Faculty Senate examines BOG proposals surrounding discrimination and post-tenure review

Leanne Wells, Senior Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, explains Reg. 10.005 to faculty senators | Elise Gregg, PantherNOW

Elise Gregg | Editor-in-Chief

Two presentations made up the bulk of October’s faculty senate meeting as discussion surrounding the Florida Board of Governors’ recently proposed regulations continued among senators. 

The Oct. 20 presentations centered on a drafted regulation regarding post-tenure review – Reg. 10.003 – and Reg. 10.005, which relates to a law passed in the state legislature this year regulating workplace and classroom discussion around “race, color, sex or national identity.”

Reg. 10.003, which sparked concern during the senate’s last session, is still being revised by the BOG. While its final approval was delayed until Nov. 9, Senate Chair Deanne Butchey informed senators that it may be even longer. 

“We’re hearing that it may be delayed,” Butchey said. “Even the vote may be delayed.”

Currently, it’s listed as a drafted regulation on the BOG’s website but is unavailable for public viewing.

The HB7 presentation was more intensive. All from the senate’s HB7 working group, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s Leanne Wells and Erica Caton and Heather Russell, vice provost for faculty leadership and success, analyzed the language and intent of HB7 and what it means for faculty moving forward. 

Their goal was to outline what the regulation does and does not say, emphasizing the verbiage used throughout its text. 

In defining the line of discriminatory teaching or instruction, Wells and Caton said that there needs to be convincing action on the part of an individual to advance a cause or value, which could include making students or employees feel like they have to accept a discriminatory concept to fit in.

Wells said that faculty members won’t be told they can’t cover certain topics in their classrooms and that they’ll instead need to frame material, “in an objective manner without endorsement”, teaching students “how conclusions within your discipline are made.”

“Whatever that means,” chuckled several senators responding to the emphasis placed on ‘objective manner’. 

“One of the things we wanted to do was define what objective manner is and in academia, we have decided it can be to find out something where you’ve done peer review, critical analysis, [or] peer discussion. Things that we do as credible research all the time,” said Wells. 

Wells strongly discouraged faculty from deleting course content or materials, suggesting that they should instead adjust to the standards of 10.005 and the concepts that are considered discriminatory.

“We are not asking faculty to not say things in their class,” said Wells.“It doesn’t prohibit the discussion of the eight concepts either.” 

Excerpt from BOG Regulation 10.005 on the eight concepts considered discriminatory. | Via Florida BOG.

Content that wouldn’t align with 10.005’s standards, according to Wells and Caton, would be material that ascribes blame “for certain inequities to any one group based on race, color, sex or national origin.” 

The regulation’s criteria does not include gender (as opposed to biological sex), age or religion, and doesn’t apply to anything other than employee training or instruction of enrolled students.

What it would require from universities is to develop their own plans to make sure that professors or anyone providing instruction does so in compliance with the proposed regulation’s prohibition against discriminatory teaching, as well as provide a medium for university members to address any concerns about biased instruction. 

Wells added that students may have difficulty understanding the difference between opinion, research and that in between. With that in mind, professors should train students to be critical consumers of information and perspectives and avoid making totalizing statements, according to Wells. 

“There’s a difference between social media and it being in a classroom, they don’t know what has gone into becoming an expert,” Wells said. “Things that are said in class might be weighed in the same exact manner as what you might say on social media.” 

Wells said that the regulation doesn’t address consequences for individual professors, though the regulation itself states that the university should correct violations by having employees modify content, issuing “disciplinary measures…and remove, by termination if appropriate, the employee(s) if there is a failure or refusal to comply with the mandate.”

Further, it also establishes consequences for noncompliance on the university’s behalf, which could mean cuts to performance funding.

One of the more pressing questions in the senate concerned the complaints process itself: how they’re made, and who can make them. 

“[Complaints are] made to the Office of Compliance, who then directs it to the relevant parties to address that in the typical process,” said Wells. “I would imagine that a complaint could generally be made. This regulation speaks specifically to instruction, which means instruction in the classroom…it would be hard to imagine how a non-FIU person would be impacted.”

It also states that if the BOG receives a complaint that it hadn’t been previously informed of, the board will refer it to the university’s Chief Audit Executive for investigation, and back to the BOG if necessary.

Tenure was also a part of the conversation, particularly surrounding the concern that consequences for noncompliance may vary between faculty. 

“All cases, should they arrive at that level, would be looked at equally,” Wells said, adding that the current administrative approach would be geared more towards remediation. 

However, the presenters didn’t say what discipline FIU would mete out based on a professor’s rank, instead referring senators back to the fact that performance funding could be cut if the university itself is found to be non-compliant. 

School of International and Public Affairs senator Allan Rosenbaum voiced the broader concern that seemed present in the many questions other senators had. 

“Whatever the state compels us to say, our First Amendment constitutional right is overridden by the fact that we are agents of the state,” said Rosenbaum. “The argument that the board is making is that we have no right to academic freedom of any kind.” 

The senate was bookended by a discussion on creating separate task forces to address HB7 and 10.003, with the bulk of the debate happening after the presentation. 

The task forces, if the senate had voted to create them,  would have been a group of a few senators who would work to address concerns with the regulations as well as provide suggestions for revisions. 

Particularly for the proposed regulation regarding post-tenure review, the task force would start their work as soon as the draft is publicly released by the BOG. 

Journalism professor Neil Reisner voiced concerns that wouldn’t be enough time to address 10.003 in particular– they would have only 30 days to make suggestions to the BOG from the time that 10.003 was made public. 

Reisner said he didn’t think the senate had time to wait on this, but other senators were reluctant to jump into a task force just yet. 

“I don’t think we’ve had enough chances to discuss that as a full body,” said Jennifer Abeloff of the School of Public Health and Social Work. “Unless there’s a real directive they’re not always as successful as we’d like them to be.” 

Others had concerns that breaking up the senate as a full body would do more harm than good. 

Ultimately, after a somewhat confused back and forth of motions, the senate was adjourned and a special meeting was scheduled for later in the month.

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