Post-Tenure Faculty Review a threat to academic freedom, Faculty Senate says

Photo via FIU Flickr

Samuel Larreal | Contributing Writer

Florida International University will now require tenured professors to undergo a performance review process every five years following new state regulations. Post-Tenure Faculty Review, as this new regulation is called, is a threat to academic freedom, Faculty Senate leadership says.

“Intended or not,” Faculty Senate Chair Noël Barengo said, “the practical result of this regulation is that many faculty fear losing their jobs simply for having a different opinion,” Barengo said at the Sep. 14 Board of Trustees meeting.

Unanimously approved during the last FIU Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 14, FIU-2508, or Post-Tenure Faculty Review is a new regulation that will require tenured professors to undergo a performance review process designed by the FIU Office of the Provost in collaboration with the Faculty Senate and Faculty Union.  

FIU Board of Trustees approved Post-Tenure Review in accordance with Florida Board of Governors regulations, amid a push from Florida Gov. Ron Desantis to undermine teanure protections. 

“Faculty Senate and the Florida Faculty Union have engaged in proposing feedback, resulting in major changes to modify the language of the regulation,” Barengo said. 

“However,” Barengo said, “this does not mean that we agree on everything (…) the language used in this regulation is of great concern for the FIU faculty, threatening academic freedom and the idea of tenure.” 

The process is set to start in November of this year with an initial performance review of faculty members who received tenure in 2019 and a random selection of 20% of all tenured professors.  

Once this initial process is completed, tenured faculty whose performance has not been yet reviewed will be evaluated every five years.   

The review process will be carried out by the Office of Provost and a selection of FIU tenured faculty members. The implementation of this regulation will be overseen by Chief Audit Compliance Officer Trevor Williams. 

Faculty will be evaluated in comparison to the performance of other tenured professors, student complaints and their adherence to state regulations.  

Regulations that, among other limitations, explicitly ban curricula items “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, or privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States” according to Florida House Bill 999.

Once this process is completed, professors will receive one of the following grades: ‘exceeds expectations’, ‘meets expectations’, ‘does not meet expectations’ and ‘unsatisfactory’.   

Professors who ‘do not meet expectations’ will be subjected to a performance improvement plan proposed by FIU Provost Elizabeth Béjar. Faculty with an ‘unsatisfactory’ will be terminated.

During a brief exchange at the latest Board of Trustees meeting, Provost Béjar and Trustee Dean Colson discussed the possibility of implementing additional financial compensation for faculty who exceed or meet expectations. 

“It is on our administration to be very open with faculty about the implementation of this process,” said Student Body President Alex Sutton, about the implementation of Post-Tenure Review.

Sutton also pointed out the widespread concern that faculty feel when discussing certain issues “Even I have heard professors say things like ‘I have to be careful about how we approach this topic, Tallahassee doesn’t want me talking about this’ before talking about certain topics” Sutton said. 

“The fact is that faculty feel policed and post-tenure review would contribute to this sentiment,” Sutton said. 

To these remarks, the Chair of the Board of Trustees Rogelio Tovar responded that post-tenure review intends to “improve faculty performance” and “guarantee a better educational experience for our students.”

“Professors who express concerns with Tallahassee,” Tovar said “are probably getting off on topics that are not aligned with what the class is supposed to teach.” 

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