DeSantis signs bill limiting tenure at public Florida universities


Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill that makes it harder for state college professors to retain tenure, framing the legislation as another way he and the legislature are working to keep educators out of bring their political views to class.

At a high-profile press conference at The Villages that made waves on Twitter and alleged that textbook editors were peddling hidden agendas, DeSantis criticized what he called “lifetime appointments” for university professors.

“We need to make sure teachers are held accountable and make sure they’re not incumbent forever without having any way to hold them accountable or evaluate what they’re doing,” DeSantis said. “It’s about trying to make these institutions more in line with the priorities of the state and, frankly, the priorities of parents across the state of Florida.”

Related: Late bill change would weaken tenure at Florida universities, professors say

Every five years, he said, tenured professors would be required to appear before their university’s board of trustees, which could part ways with them. The text of the bill does not provide this level of specificity, but rather indicates that a five-year review would take place to be determined by the state Board of Governors. Every state university already requires tenured professors to participate in an annual exam.

“The mandate was there to protect people so they could make ideas that could cause them to lose their jobs or whatever, academic freedom – I don’t know if that’s really the role it plays, quite frankly, more,” DeSantis said. “I think what the mandate does, if anything, is it creates more of an intellectual orthodoxy. For people who have dissenting opinions, first it becomes more difficult for them to get tenured, and then, once tenured, your productivity really goes down, especially in certain disciplines.

House Speaker Chris Sprows called the legislation a way to prevent “indoctrination”.

He also said it would increase transparency with a provision that would require course syllabi to be published online, preventing attempts by professors to “smuggle ideology and politics”. Sprows said it would prevent students from enrolling in a course on ‘socialism and communism’ when they thought they were enrolling in ‘western democracy’ and courses on ‘what it means to be a real American. “.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Sprows said. “Are (students) going to enter a university system that is more about indoctrination than about getting a job one day and acquiring the skills and material to get a job? Or is this some kind of radical political agenda that a particular professor who was told he would get a job for life is going to tell him he has to believe in order to get an A in his class? »

Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida, said DeSantis and Sprows’ comments reflected a deep misunderstanding of how higher education works.

Currently, boards of trustees must approve all faculty who receive tenure, Gothard said, adding that it’s not a lifetime appointment. Faculty can still be terminated for cause.

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“The mandate allows for due process and a hearing and has generally protected people from termination for political reasons,” he said. “From where we are, the only indoctrination that’s going on right now is from Tallahassee.”

Tim Boaz, president of the faculty senate at the University of South Florida, said he believed the legislation resulted from misconceptions about higher education.

He said the idea that faculty become less productive after earning tenure is misguided and pointed out that Florida’s top-ranking universities are the result of faculty productivity.

“I think it would be unfortunate if we only had a mandate in name,” he said. “Talented teachers across the country will see this and say it’s not tenure.”

Earlier this spring, when it was unclear what form the bill would take, incoming USF President Rhea Law said she would support faculty members.

“What I said to the faculty is that we absolutely support them, we support them,” she said.

The measure, Senate Bill 7044, was signed into law a week after an “intellectual diversity” survey was sent to all staff, students and faculty at the university. The survey, required in a bill approved last year, posed questions asking whether students felt their professors used their platforms to inject their views and asked about their political beliefs. The statewide faculty union has called for a boycott of the investigation, and several faculty leaders have expressed concern that it could chill free speech.

The bill signed into law on Tuesday also goes after accrediting agencies, forcing state universities to change accreditors after each cycle. Some faculty leaders have expressed concern that the measure could cause Florida schools to lose research funds and federal student aid.

The provision stems from friction last year between some state leaders and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the accrediting body for universities in the Southeast. The group had raised questions about political influence at Florida State University and the University of Florida.

At FSU, the problem arose after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran made a bid to become president of the university. Corcoran spoke at Tuesday’s press conference in support of the bill.

DeSantis said the provision creates increased liability.

“It will end this accreditation monopoly,” he said. “The role these accrediting agencies play, I don’t even know where they come from. They’re just self-anointed. They have outsized power to shape what happens in these universities.

Tuesday’s event also featured Taylor Walker, a conservative FSU student majoring in history. She talked about bringing conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to campus, drawing applause from residents of The Villages.

“As a curator on a college campus, you sometimes have to deal with obstacles,” Walker said. “There are still people who think that waking narratives are the only narratives that should be taught on college campuses. As a student of history, I can attest to that. As I step into my classes, my teachers hold me to high standards, as they should be. This bill gives me the opportunity to hold them to the same high standards that they should be held to.

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