Many higher education faculty members in Texas are not happy with their institutions, according to recently released survey results. While some El Paso faculty agreed with the bleak conclusions, others took issue with the findings.

The statewide survey of more than 1,900 faculty from public and private colleges and universities found that almost two-thirds would warn out-of-state colleagues to veer away from Texas, and more than a quarter said they planned to seek different jobs during this academic year. Most would want to work in California, New York or Colorado.

The American Association of University Professors-Texas and the Texas Faculty Association released the results of their study in early September. It was conducted in August 2023 via email and social media. Among the main reasons that respondents gave for their desire to leave their institutions were political climate (56.8%), salaries (52.9%) and academic freedom (48.1%), which is autonomy from censorship by government or the institution.

Under the umbrella of political climate and academic freedom were concerns about tenure, diversity, equity and inclusion, LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive/abortion access. Several laws were passed during this year’s 88th Texas Legislature that restricted those issues. Legislators also seriously considered a higher education censorship bill, which was passed by the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives.

A couple of tenure-track professors from the University of Texas at El Paso shared their opinions about the survey results. Both requested anonymity.  

A Liberal Arts instructor, who asked to use they/their pronouns, participated in the survey. They said that they understood the results, but noted that UTEP and El Paso are different from the rest of the state, and lean more ideologically toward western states such as California. They  share that perspective with job candidates as well as the untapped potential of UTEP students.

The professor also noted that the main reasons faculty gave in the survey to leave Texas seemed the inverse of their UTEP colleagues who were more interested in cost of living and contract issues. They know faculty who have left for those reasons, but also for lack of research money and time allowances to conduct research to the extent that other universities do.

For their part, they caution out-of-state colleagues about Texas institutions that might align more with the politics in Austin, but they do not sugar coat UTEP’s faults. The professor said that they tell colleagues that UTEP salaries and faculty support in liberal arts is low. A September 2023 ZipRecruiter graph showed that Texas ranked 48th for average college professor salaries.

They said administration promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics and neglects the liberal arts even though its departments and programs teach the vast majority of the core curricular requirements.

“There’s a feeling that the university doesn’t respect us and doesn’t see any value in us, but (UTEP) can’t be an R1 university without us,” they said. R1 universities conduct innovative research and are backed by substantial federal and private funding. “I’m here for the short term, and I’m keeping my options open.”

Another tenured UTEP professor dismissed the survey results. He said they were biased by self-selection. He said that faculty members who are dissatisfied with their job or the state’s political climate were more likely to respond.

The professor recounted how colleagues from other states and countries were curious about Texas’ political environment during a recent academic conference, and noted how the state’s image has shifted negatively, and wrongly so in his opinion. He said that he reviewed the new policies and does not expect any major changes to tenure or DEI, and does not think they should affect a professor’s decision to work in Texas.

“We are an attractive market for candidates because the state just recently allocated a surplus for higher education ($5 billion over the next two years), we don’t have an income tax, (and) we have a growing economy,” the professor said. He later added, “The weather also helps.”

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. (Photo courtesy of TTUHSCEP)

El Paso Matters asked representatives from UTEP, El Paso Community College and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso to comment about the recent survey results. The only response was a statement from Texas Tech.

“Recruiting and retaining top-tier faculty are essential to achieving our mission of educating the next generation of health care leaders,” the statement read. “We have and will continue to provide pathways to maintain a culture of excellence that allows our faculty to grow professionally and to effectively serve our Borderplex community.” 

Researchers sent comparable surveys to professors in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, and the results were similar to those from Texas.

“These findings serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, administrators, employers, and other concerned citizens, emphasizing the urgent need to address the concerns raised by faculty members,” the researchers wrote in their Sept. 6 press release. “Failure to do so may result in a significant exodus of faculty, challenges attracting academic talent, and an overall decline in the quality of higher education (with a corresponding economic decline) in Texas together with Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida.”

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus. He has written on military and higher education issues in El Paso for more than 30 years.