One month ago, the board of trustees at the State College of Florida (SCF) voted to eliminate tenure for faculty hired after July 1, 2016. The vote made the college one of only 28 Florida public colleges to eliminate the tenure-track system based on continuing contracts.
Earlier this week, opponents of the decision gathered to request that the board reconsider its vote.
Critics of the plan to eliminate tenure say it will damage SCF’s reputation and will hurt the school’s ability to attract, hire and keep experienced, well-qualified instructors.
Longtime SCF trustee and housing developer, Carlos Beruff, proposed the policy.
Beruff’s argument for eliminating the tenure practice is that college employment practices should be more in line with for-profit colleges and private industries. Beruff proposed that qualified professors who meet certain performance benchmarks would still receive bonuses and raises, but they would not get step-ups in pay just because they have been employed for a certain period of time.
He further proposed that hiring professors should essentially function as a bidding process – like in the contracting industry – where typically the lowest qualified bidder gets the job.
Instructors and administrators alike emphatically protested the idea. They claimed that such a hiring system would put SCF at a competitive disadvantage with respect to recruiting faculty – thereby negatively affecting the quality of education offered to the college’s students.
Beruff argued that any competitive disadvantage could be countered by offering bonuses or merit pay to high performers, and said that the United States was “based on the freedom of work.”
Beruff’s opponents did not persuade the board, and the vote to do away with tenure for new professors was almost unanimous – with just one dissenter.
Bidding on projects is generally part of the contracting and public works hiring process. Competitive bids drive down the price of completing projects while at the same time ensuring contract opportunities are fair.
The real question then becomes should this process be applied to hiring the faculty in public higher education?
The vice president of academic affairs at SCF, Gary Russell, said he fully understood how bidding out a specific project might work fabulously in certain fields. But, he pointed out that, “the employees I’m interested in hiring – faculty and other staff – aren’t being asked to complete a single project, and the scope of what I expect from them in terms of institutional commitment goes well beyond the idea of trying to find someone willing to do the work for the lowest possible price.”
The director of tenure, academic freedom and governance for the American Association of University Professors, Greg Scholtz, argued that, “A board should want to hire the best teachers it can afford. This proposal is not about the best it can afford, but the cheapest it can buy. Unfortunately, in education as in everything else, you tend to get what you pay for.”