- Leaders of Florida’s public universities are objecting to a proposed system that would evaluate tenured faculty members every five years, arguing elements of it are vague and that it duplicates existing policies.
- The State University System of Florida issued a draft regulation that would set up the evaluations, called post-tenure reviews. A recently passed state law allows system officials to require post-tenure reviews.
- The system solicited feedback from its 12 universities first. Its governing board then voted this week to put forth the proposed rules for broader public comment for a month. The board is due to finalize the policy at its next meeting at the end of January.
National attention turned to Florida’s legislature earlier this year when it passed the law enabling post-review systems. That same law also mandated Florida public colleges switch accreditors every cycle, which tend to run every five to 10 years.
Critics said the accreditor requirement would burden institutions, as changing accreditors is a complex undertaking that can span years.
Now, the public system is taking advantage of the tenure-related piece of the law by trying to institute post-tenure reviews. These reviews are controversial, as faculty groups argue they undermine the entire point of tenure, which is to offer lifelong protection to engage in even potentially unpopular scholarship.
The proposed review process would look at faculty members’ “level of accomplishment and productivity” and account for whether they violated laws, engaged in misconduct, were absent from their assigned classes or were the subject of student complaints.
Tenure critics have said institutions, not just those in Florida, have trouble firing tenured professors, even when they perform poorly or infringe on policy.
Post-tenure reviews would not factor in faculty members’ political or ideological viewpoints, the draft policy states. Once an evaluation concludes, a university would assign a professor one of four rankings: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, does not meet expectations, or unsatisfactory.
If tenured professors earn a “does not meet expectations,” then officials would place them in a performance improvement plan. A chief academic officer would be able to fire them if they then failed to meet the plans’ expectations.
Faculty who receive an “unsatisfactory” would be immediately dismissed.
The system says the proposed rules would bring consistency to post-tenure reviews, though its universities appear to disagree.
Campus-level officials drafted written feedback on the policies, which a system spokesperson provided to Higher Ed Dive.
Teresa Wilcox, associate provost of academic personnel at Florida Atlantic University, brought up concerns that terminating a poorly performing faculty member lacks due process. Wilcox also wrote that performance plans should involve incremental steps and have attainable goals.
The firing aspect of the proposed policy would require union bargaining, wrote Karen Patterson, provost and vice president of academic and student affairs at the University of North Florida.
Jenifer Jasinski Schneider, a literacy studies professor at the University of South Florida, wrote the institution already annually performs a review of tenured and nontenured instructors “that incorporates the indicators and processes included” in the proposed policy.
Schneider expressed concerns the regulation would put chief academic officers in positions of unilateral power, as they would be the ones to make recommendations on promotions and salary increases after post-tenure reviews.
She said the intent of the regulation seems to be to eliminate tenure altogether, writing that the policy “is punitive, discriminatory, and conflicts with other contracts/regulations and eliminates due process.”
If lawmakers passed the bill allowing these flawed reviews, then “what stops them from introducing even more legislation to dictate what we research, how we teach, and whether what we do counts from their point of view?,” Schneider wrote.