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Job Security at Risk in Florida

November 15, 2012

Tenure as Florida community college faculty members know it is on the chopping block for the second time in as many years.

A final hearing on proposed changes to the State Board of Education's "issuance of continuing contracts" rule is scheduled for the end of the month. The board is seeking input on the changes, which make obtaining tenure -- or a continuing contract, as it's referred to among the Florida College System's 28 institutions -- more stringent. The body likely will vote on the issue early next year, said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Notable proposed changes to the system's tenure policy include increasing a professor's probationary period to five to seven years, from the current three to five. A draft of the rule released earlier this week also mandates a review of contract at least every three years, suggesting more limited job security than the current system, which is viewed by many as close to tenure.

The proposed changes echo a bill proposed in Florida's House of Representatives in 2011. That bill, which effectively would have ended tenure for community college faculty, was approved by a House subcommittee but ultimately was tabled following outcry from faculty groups and advocates.

Stakeholders in Florida's higher education system differ in opinion on how closely the board's proposed changes resemble the unpopular bill.

Randy Hanna, Florida College System chancellor, said the changes vastly improve on the failed legislation, offering colleges increased staffing flexibility and accountability. "The [continuing contract] rule hasn't been looked at in at least 30 years," he said. "In our system, the rule, as it's written, is that everybody is on the tenure track.

"But let's say you're going to have a workforce program, and you hire people for a particular workforce area that may or may not exist after a period of time," he said. "Should you be required to have a continuing contract for that?"

The new rule also aims to standardize tenure proceedings among the system's various institutions, Hanna said. "Some of our colleges have a very robust review process, and what we're trying to do is make sure all of them have that review process."

Chuck Mojock, president of Lake-Sumter Community College in Leesburg, and a member of the system's Council of Presidents, agreed. "The current rule was workable but it was outdated and I think it's a good idea to update it," he said, noting the changes preserve a path to tenure -- something that encourages "collegiality and a sense of shared governance."

Faculty leaders said the proposed rules add insult to an already injurious environment for Florida college educators. "Nothing's broken and there's no demonstrable need for this change," said Ed Mitchell, executive director of the United Faculty of Florida, a statewide faculty union affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. "It's purely politically driven to weaken faculty rights."

Mitchell said it's "erroneous" to equate a continuing contract with a job for life, and said that professors leading outdated programs either modernize or lose their jobs when curriculums change.

It's not only college faculty who are feeling the tenure pinch. Last year, Florida lawmakers voted to end tenure for K-12 educators, supported by Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who has said he wants to run schools more like businesses.

The latest draft of the proposed rule requires colleges to develop "criteria to measure student success," which can be used to decide to grant faculty continuing contracts.

A South Florida State College professor who did not wish to be named said the governor held considerable power over the college system, and said tenure changes seemed inevitable. "I'm pretty sure the rule's going to go through one way or another," she said. "[Scott's] a skilled tactician."

A spokesman for the Scott said via e-mail: "The Governor looks forward to reviewing the final rule. It is important to have accountability while maintaining local decision-making."

 

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