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Dive Brief:

  • The State University System of Florida’s governing board is expected to approve a revised version of a policy next month that creates procedures for evaluating faculty members after they receive tenure.
  • An initial iteration of the proposed regulation was due to be voted on last month but was later nixed. It drew sharp critiques, including from faculty, who argued it duplicates existing policy and corrodes tenure protections. 
  • The language to be voted on next month would require universities to file a report on the post-tenure review process every three years instead of annually, as was initially proposed. But the regulation preserves the core idea of evaluating faculty who have already secured tenure protections, which is what spurred a bulk of the criticism in the first place.

Dive Insight:

A state law passed last year required public colleges to change accreditors every several years and permitted institutions to set up post-tenure reviews. 

The concept of post-tenure reviews is controversial in itself. Tenure defenders say these evaluations undermine key protections of what is generally a lifetime appointment. Tenure means to ensure scholars can engage in research, even on unpopular subjects, without fear of meddling from outside sources.

Critics say professors can abuse tenure, enabling lackadaisical job performance without any mechanism for removing problematic faculty. However, tenured professors can generally be fired for cause, like committing a crime.

The Florida system’s proposed post-tenure review would scrutinize faculty members’ “level of accomplishment and productivity” and assign them one of four rankings: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, does not meet expectations, or unsatisfactory.

Those who receive a “does not meet expectations” label would be put on a performance plan, and then fired if they do not improve. Those with an “unsatisfactory” designation would be terminated immediately.

System officials tweaked which faculty would be evaluated first under the proposal set for next month’s vote. 

After tenured faculty members reach the five-year mark on the job, they will be evaluated. But a previous draft of the regulation states 20% of tenured faculty with “the most longevity in rank” would also be reviewed in the first year after it took effect.

Similarly, in each of four subsequent years, 20% of tenured professors who were not yet reviewed would be subject to the process. 

The system deleted the “the most longevity in rank” language, and now the proposal merely states 20% of tenured professors would be evaluated in each of the next five years after the policy has been approved.

Officials also clarified that after the policy takes effect, universities would not be able to strike collective bargaining agreements that conflict with it.

The United Faculty of Florida, or UFF, union representing Florida faculty including at the state’s 12 public universities, said in an emailed statement the changes “are a good start.” But it said the proposed policy still lacks in certain areas, like an effective appeal process.

“We are appreciative of the improvements the Board made this week, but they can do better,” the union said. “UFF is committed to seeing that done.”