A public college in Florida has taken a decisive step to eliminate tenure, putting one of the largest cracks yet in a gradually-crumbling edifice.
Instead of receiving tenure after five years of employment, from now on professors at the State College of Florida will only receive annual contracts the school can decline to renew at any time.
The change only applies to new hires and does not affect currently-tenured faculty, but it still had to overcome a storm of protest from staff. Some said the school will be unable to attract any talented applicants, while others said it would make it too easy to fire faculty who aroused controversy.
“If not for tenure, professors would be attacked every time there is a change in the wind,” faculty senate president Robyn Bell told the Bradenton Herald. “Part of our jobs as professors is to challenge the norm, the standard and to get our students to think outside of the box. A continuing contract means I can do that without losing my job.”
But members of college’s board of trustees says tenure was more of a hindrance. Board member Lori Moran cited an alleged instance where a professor started “ranting” to their class, and said the school had to be able to quickly dismiss misbehaving professors. (RELATED: Virginia Tech Forces Ideology On Engineering Professors)
“I support academic freedom, but academic freedom is not academic immunity,” added fellow trustee Craig Trigueiro.
Ultimately, despite faculty complaints, the board voted a decisive 7-1 to ditch tenure.
Tenure has been under severe attack in K-12 schools by critics who say it mostly serves to protect low-quality teachers. But it’s held up better in colleges and universities, where professors argue tenure is critical for preserving their academic freedom. Still, it’s been an increasingly popular punching bag for reformers who say such protections are simply outdated.
But even in academia there are signs of disintegration. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s most recent budget revoked the state’s statutory guarantee of tenure, and also redefined tenure in a way that makes it far easier to lay off professors even if they have it. At colleges across the U.S., there is a trend of hiring more and more adjunct professors who are ineligible for tenure, while tenured professors who retire simply aren’t replaced. (RELATED: Walker Wins, New Budget Will Repeal University Tenure)
State College’s move, though, signals that four-year colleges may be ready to take the next step of simply abolishing tenure entirely.
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