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Friday, July 01, 2022

Professors fear new tenured law will hurt Florida’s quality of education

A recently signed Florida bill will allow the opportunity for official review of tenured professors

<p>English teacher Cassidy Klein is seen teaching inside the A. Quinn Jones Center on Thursday, Jan. 20. </p>

English teacher Cassidy Klein is seen teaching inside the A. Quinn Jones Center on Thursday, Jan. 20.

UF professors are concerned about Senate Bill 7044, a new bill that allows an institute’s Board of Trustees to require post-tenure reviews every five years. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law April 19; it will take effect July 1.

Tenured professors, who have been granted permanent employment at their university, cannot be fired without cause until they decide to leave on their own accord. Hessy Fernandez, UF’s director of strategic communications, wrote in an email the law does not affect what defines tenure and does not create a cemented system for post-tenure review. Rather, it suggests the Board of Governors may develop regulation regarding post-tenure review should they wish, she wrote. 

The university will look over its post-tenure review process after the Board of Governors provides recommendations on how to do so, she wrote. 

Anna Peterson, a 58-year-old UF religion professor, said professors aren’t paid or appreciated enough to stay somewhere that doesn’t give them enough credit.

“We do it because we love it,” Peterson said. “We don’t do it because we’re making a million bucks a year.”

Peterson said tenured professors are constantly reviewed by peers and students, and she completes annual activity reports around 15 pages long. 

“I’m already reviewed,” she said. “The point is, I’m not reviewed by the legislation. And I’m not reviewed by Ron DeSantis, who does not understand my research and my teaching and does not understand what tenure means.”

Peterson highlighted the academic freedom that tenure gives professors. She said being tenured gives her the confidence to address difficult topics without fear of being punished. 

Stephen Craig, a 73-year-old professor in the department of political science, knows he will not be teaching in five years but acknowledged the law could present issues if not carefully controlled and regulated.

“Given where the law came from and the words of the people who supported it, I think we have quite a lot to be worried about,” Craig said.

He said the law has potential to be used as a right-wing weapon. He said he feared professors could be punished for not being conservative. Craig said these conditions could hurt the university’s ability to recruit more professors.

“There’s no question that the University of Florida will have trouble attracting and keeping good faculty,” Craig said. “People just won’t want to come here under these political circumstances.”

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He said professors should not be worried about being reviewed if they have done their job and remained productive. Some tenured professors have not remained as active as they were before they were tenured, according to Craig. He said he does not fear an objective review because he is an active researcher for the university. 

Lamiya Kudrati, a 21-year-old political science senior, felt it would be best for the Board of Trustees to not get heavily involved.

“The less interference they have on our professors, the better, in my opinion,” she said. “Given that it’s only five years, I just don’t see how that’s beneficial to the school or to the professors, especially if they get reviewed every year anyway.”

Kudrati noticed a different approach in teaching from tenured professors compared to non-tenure professors and lecturers. She said in her experience, tenured professors have been more laid back, while other professors seem to be more by-the-book.

Though she sees tenure being a detriment if professors don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, this concern has not presented her with issues in the past. She said the tenured professors she interacted with have taken their jobs seriously enough to earn the title.

Stephanie Smith, a 63-year-old English professor, said she could see less students coming to the university to pursue degrees. She wouldn’t send her children to UF because she feels the school would lack academic freedom compared to schools across the country.

“So my question back to the governor would be: is the goal to simply get rid of UF?” Smith said.

Contact Kyle Bumpers at kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.

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