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Monday, February 06, 2023
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Battle looms for faculty tenure review across Florida

UF Faculty Senate to vote on a resolution to delay implementation of new state policy

In January, the Florida Board of Governors will decide whether to adopt a regulation that would institute a tenure review every five years for faculty at Florida public universities. 

The United Faculty of Florida union, which represents 25,000 faculty members and 8,000 graduate students across the state’s 12 public institutions, has signaled the regulation — called 10.003 — in its current form would be a blow to academic freedom and faculty job security. The Board of Governors, on the other hand, say it’s a way to ensure the best educators are tenured and to reward faculty who deserve recognition.

Faculty at UF already go through a post-tenure review process — the Sustained Performance Evaluation Program (SPEP). Every seven years, faculty members are evaluated by their department chair, their dean and the university provost. 

The 10.003 proposal would replace UF’s SPEP with a statewide program where faculty go through a review every five years, their tenure status is determined by requirements such as history of professional conduct, accomplishment and productivity in their assigned duties, and adherence to state law, among others.

Pamela Gilbert, a UF English professor, said based on her experience in academic tenure reviews, the new regulation is likely politically motivated.

“It's redundant and pointless except for its sort of political content,” Gilbert said. “It basically takes power away from faculty governance, which is bad for the academic standing of the university.”

Gilbert pointed out a specific provision of 10.003 that stipulates a review of a “faculty member’s non-compliance with state law; Board of Governors’ regulations; and university regulations and policies.”

It's already expected for faculty to obey the law, and it seems likely that the real issue at play is about free speech, she said.

Although the review requirements state a faculty member’s ideological and political viewpoints aren’t to be considered or discriminated against, violation of a state law such as House Bill 7 — known colloquially as the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act — could jeopardize a professor’s tenure status.

HB 7, which hinges on controversial topics like academic freedom and curriculum related to topics like injustice and racism, is currently held up in court — a judge issued a temporary injunction against it in November.

The law’s language is vague, Gilbert said. She fears it could further complicate faculty uncertainty about what kind of curriculum they’re able to put forward.

Tim Cerio, chair of the BOG’s committee on academic and student affairs and a supporter of the BOG’s regulation, said its primary purposes were to crackdown on faculty he said were serial nonperformers or guilty of misconduct and incompetence. With a uniform, statewide system, Cerio said, it would be much easier to remove offending faculty members.

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“It should not be easy to terminate a tenured faculty member,” Cerio said, stressing that faculty found to not be in accordance with the post-tenure review would be put on a performance improvement plan. 

Faculty who fail to follow the plan's recommendations would be subject to termination, Cerio said. 

Andrew Gothard, statewide President of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) union, said he’s also concerned about language specifying faculty must follow state law as part of their tenure review. 

It would allow the state to target faculty who violated laws that infringe on academic freedom, he said, and it represents an attempt to inject politics into tenure and higher education.

“This post-tenure review regulation has a lot of very disturbing language in it,” Gothard said. “That indicates that the intention of the Board of Governors is not to improve tenure or to improve the higher education system, but it is to target and harm faculty.”

The state’s new post-tenure review was born out of Senate Bill 7044 in April. 

Initially, the education bill was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, to regulate the accreditation policy of Florida public universities and to require information on textbooks and instructional materials from schools to be posted 45 days in advance to the beginning of class and kept public for five years.

But Diaz filed an amendment the day before the bill’s floor vote that would allow the BOG to mandate a uniform post-tenure review for the entire state — a process usually decided upon by the individual institutions. 

In June, Diaz became Florida’s Education Commissioner after an appointment by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Gothard noted the bill only allowed the BOG to create a new post-tenure review; it didn’t mandate a new process. Institutions like UF already have a public SPEP-or-equivalent process, he said, which are negotiated by local faculty and administrators according to the institution’s conditions and goals.

He pointed to language in the regulation that would give ultimate power in tenure to a university’s “chief academic officer,” rather than a traditional system of shared governance. This officer would be able to reject the recommendations of deans and department chairs.

Cerio wasn’t sure why the language in regulation doesn’t specify a provost, he said.

“When I think of a provost, I think of the chief academic officer,” Cerio said. “And I think that's the case at almost every university.”

Cerio, a supporter of the BOG’s regulation, said its primary purposes were to crackdown on faculty he said were serial nonperformers, or guilty of misconduct and incompetence. With a uniform, statewide system, Cerio said, it would be much easier to remove offending faculty members.

A 10.003 draft was circulated to provosts and general counsels in the Florida university system, Cerio said. Through a UF spokesperson, the provost’s office declined to comment on its role in the final, proposed draft.

UFF plans to fight the proposal through public comment and coordinate with affiliates and allies at the university level, Gothard said.

“We know that faculty members across the state who have been involved in Faculty Senate and other sorts of shared governance, chaired governing bodies at institutions have been submitting their concerns and asking the Board of Governors to change direction,” Gothard said.

In an email to faculty on Nov. 30, Senate Faculty Chair Amanda Phalin said Senate leadership feels the best course of action for the BOG is to delay implementation of 10.003 until it has received appropriate input from faculty statewide and studied potential impact on recruitment and retention of faculty.

If implemented correctly, Cerio said 10.003 could actually aid in recruitment, whereby it rewards good faculty members appropriately while firing incompetent ones.

“If we do this the right way,” he said, “I think it could be seen as a tool to recruit.”

The Faculty Senate will meet Dec. 6 to consider a resolution that states the redundancy of 10.003 and calls for the BOG not adopt it until four changes are made — the addition of a statement that supports academic freedom and tenure and identification of funding sources for post-tenure positive performance compensation.

While Phalin is glad the regulation includes language to additionally compensate faculty for their performance and of Cerio’s assurance that the intention of the new regulation is to reward faculty, she said she remains hesitant. 

“The regulation itself, and the legislation that started that regulation, doesn't include any additional funding for this extra compensation,” Phalin said.

The report the BOG staff provided to the state of Florida says there is zero revenue impact of the regulation, Phalin noted, which means there’s no money currently attached to 10.003.

Cerio agreed the funding to reward faculty needed to be clearer but also said the appropriation wouldn’t be attached to this policy bill.

“Once the rules go into effect and the universities adopt their criteria, we've got to get ready to session to try and figure out what the need is and help the universities get it,” Cerio said.

The importance for tenure, Phalin said, is for academic freedom — something she plans on making a case for through her seat on the UF Board of Trustees.

“A lot of people think that you get tenure just so you can have this permanent consequence-free job for life, and that's not what it's about at all,” Phalin said. “It's academic freedom to research and write controversial topics, but it's also about the academic freedom to innovate.”

Phalin emphasized that with tenure, faculty can take the necessary amount of time that their research requires.

“What tenure does is it takes the annual pressure off of researchers to constantly produce articles and research, and it allows them the freedom to take the time to make really big discoveries and to really innovate,” Phalin said.

The UF Faculty Senate meeting to discuss their potential resolution will take place Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. at the Reitz Union Auditorium.

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Christian Casale

Christian is a fourth-year history major. In the past, he’s served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Valencia Voice. He now covers the University Administration for the Alligator. In his free time he likes reading and nodding along to Bruce Springsteen songs.


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