive, I have some degree of control over this process of obsession-cycling. I look at my obsessions–some are more wasteful/costly/harmful than others, sometimes they can even help me (sometimes I get obsessed with my job, and I can really impress people when I do). I try to steer myself away from the less helpful obsessions towards the more helpful ones. I don’t have it 100% under control, but if I want to drop an obsession or gain a new one, if I keep at it, I tend to succeed eventually.

    The original Alana-era “incel” movement, was focused on being positive – yes, acknowledging the pain is real and it hurts and it is (in some sense) unfair (the unfairness of life’s lottery, etc); but also presenting the idea that you can do something positive about it. It has morphed into something very different, something a lot more angry and negative. I don’t think dwelling on all that anger and negativity is helpful, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you complain the system is stacked against you and against people who share some of your characteristics–there’s some truth in that; but you have a choice between dwelling on that unfairness, or still trying your hardest to climb the mountain in spite of the handicap. Nothing is guaranteed, and maybe you’ll never get as high up it as you’d like, but odds are you’ll get a lot higher by obsessing on climbing as high as you can than by sitting at the bottom obsessing on how unfair your handicap is.

    I truly love my wife, but I doubt she and I are the best-suited couple for each other. In a more perfect world, she would have done better than me and I would have done better than her; in this vale of tears, we both settled for what we could get. And yet, I love our children to death, for being the exact people they are, and in a universe in which she or I or both of us “found a better match”, they would never have been born. And I look at them, and it doesn’t make all the pain I carry inside me any less painful, but it makes it worth it. I’d wish for it all again, just for them.

    Why don’t you try your best to wean yourself off this obsession with Scott, and direct it somewhere else? From the little I can see, you have been a rather large burden on his life. I know, with the objects of my obsessions, I always cared about them, and though I never burdened them intentionally, I sometimes did by accident–but as soon as it became clear to me that I had, I did my utmost to remove that burden, even at my own expense. If you directed that obsessiveness towards remedying your lack-of-real-life-friends and lack-of-relationship issues, I’m sure you can make some progress in those areas. Or if not that, there’s a million other things out there you could obsess over instead. Sometimes I imagine my obsessiveness as a great big ship in the ocean, and although it has a lot of momentum, and unseen currents push it around and about, if I try hard enough to steer it I can; if you try really hard to steer yours, maybe you’ll discover that you can too.

  70. Ilio Says:

    Against tenure, I’ll take that as: you deny making too strong opinions based on too little information. Let’s agree to disagree. Sorry I wasn’t gentle enough in saying that.

  71. manorba Says:

    against tenure #65: “Ilio/texasredneck #62 well played.”


  72. William Gasarch Says:

    Could SB 18 just be a stunt? That is, those who proposed it don’t even really want it to pass but it gives them street-cred with their base.

    Some pundits thought that was true of DeSantos Disney bill, though that ended up passing (I think) so even a stunt can get out of control.

  73. Jon Awbrey Says:

    As far as the tenure system goes, a little bit of history regurgitated will bring its rationale into focus.

    History of the AAUP

    In 1900 when noted economist Edward Ross lost his job at Stanford University because Mrs. Leland Stanford didn’t like his views on immigrant labor and railroad monopolies, other professors were watching. The incident stuck in the mind of Arthur O. Lovejoy, philosopher at Johns Hopkins. When he and John Dewey organized a meeting in 1915 to form an organization to ensure academic freedom for faculty members, the AAUP was born. “Academic freedom” was a new idea then.


    Without a tenure system there is no academic freedom, and without academic freedom universities as organs of free inquiry will simply wither and die.

  74. Scott Says:

    William Gasarch #72: Oh, I’m nearly certain that it is a “stunt,” in the sense that those pushing it mainly care that the Republican base sees the woke elitist professors getting owned and bitch-slapped, rather than that public universities in Texas actually get destroyed (which they’re more indifferent about). The trouble is that, as history shows, often “political stunts” pick up momentum that’s very hard to dissipate and lead to the horrible thing actually happening.

  75. manorba Says:

    Scott #74 Says:
    “The trouble is that, as history shows, often “political stunts” pick up momentum that’s very hard to dissipate and lead to the horrible thing actually happening.”

    another trouble is that, while once passed it can be circumvented or even just not applied, it is nonetheless a weapon that can be taken out of the arsenal and used any time from now on.


  76. gg Says:

    against tenure #63: sorry if my answer came across as rude; that was not my intention, but I did intend to forcefully challenge what I perceived as a rather blunt, generalizing comment (that implied that a large fraction of university professors are basically a bunch of lazy punks).
    That is not my experience (at universities in Europe, mostly D/AT/CH).

    I think that it’s obvious that the “fear of being fired” (or: “worry, that the contract might not be prolonged”) is exactly what ending tenure will produce and I suppose that’s what it’s meant to do. The “middle ground” that I see is to bring other incentives to play, e.g., making salaries, office space, funding for PhDs, teaching loads depend on performance criteria. But my impression (and I readily admit that this is no less anecdotal than the impressions you report) was/is not, that people were/are insufficiently motivated to do research, but rather that they had to spend too much time on administrative and project-writing and -evaluating duties. For teaching duties it was sometimes (but not often) different. An important reason for this is, I think, that both the employing institutions and one’s peers value teaching less than research. I would first try to change this be new/better targeted incentives (rewarding and recognizing success in teaching more) rather than threats (as is implied by ending tenure). I’d prefer to try positive incentives over negative ones.

  77. Real.AGI Says:



    I find it ironic that you seem to not think AI’s won’t make this worse and worse (listening to your recent podcast you posted). You seemed to be far too estranged from how your average person obtains information these days (maybe go live amongst normal folk for a bit)

    Part of the reason for the crazy partisan divide is how social media has siloed us more and more into information bubbles which turbo charge these backlashes and extreme policies on the left and right. Politicians have to respond to what their voters believe and not what the facts are.

    With upcoming AI (next 2-5 years), people can now live in their own generated information bubbles that have realistic articles, images, and videos from their “trusted” news sources.

    Image when Breitbart or OAN starts generating images and videos of UT students being kicked out of classes for being Christian or white, or mobs attacking some christian group on campus. Imagine the demands they will have of their elected officials?

    Good luck!

  78. John Says:

    Do all countries’ universities have tenure or something like it? If it arose in the US in the late 1800s/early 1900s, then it seems like there should be a lot of universities that don’t have it. Maybe we could look to see how they’re doing….

  79. stranger_just_left_TX Says:

    I just found your blog 10 minutes ago when I searched to see if any state has success in passing the law like this, and if any faculty from UT and/or Texas A&M has raised their voice.

    I got my degree from Texas and moved (to a blue state) for my postdoctoral training. I always think I want to live in Austin at least once but not sure after this news. It will be a couple years for me to decide but this news is super discouraging.

    I would like to know more, if you don’t mind explaining to me #61, point 3 about “another University of Florida”. Thanks!

  80. Why Tenure Says:

    Something I’ve never gotten a good answer for is what exactly tenure is protecting? It can’t be freedom to research anything as there are plenty of controversial ideas that if researched would result in an angry mob forcing the researcher off campus regardless of their tenure status.

    I don’t believe it will affect recruiting as there are already far too few tenure-track positions available for the number of qualified applicants. The alternative isn’t tenure at another university but rather at-will employment in the private sector or an adjunct position.

    To an outsider, the complaints about the removal of tenure seem like a bunch of out-of-touch ivory tower dwellers complaining about having to have an annual performance review, something which every other employee has had to do forever.

  81. Scott Says:

    Why Tenure #80: The answers to your questions are in the very post that you’re commenting on, if you care (as presumably you don’t). The point of tenure is that you can’t be arbitrarily fired—that the burden is on your employer to explain why you should be fired. This is needed if you want a functioning academic system at all, one of the central points of which is indeed to create a special class of people with the liberty to teach and think freely, without their livelihoods being held hostage over speaking unpopular truths.

  82. Jon Awbrey Says:

    Re: Why Tenure #80

    It’s just like labor unions, or child labor — sometimes things just have to go back to the way things were in the past before people realize it wasn’t the beneficence of the ruling class that made things better.

  83. Martin Berger Says:

    Regarding the need for tenure, it might be interesting to point out that the UK abolished tenure in 1988 with the introduction of the Education Reform Act [1]. This act abolished the formal tenure system, making it easier for universities to dismiss underperforming or redundant academic staff. Since then, UK universities have moved towards using permanent or open-ended contracts for their academic staff, which still offer a degree of job security but are not the same as tenure. These contracts may provide some stability, but they also include performance and conduct clauses, allowing universities to dismiss staff members who do not meet certain criteria. (In practise, it’s very rare for academics to get dismissed.)

    I’ll leave it to the audience to form their own opinion on the question whether UK has been doing reasonably well academically without tenure in the last 3 decades.

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_tenure#United_Kingdom

  84. Why Tenure Says:

    Scott #81:
    >The point of tenure is that you can’t be arbitrarily fired—that the burden is on your employer to explain why you should be fired.

    But you can be arbitrarily fired as a tenured employee, which defeats the entire stated point of its existence. People who are legitimately controversial, in that they strongly offend university administrators, their colleagues, and/or certain subsets of their students, can and have been fired despite being tenured because it is very easy to come up with a “legitimate” reason to fire someone you don’t like.

    You seem to be assuming that people against tenure are against academic freedom, but that’s not the case. If tenure fails to protect it, as the Senate and I feel it does, then it is just a guaranteed jobs program for a “special class of people” and therefore has no reason to exist. There are other and better ways to protect academic freedom besides granting jobs for life to a small minority of academics.

  85. Scott Says:

    Why Tenure #84: But tenure makes it harder. We see this even in the cases where tenured academics did get fired, like the Joshua Katz case in Princeton: they couldn’t fire him only for criticizing DEI, as they’d wanted to, but only for criticizing DEI and also having slept with an undergrad, with the latter given as the official reason even though (as we saw) insufficient for firing on its own. Meanwhile Steven Pinker, Geoffrey Miller, and many others who criticize Social Justice Fundamentalism retain their jobs, as they wouldn’t have in a system without tenure. This makes it particularly ironic that it’s the Republicans who want to eliminate tenure: which tenured professors, exactly, do they think university bureaucrats would fire if given the chance?

    On a personal level, taking away tenure means pulling the rug out from people who’ve planned their whole lives around the assumption that it would be available. If professors are just to be lower-paid contract workers who can be fired at will, then I (for example) should‘ve joined an industry lab or started my own company or something. If professors in Texas are just to be lower-paid contract workers—with my own tenure grandfathered in, but hiring good colleagues nearly impossible—then I shouldn’t have moved to Texas. Of course I’m going to fight the unilateral abrogation of a social contract that I agreed to.

  86. Contractor Says:

    It seems to me that research job security has been declining for a while and de facto seems hard to come by for younger PhD graduates like myself, regardless of whether it’s been de jure eliminated as proposed in Texas. A couple commenters like Jacques Distler #60 and Martin Berger #83 touched on this, but to give more detail:

    In academia, the main options I have are the many poorly paid non-tenure-track lecturer positions. There are relatively few tenure-track openings for someone with my background (a particular branch of engineering). As far as I’m concerned, tenure-track positions aren’t available to me at present. I think this is the case in most fields. (CS is growing rapidly, so the situation seems different there.)

    Last year I started working as a contractor at a DoD lab. There’s a clear hierarchy at this lab: at the top are federal scientists with tenure like protections (who tend to have been at the lab for a long time), and at the bottom are contractors who can be fired at any time (who tend to be newer). (My benefits are also much worse and I have to deal with a lot of extra bureaucracy.) There’s no clear path here to upgrade to a “permanent” position. So if I can’t then I’ll be looking elsewhere. For the moment, the DOE does still seem to offer “permanent” positions, but I’m not sure how for how much longer.

    Anyhow, given that research job security seems to be declining in general, I’m not sure that Texas eliminating tenure would be a big relative disadvantage. Other states might be inspired to eliminate tenure by Texas’ example as well.

  87. Dan T. Says:

    Aren’t the “anti-wokes” shooting themselves in the foot by passing laws banning tenure? It is in fact the existence of tenure that permits at least some academics, to some extent, to defy the woke orthodoxy in their universities and retain their jobs.

  88. Scott Says:

    Dan T. #87: You don’t say? 🙂

    Friends now tell me that SB 18 is unlikely to pass the House, in part because of understanding of some of the very points raised in this thread, and in part just because the House (with more representation from Texas’ metro areas) isn’t quite as rabidly right-wing as the Senate. I hope they’re right but will believe it when I see it!

  89. Boaz Barak Says:

    Just joining the thread now, but some high level points.
    There are two separate questions:

    1) is tenure necessary to the success of the US academic system as a whole

    2) Is tenure necessary to the success of the UT system

    The answer to 2 is certainly yes, if by “success” we mean continuing its status as one of the top state systems in the country, as opposed to becoming another University of Florida. There is no way UT Austin could have attracted anyone close to Scott’s caliber.

    I believe that the answer to 1 is also yes, based on the last century of American Universities. Like communism, abolishing tenure might work in theory but hasn’t been successful in practice.

  90. Austin Says:

    So I’ve seen a conundrum with tenure for a while.

    The universities I attended for both undergraduate and graduate school (both reputable public schools in Washington and California), there was a significant number of tenured professors that I would consider as just coasting – no longer really contributing to the field much, holding positions that new younger talent could take, being lazy about teaching and mentoring, etc.

    Yet, I believe we do want the protections for academic freedom and freedom of speech you mention in the posts here too.

    Possibly we need some stricter rules around performance (over multiple years), although I could see that being abused to silence people too without defining performance well.

  91. Shion Arita Says:

    @Jelmer Renema #68 This is actually one of the most important points here.

    Of course all the free speech stuff is important too, but the main issue really gets at the deeper underlying thing.

    People speaking unpopular truths, or getting scientific results that go against the sacred cows are the minority of what tenure is supposed to protect against. Academic research is supposed to be highly speculative and novel. You know that saying “half of your advertising dollars are wasted, but you can’t know which half?” well, that goes double or more for scientifc research. Without tenure everyone’s actions would be put under scrutiny by the bureaucracy, and performance reviewed etc. And then there would be an even more mad quest to try to find the people who ‘perform’ the best. I don’t know how I could operate if my research projects were put under the pressure of having to actually work. If you don’t know what research is like it might sound tempting to say “yeah, force everyone to actually do stuff that works or they lose their jobs. fuck those academics that keep producing garbage theories”. but doing things that haven’t been done before is HARD. it is harder than anything else in a lot of ways, it’s hard to the extent that NO ONE can actually do it reliably and consistently. And that’s not even anyone’s fault. I once saw a post by someone saying that they finished their PhD in ~5 years, but if they only did the things that actually worked, it would have taken 6 months.

    If you put people under that kind of ‘pressure to perform’, 2 things will happen: first, fewer people will be interested in academic research, because they know they will have to constantly try to appease the idiotic evaluators, and optimize for being uncriticizeable rather than right. Second, the research that is done will be playing it extremely safe and therefore not very productive.

    Now, the whole grant funding system has messed this up pretty good already, but getting rid of tenure will make it even worse.

  92. Ilio Says:

    Shion Arita #91,

    Very well said, but you let us with only a teaser for the question that matters the most in practice*: how do you think we should distribute ressources without significant (and increasing) loss in researchers trying to overfit the system?

    *crazy legislators can break things, but in the long run they tend to lose their focus faster than academics

  93. starspawn0 Says:

    Texas may be a special case, but in other parts of the U.S., in addition to the politicization of “tenure”, there is also what seems to be a “corporatization” of higher education, one aspect of which is the watering down and/or removing of tenure. You also get things like:

    * Class sizes get larger and larger in order to cut costs. At the same time, new requirements are added — more things are required to be added to the syllabus; students are now allowed to test out of some classes and get dumped onto existing sections during their final exams; standardization of exams across sections; new types of TAs to manage; etc. More postdocs are hired, and in fact schools become dependent on postdocs to teach all the courses (at low cost).

    * Yearly performance evaluation (research, teaching, service) is now based on a Linkert scale and continuance of employment is dependent on scores being above a certain level across like five categories (beyond just the broad categories of research, teaching, and service). If performance is below par in even one category it triggers a meeting and possible termination of employment (after one or two more years of below par).

    * Yearly “compliance training” where you’re required to watch hours and hours of videos about cybersecurity, school values, sexual harassment, data security, ethics training, conflict of interest training, etc. (The school “core values” seem to shift from year to year. One year they’re maybe “excellence, community, integrity, and tolerance,” presented as though those were always the values and always will be the core values; and then the next year they are “excellence, respect, honesty, and accountability,” again presented as though those were always the core values and always will be and you better learn them!)

    * More and more school-wide meetings in which to read and respond to draft documents that seem more what you expect in a corporate board meeting, law firm, or Congress than in a university. There are more and more calls for faculty to become “managers” and help sort out the ever growing bureaucratic demands of the school. The documents are dry and impossible to read without falling asleep.

    * In order to cut costs and centralize control of the myriad websites in the university system, a super-portal is created and now all business, health insurance, retirement, grant access, and everything else, is handled through that one portal-to-rule-them-all. Unfortunately, it creates massive inefficiencies, as it requires following a maze of menus to get to each little thing one wants to access — e.g. getting your health insurance records requires clicking through about 7 menus. The decentralized approach used previously was far more efficient.

    * Email is becoming more and more centralized. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a couple years (if it hasn’t already happened) emails are also fed into a large language model and scores for compliance, professionalism, etc. are computed on the spot and added to yearly performance evaluations.

  94. Daniel Says:

    Probably I’m not good at reading legal text, but I have difficulties understanding what SB 18 says exactly in a technical sense. It seems to abolish tenure track and calls every (assistant/associate) professor tenured (see 4(a)(4) on page 2), probably with performance evaluations. The word “tenured” remains in the text at several places (probably now with a watered down meaning). But (a) on page 1 explicitly states that institutes cannot grant tenure. Isn’t this a contradiction? Or legal texts should not be read this way?

  95. CB Says:

    Scott #51.

    This is now getting off topic, but I was somewhat puzzled by this:

    “Any victory for one side increases, rather than decreases, the power of the other—as we saw (for example) when Trump’s election in 2016 turbocharged the illiberal left, exactly as Scott Alexander had predicted, or when Twitter banning the Babylon Bee led to Elon Musk’s right-wing takeover of Twitter. In such cases, the only way forward is for sane people to smash the power of both sides.”

    Sure, Trump was going to trigger the other tribe. That was the whole point, as his base is otherwise powerless.

    But hasn’t Elon Musk just uniformly let more people say more things on Twitter than under the previous regime, or has his policy about who gets to say what had a clear political valence? Do you want to smash the power of Elon Musk? How to go about that, practically? I don’t even have a dog in this this fight. I just don’t get what you are saying here.

  96. Rahul Nandkishore Says:

    Off topic, but why the disdain for the University of Florida? I don’t know how it is in computer science but there are some very fine physicists at both UF and FSU…indeed I would view all of UT, TAMU, UF and FSU as roughly peer institutions.

  97. Scott Says:

    Rahul #96: I have only respect for people at UF who are fighting the good fight! Alas, since Ron DeSantis’s moves to dismantle academic freedom at Florida universities, most academics gave up on any real future for academia in that state. It would be a major loss to the world if the same were to happen with Texas universities.

  98. Scott Says:

    CB #95: Musk’s rule of Twitter has been erratic, like the rule of a hyperactive 8-year-old, but it’s infamously included bans of people who linked to Substack, who defended others who linked to the location of Musk’s plane, or who did countless other things to upset Elon Musk … thereby proving to any disinterested observer that the takeover was never actually about free speech, but only about free speech for Musk himself and the people he likes.

  99. fred Says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s also a result of the GOP playing along with Trumpistan’s general contempt for experts, science, and knowledge in general (“I’ve never read a single book and I’m proud of it!”), of course getting even worse during the covid crisis… and colleges/universities, as institutions of knowledge, are just a low hanging fruit for all this BS, and wokeness is really just an extra excuse making the fruit look even lower and juicier.

  100. fred Says:

    So, on the left we have people wanting to take down institutions of knowledge because they get in the way of equality of outcome…
    and on the right we have people wanting to take down institutions of knowledge because all you need to be successful in every situation is to follow your own intuition.

  101. Scott Says:

    fred #100: Couldn’t have said it better.

  102. CB Says:

    Scott #98

    I don’t care about Musk or Twitter one way or the other (I got kicked off before Musk took over and can’t be bothered to return), but the first google hit that I get following up on your claim suggests an alternative motive for Twitter’s substack policy, namely professional rivalry:


    Now, you may very well want to argue that this alternative motive is itself a major problem and that Twitter should be nationalized and treated as a public utility with some very clearly defined rules about what can and cannot be said, but then it would do well to make that argument rather than to turn it into a question of crushing the power of a private businessman, who in the current legal circumstances is under no obligation to let anyone say anything. Note that both your points and mine apply also to the previous Twitter regime. If you’ve discovered a new symmetry breaking phenomenon in nature, it would be interesting to see it articulated.

    If it’s not too rude for your virtual living room, may I suggest that you are too prone to what Tyler Cowen calls “mood affiliation”, especially when it comes to online tribal warfare? Before you start complaining how right-wing someone is, you might want to take a representative sample of mankind, in both space and time.

  103. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Brief Update on Texan Tenure Says:

    […] blogged a few weeks ago about SB 18, a bill that would end tenure at Texas public universities, including […]

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