PantherNOW Editorial Board
The Florida Board of Governors’ post-tenure review disappointed us when it was approved earlier this year.
We had hoped that our trustees would be open to faculty concerns and explicitly supportive of protecting tenure and academic freedom. Yet, time and time again, we’ve seen little to no help from our trustees – and the latest BOT meeting serves as another example of that.
Nearly a year ago, Trustee Dean Colson said he was “not as worried about it as I understand you are” to the Faculty Senate regarding concerns about academic freedom sparked by House Bill 7, the Stop W.O.K.E. act, and BOG 10.003, the post-tenure review.
Is that the correct response to faculty leadership’s concerns?
At the latest BOT meeting, Trustee Rogelio Tovar thought it appropriate to say, “Professors who express concerns with Tallahassee are probably getting off on topics that are not aligned with what the class is supposed to teach.”
These responses are shallow, dismissive, and frankly insulting.
Professors who were once protected from all kinds of whims thanks to tenure will see their privilege restricted and subjected to further scrutiny thanks to the Post-Tenure Faculty Review.
Tenure has always meant shelter from petty prejudices seeking to undermine academic freedom. It’s an act meant to solidify the promise of an intellectual sanctuary and freedom of thought in universities – one of the core institutions for protecting the free flow of ideas.
A five-year review of professionals whose methods differ from one another is seemingly vague and invites abuses from disgruntled students and administrators.
It renders tenure useless – what’s the point when people monitor your position every five years?
We are aware new guidelines are vital to the proper functioning of academia. It’s in the interest of all that professors are researching and teaching things relevant to us in a manner that advances the goal of higher education.
But tenure review goes beyond addressing those concerns.
We want to be clear making a periodic review of tenure diminishes its purpose. It constantly places professors under the influence of an ever-present big brother whose shadow is impossible to escape.
Tenure protects professors so they can say and do things that administrators may not like while still educating students.
This review does address the possible abuses of the tenure system, but a five-year one will open the door to abuse. Allowing it should be fine when problems get reported.
However, making oversight a routine function and not a last resort sets a poor tone. It assumes that things are secretly going wrong all the time and invites inappropriate scrutiny.
Professors subjected to this would feel they walk on eggshells by constantly ensuring no “improper” incidents have occurred. It amounts to an environment of fear where no honest discussion can occur.
Students will learn a policed narrative approved by the state before being taught in classrooms.
Added to this is the fear of losing one’s job, which is the price to pay for daring to teach what Tallahassee finds offensive and irrelevant to what a course should teach.
The Board of Governors should be ashamed for furthering efforts in Florida to create an atmosphere of anxiety in higher education. But to our trustees, your capitulation looks desperate.
The faculty workplace and working conditions directly impact what students get from the university. They deserve better from current leadership, and so do we.