Now that an overhaul of teacher tenure in public schools is a done deal, House Republicans have a new target: Tenure in the state college system.
On a party-line vote, a House education committee today moved forward with its bill ending multi-year contracts for full-time faculty. Existing contracts would not be affected, but all new faculty would have a probationary one-year contract. After that, they could get one-year contracts.
This bill would not affect the state’s universities.
Rep. Erik Fresen, chairman of the K-20 Competitiveness committee, said the bill is a result of conversations he’d had with unnamed college presidents who felt “handcuffed” by requirements of tenure contracts. He described the bill as an attempt to help colleges deal with budget shortfalls.
“We’re trying to figure out ways … of how we can make their job easier with less and allow them to fully respond to the environment they’re finding themselves in,” Fresen, R-Miami, said.
The bill is targeted at a fraction of the people working in community colleges. Of roughly 23,700 faculty, about 5,700 are full-time faculty eligible for tenure. Most of the rest are part-time adjunct professors. About 75 percent of the 5,700 full-timers are tenured, said Ed Mitchell, executive director of the United Faculty of Florida.
Mitchell said tenure is not a “job for life,” as Fresen portrayed it, and argued the bill sends a message to all would-be professors: No stability.
“If my choice is Florida with no tenure versus 49 other states, I’m going elsewhere,” he said.
Democrats on the committee also had problems with the bill. Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said the bill would put state colleges at a disadvantage not only to other states but also to private colleges. He cautioned against drawing parallels to so-called tenure in K-12 public school and in colleges, where it’s an accepted part of recruiting professors.
“We can’t pass a bill like this,” he said.
But Republicans on the committee said the bill was the right thing to do. Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said it aimed to “focus on the students” and not instructors.
“To see it as an entitlement, that you have this thing called tenure, it’s just fallen by the way side in my book,” she said.
The bill was a surprising release last Friday. Several college presidents at Tuesday’s meeting said they hadn’t had time to review the language.
Steven Wallace, president of Florida State College at Jacksonville, told committee members his institution had already implemented many parts of the bill after negotiating with faculty and tied tenure contracts to clear performance measures. While tenure may have once been viewed as an entitlement by faculty, he said, “We reversed that.”
Committee members heaped praise on Wallace for that school's efforts. But Bullard noted that Florida State College had made the decisions at a local level. “So it didn’t require an act of the legislature," he said.
Fresen said adding the universities to the mix would have complicated the bill. Mitchell said he figures universities are next.