Getting What You Pay For

One, two, three -- sold to the lowest bidder? State College of Florida at Manatee-Sarasota is considering making faculty hiring decisions based in part on how low an instructor is willing to go on salary.

October 30, 2015
 

Putting a project out to bid is typically part of the public works process, since competitive bids tend to drive down the price and ensure fair opportunity for contracts. But should that process be applied to faculty hiring in public higher education? A member of the Board of Trustees for the State College of Florida at Manatee-Sarasota thinks so, and he’s set to brief the board on his proposal at an upcoming meeting. Even without details, the idea is causing already beleaguered faculty and staff members to shake their heads.

Most “everybody sees that as a very bizarre way to take applications for staff and faculty positions in education -- imagine the single mother with three kids trying to underbid the married lady with no kids and a husband who has a good job,” said Robyn Bell, an assistant professor of music and president of State College’s Faculty Senate. “The single mother never has a chance.”

Earlier this year, State College’s board voted to make it the only one of 28 Florida public colleges to do away with a tenure-like system based on continuing contracts for long-serving, high-performing faculty members. Instructors and administrators alike protested the idea, saying it would put the college at a competitive disadvantage in terms of faculty recruitment, and ultimately affect educational quality. The argument fell mostly on deaf ears, however, as the notion passed with a single dissenting vote.

Leading the charge against continuing contracts is Carlos Beruff, a trustee since 2008 who owns a local home construction business. Beruff argued that any competitive disadvantage could be countered by offering merit pay or bonuses to high performers, and said that the U.S. was “based on the freedom of work.”

That was in September. Between then and now, Beruff was reportedly working on a second proposal that would ask potential college employees, including faculty members, to quote their fee for services on job applications. That information would then be used in the hiring decision.

Bell said job candidates already are asked to fill out an expected salary box on their application forms, but that candidates may write “typical with salary schedule” or some other nonnumerical response. Under the proposal, candidates would likely not have that option and would be required to name an actual price, she said.

Beruff was scheduled to deliver a more detailed plan at the board’s monthly meeting this week, but he did not show up. In attendance were a number of faculty and administrator protesters -- including Sarah Pappas, former college president -- who continued to criticize the board’s recent vote to eliminate rolling contracts.

Gary Russell, vice president of academic affairs at the college, opposed the elimination of continuing contracts. He said via email that he needs to hear the full bidding proposal before making a final judgment, but that, at least preliminarily, “I don’t how it works in the setting in which I work.”

Russell said he understood how bidding out a specific project might work well in other fields. But, he said, “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.”

That’s even though a bidding process would presumably honor the importance of meeting specific performance expectations, he said. “I see those of us in education as doing something more than simply creating a product. It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Beruff did not return a request for comment.

Bell said she wasn’t too concerned that the proposal would pass, despite her strong feelings about it.

Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic freedom and governance for the American Association of University Professors, said neither he'd never heard of bidding out faculty jobs.

“This is definitely novel,” he said. “It’s also repugnant, and not just because it is degrading to faculty members. Even worse is its effect on students. A board should want to hire the best teachers it can afford.”

Scholtz added, “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.”

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