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Post-tenure review regulation for Florida university professors approved

“Until recently, faculty saw themselves as part of the success of the system,” a USF professor said.
 
The University of South Florida on March 23, 2023, in Tampa.
The University of South Florida on March 23, 2023, in Tampa. [ ALEXANDRA URBAN | Times ]
Published March 29, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — The state university system’s Board of Governors on Wednesday gave final approval to a regulation that would require faculty members to undergo post-tenure reviews every five years, amid heavy opposition from critics who argued it could lead to a “downward trend in morale” on campus.

The regulation stems from a 2022 higher-education law (SB 7044) that also made changes such as requiring colleges and universities to change accreditors at the end of each accreditation cycle. But the tenure-review portion of the law has generated controversy, as opponents contend that review processes already exist — and that the review revamp sends the wrong message to faculty.

“Until recently, faculty saw themselves as part of the success of the system,” Deanna Michael, a member of the board who also is a professor at the University of South Florida, said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Michael pointed to promising metrics such as increasing graduation rates within the university system. But despite such successes, professors are “seeing and hearing” that there is “doubt on their achievement,” she said.

“Now the faculty feel as though they’re being pushed away,” Michael added.

Noting that university-level reviews already exist, Michael and other opponents of the tenure changes have questioned why the new regulation is needed. Michael and the board’s student member, Nimna Gabadage, were the only members of the 16-member board who voted against the regulation on Wednesday.

Under the new process, department chairs, college deans and universities’ chief academic officers would conduct professors’ tenure reviews.

Reviews would take into account several factors, including “the level of accomplishment and productivity relative to the faculty member’s assigned duties” in areas such as research and teaching.

Also factoring into the reviews would be “substantiated” student complaints and a “faculty member’s non-compliance with state law, Board of Governors’ regulations, and university regulations and policies.”

Outcomes of the tenure reviews are designed to lead to “recognition and compensation considerations” for positive reviews, and “consequences for underperformance,” which would include firing if a professor received an “unsatisfactory” rating.

Faculty members who receive a rating of “does not meet expectations” would be subject to a process that would include the development of a performance improvement plan. Faculty who do not meet the requirements of an improvement plan would face termination.

State university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, a former Republican state senator who took the helm of the system in September, was a sponsor of the measure that led to the new tenure-review process. Rodrigues acknowledged that every institution in Florida has post-tenure review, but defended the new regulation.

“We’ve got more than 25 years of data, and we know that adopting post-tenure review did not stop people — highly talented faculty members — from coming to the state of Florida. And I can say that with conviction, because we just heard from 10 or 15 of them,” Rodrigues said, referring to the number of people — mostly professors and students — who spoke against the changes during Wednesday’s meeting.

Rodrigues also argued that the new process is geared toward making tenure reviews uniform across universities.

“This is a policy that has been well-developed and will serve the institution, will serve the system, and I believe ultimately will serve our faculty and our students well,” Rodrigues added.

Board of Governors Vice Chairman Eric Silagy also backed the regulation, calling it “fair and objective.”

But the United Faculty of Florida union has fiercely objected to the tenure-review changes. The new regulation will turn tenure into a “five-year revolving contract,” union president Andrew Gothard, who is a Florida Atlantic University professor, told the board on Wednesday.

“Just a few moments ago, Chancellor Rodrigues reminded us that the state university system is No. 1 in the country. But if you pass this regulation, Florida’s university system will go from the most competitive in the country to the least,” warned Gothard.

With the 2023 legislative session currently underway, state lawmakers are poised to make additional changes to tenure in Florida.

A controversial higher-education bill (HB 999) that is moving through the legislative process would, in part, authorize the Board of Governors to adopt a regulation requiring tenured faculty to undergo tenure-review “at any time for cause.”

The measure is largely designed to carry out Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at state colleges and universities.

Alexis Dorman, a sophomore at Florida State University, mentioned the bill as she addressed the board on Wednesday.

“Revising what constitutes post-tenure faculty review is harmful. It is one of the many reasons why students oppose House Bill 999, and why we are here speaking in public comment today. Those who teach in higher-education are looking for security and the freedom to teach rigorous and insightful courses,” Dorman said.

As further changes to tenure loom, Michael said the process adopted Wednesday is chipping away at faculty morale.

“That the BOG (Board of Governors) believes such regulation, with instructions down to the chairs’ level, is necessary, has increased the downward trend in morale,” Michael said.

by Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida