To paraphrase an old adage, if something isn't broken, why fix it? While Florida ranks poorly against other states on many dimensions, such as health and housing, higher education remains a bright shining light.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Florida is ranked No. 1 in higher education. Furthermore, three out of four public universities in Florida are listed as top national universities, including three in the Top 100. Additionally, according to Stacker.com, Florida is seventh in the United States having the highest number of highly ranked colleges.
The data shows that Florida’s public universities deliver high-quality education and graduate high earners. But all that could be threatened.
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The Florida Board of Governors recently proposed a regulation regarding post-tenure faculty review. As members of the faculty union at the University of North Florida, we want to express concern about this regulation and highlight why this could place Florida’s higher education system under undue stress. This will be detrimental to our students and businesses aiming to recruit those students.
Public universities are a good investment for Florida taxpayers. State and local government funding for higher education was $5.7 billion in 2021. The Council of Presidents had previously estimated that Florida’s public universities contributed approximately $27 billion (2.7% of the state budget) to Florida’s overall economy.
Thus, for every $1 billion Florida invests into higher education, the state receives $4.5 billion in return to the economy. Florida’s public universities could not accomplish this return on investment without the intellectual capital provided by their faculty, who provide high-quality education and graduate high earners. Because of their commitment to research and scholarship, faculty receive large grants, develop programs that benefit our communities and develop intellectual property with monetary value.
Part of the impressive return on investment is because Florida universities have achieved a balance between providing faculty with necessary academic freedoms while demanding accountability. To achieve tenure at the university, faculty must demonstrate high quality as both teachers and researchers. In addition, there is a reasonable expectation that faculty members will be good stewards of the community they serve.
After tenure, faculty members are subjected to annual performance reviews, no different from most places of work. However, the post-tenure review proposed by the Board of Governors now burdens the university with substantially more administrative oversight, leading to increased administrative costs for all Florida public universities.
The proposed directive also disproportionately punishes any faculty member who wants to exercise their academic freedom and freedom of speech, which sometimes entails challenging the status quo, offering new perspectives, and creating new knowledge.
Further, this new regulation runs in the face of a nationwide standard of tenure, which will only discourage talented faculty members from joining Florida universities. Just like any other industry, replacing employees is costlier than retaining them. Increased resignations of higher education faculty because of this regulation will cost the universities more money to hire replacement candidates with less experience and knowledge in their fields of study.
Additionally, this new regulation (along with other recent regulations and legislation) dramatically expands the oversight of the Florida public institutions by the state of Florida, putting “Big Brother” over our higher education institutions. If we are a “free state,” as the governor so often claims, we must act like it.
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Obtaining tenure is not an easy task. It requires dedication and hard work to meet the research publishing guidelines set by each higher education system, to maintain a high standard of teaching and to be involved in service opportunities both through the university and within the community or faculty’s professional interests.
While some feel that once faculty receive tenure, they will fall back on their past laurels and do very little work for their remaining time at the institution, we can assure you that this is not the case. Once faculty receive tenure, they often take on more university responsibilities while working diligently in conducting research and upholding the highest standards of teaching and service to foster student success, while ensuring a good return on investment for taxpayers.
All said, is it worth it for the Florida Board of Governors to risk the prestige of its public universities, as well as their economic contributions, by enacting a costly and redundant post-tenure review regulation that could potentially limit first amendment rights? Do we want the students of Florida public institutions to have limited earnings due to the lower quality of education? Do we want to decrease Florida public universities' return on investment to our state’s economy?
As taxpayers, we say “no” and as faculty members committed to delivering high-quality education, we feel exasperated, particularly as it comes on the heels of other legislation and intrusion from the state that threatens to fix something that is not broken.
Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D. and Elizabeth R. Brown, Ph.D. are faculty members at the University of North Florida.
This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Florida's new tenure review rules threaten quality of higher education