- A Florida university system policy that would evaluate tenured faculty members every five years and was chugging toward governing board approval will not receive a vote this week after drawing more than 1,300 public comments.
- A vote was anticipated at its meeting this week. Faculty balked at the State University System of Florida’s proposed post-tenure review system, saying it duplicates other policies and undermines tenure protections.
- System spokesperson Renee Fargason said in an email she doesn’t know when the board of governors will vote on the plan. She did not answer why the board is not taking up the vote this week.
Higher education news has poured out of Florida lately, with some observers lamenting state elected officials' unusually high degree of involvement in public colleges’ operations. Conservative lawmakers who perceive institutions as having liberal bias have ramped up scrutiny of colleges across the country, but even so, Florida stands out.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and presumed 2024 presidential candidate, has made education a centerpiece of his political platform.
A court ruling in November has temporarily halted one of DeSantis’ signature laws, known as the Stop WOKE Act, which would restrict faculty and staff from discussing certain race- and gender-related topics in K-12 schools and colleges. More recently, DeSantis asked the state's 12 public universities to detail gender-affirming treatments they have provided to transgender people, as well as how much they spend on diversity initiatives. Diversity initiatives totaled $35 million, according to university responses.
The law concerning accreditation also allows colleges to set up post-tenure reviews. The university system drafted a proposed policy structuring reviews, which it put out for public comment in November.
That process would examine faculty members’ “level of accomplishment and productivity” and factor in whether they violated laws, were the subject of student complaints, were absent from classes or had other misconduct on their records.
After a review concludes, a university would assign a faculty member one of four rankings: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, does not meet expectations, or unsatisfactory.
Tenured professors who earn a “does not meet expectations” designation would be placed on a performance improvement plan. A chief academic officer could then fire faculty members who failed to meet the plans’ terms.
Faculty with an “unsatisfactory” rating would be fired immediately.
The system says the proposed rules would create consistency for post-tenure reviews.
But they are deeply unpopular among faculty and administrators. whose criticism emerged in public comments.
Jonathan Fink, an English professor at the University of West Florida, obtained the comments in a public records request and provided them to Higher Ed Dive. He said in an email “that the breadth and number of these comments is highly unusual for a proposed regulation.”
Many of the commenters said they were faculty who were concerned the policy would dissuade talented professors from taking jobs at Florida universities. Some critiques came from students and university alumni, however.
Andrew Gothard, an English professor at Florida Atlantic University and president of United Faculty of Florida, said in an email he assumes the board will vote on the policy at its March meeting. Its February meeting is entirely virtual and “would not allow for adequate public comment on the issue,” Gothard said.
Fink said he’s pleased that in the immediate future the board is backing away from the policy.
Florida’s system isn’t the only one to push through unpopular tenure rules. The University System of Georgia adopted similar tenure policies in 2021, which earned it an American Association of University Professors censure. The censure has no formal consequences, but intends to signal that an institution does not support academic freedom.
Lawmakers have also stepped in on tenure issues, expressing concerns that it permits some faculty to perform poorly without consequence. Tenure, typically a lifetime appointment, is designed to safeguard scholars’ research, including on potentially unpopular topics. It allows faculty to be dismissed for cause, and United Faculty of Florida says the state university system already evaluates faculty performance.