Bill Ending Tenure at State College System Clears House Subcommittee
Around the State
A proposal that would pull the plug on multiyear contracts for new state college and community college faculty members and administrators advanced through the House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee Tuesday on a party-lines vote.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the chairman of the subcommittee, relinquished the gavel to present the bill to the committee. He insisted that only employees at the 28 schools in the State College System -- and not universities -- would be impacted by the proposal.
The measure would impact all new hires -- save college presidents -- after July 1, moving them to one-year contracts as opposed to multiyear contracts.
Fresen’s legislation would also move the State College System into line with the teacher performance pay measure passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott earlier in the month. The measure would set up assessments for instructors and administrators -- and abolish seniority as a factor when employment cuts are made.
“I look at that system as one that has to be a lot more responsive to real world scenarios in real world time,” insisted Fresen, who pointed toward the increased enrollment in those schools due to the economy.
Fresen maintained that he spoke to college administrators and that this measure would help them respond to the changing education marketplace.
“We’re trying to figure out … how we can make their jobs easier with less and truly respond to the environment that they’re in,” said Fresen, who said that college presidents and administrators were “handcuffed” by the current system.
Democrats on the subcommittee expressed their opposition to Fresen’s proposal.
“Post-secondary institutions rely on academic freedom and tenure as a means for recruiting,” said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, who had led Democratic opposition to the earlier teacher performance pay reforms.
Bullard insisted that abolishing tenure would lead to less professors with terminal degrees -- which could prove very harmful to schools facing accreditation reviews from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). He also insisted that the state would face competition from private traditional institutions and for-profit colleges as well as universities and colleges in other states for talented young faculty. “In order for us to recruit the best potential candidates to be professors … we can’t pass a bill like this.”
Democrats pointed out that community college professors had not weighed in on the matter.
“There are entities that this bill would directly effect who have not had a chance to vet this bill … to give it the cursory overview it should have,” said Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach.
Republicans generally praised the measure and defended it, much as they had the teacher performance pay law.
“Do we want a state college system that is focused on the students or the instructional personnel?” demanded Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. She added that she found the debate to be a rehash of the debate over the teacher performance pay measure, calling it “déjà vu.”
But some of the Republicans on the subcommittee also had concerns with the proposal.
“It seems to me we’re looking to put a pretty heavy burden on the administration,” said Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Milton, who called for giving more power to the college’s boards of trustees. While Broxson backed Fresen’s measure, he said that the bill could be strengthened as it continues to go through committee by giving more control to the boards at the local level.
Ed Mitchell, the executive director of the United Faculty of Florida which is affiliated with the Florida Educational Association and the AFL-CIO, spoke out against Fresen’s proposal. Noting that there were 5,700 full-time faculty in the State College System and more than 18,000 adjunct instructors, Mitchell, a former professor at Hillsborough Community College, defended the current system, maintaining it helped preserve active freedom.
“Tenure is a continuing contract,” Mitchell said, and added that tenured faculty can still be dismissed for just cause. “It is not a job for life.”
Mitchell also pointed to the origins of Florida Gulf Coast University which was initially set up with one-year contracts. He maintained that the instability that resulted led to changes, with faculty contracts now moved to a three-year contract. He drew on his experience in the system, noting that presidents and administrators came and went.
“The stability that always existed at my college was the faculty, the full-time tenured faculty,” said Mitchell, who maintained that the measure would hurt students and faculty across the state.
Representatives from the business community spoke in favor of the measure. “We should reward productivity and performance and not just seniority,” said Jose Gonzalez, a vice president with Associated Industries of Florida (AIF).
While the measure is headed to further committees in the House, its fate in the Senate remains unknown as no member has stepped up to sponsor it. However, as Fresen said in his closing remarks, the bill has just emerged and there remains work to do.
“We just started the conversation today,” said Fresen, who added he hoped that input would continue as the bill continued to wind its way through the legislative process.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.