MANATEE -- Homebuilder Carlos Beruff says he plans to leave his position on the State College of Florida board of trustees soon. But before he goes, he proposes to eliminate the college's faculty tenure system, to require future SCF job applicants to bid for positions and to place SCF's in-house attorney under board authority.
According to SCF College President Carol Probstfeld, at least one of those changes could leave the 58-year-old college without accreditation. Others would likely dissuade instructors from applying for open teaching positions at what could become the only Florida state college that would not offer tenure to future faculty hires.
Beruff, whose term on the board ends in May, punched approvals through for a raft of policy changes he brought to the board's Aug. 25 meeting. Most -- including the change in the counsel's status, the elimination of two weeks of paid break time for new staff members and a requirement to put non-faculty job openings out for bid -- were approved unanimously by the nine-member board.
On Tuesday, several of those policies will be back before the trustees for further discussion. Among them will be a proposal to eliminate continuing employment contracts for faculty members hired after Sept. 1 of this year. That policy was the only one proposed by Beruff at the August meeting deferred for
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further discussion before going to a vote.
Beruff said he wants to bring SCF in line with policies common in private business and used by other public boards. He characterized the memo he presented to the board containing the policy wording as his "parting comments" before leaving the body.
"I'm trying to get big ideas down and then refine them as a board," he said.
Exit would be second
Beruff, the owner and president of Medallion Home in Bradenton, is currently the member of three public boards.
He was appointed to the SCF board in 2008 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, and again in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott. He is also a member of the governor-appointed Sarasota-Manatee Airport Commission and was appointed in May to Scott's newly formed Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding.
Beruff resigned as a board member with the Southwest Florida Water Management District last month, immediately after moving to approve a controversial water resource permit for friend and fellow homebuilder Pat Neal.
Asked recently by the Bradenton Herald to comment on his remarks indicating his future departure from the SCF board, Beruff declined to say anything beyond what he stated at the August meeting.
He made a reference at that meeting to his withdrawal from some of his appointments.
"I am inclined to lighten my public responsibilities," he said at the meeting.
SCF's board of trustees is comprised entirely of members from private industry, including three in the construction trade, three in the finance sector, an insurance agent, a physician and the president of a Manatee County boat hull mold maker.
College employees are objecting to several of Beruff's proposed and approved policies. Probstfeld told board members that taking authority over the college's general counsel, Steve Prouty, may endanger SCF's reputation.
The college's accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, stipulates that the board may supervise only one college employee, Probstfeld.
Prior to last month, she was Prouty's supervisor.
"It is very clear in our reaccreditation process that the board has one employee, and that is the president," Probstfeld said on Aug. 25.
The proposed elimination of continuing contracts has drawn the most fire. Commonly referred to as "tenure," the contracts guarantee that faculty members retain their jobs with the college from year to year.
Robyn Bell, an assistant professor of music at SCF and president of the college's faculty senate, said Monday that Beruff's policy proposal came as a surprise.
Eliminating those contracts came up a couple years ago, but hadn't resurfaced after the college held a workshop on the subject for board members.
Continuing contracts are intended to protect the school's approximately 130 faculty members' ability to teach subjects free of influence from administration, trustees, donors or others who might seek to interfere with academic independence. Bell said she is concerned future faculty openings may appeal only to "third- or fourth-tier" applicants willing to work without the promise of tenure.
"When you can't offer a continuing contract to faculty members, the really good ones tend not to apply," she said.
Gary Russell, SCF's vice president of academic affairs, said he will present a case in favor of continuing contracts at Tuesday's meeting at the school's Lakewood Ranch campus.
Part of his effort will be to counter opinion that tenure prevents the college from firing poor-performing faculty.
"The faculty would be among the first to say that is not what continuing contracts should be," Russell told the Herald on Monday. "We only want the best here."
If the policy is approved, Russell said, SCF would be the only one of Florida's 28 state colleges that do not offer tenure. None of the policy changes proposed by Beruff and enacted by the board will affect college employees hired before Sept. 1. Saying that he believes "a deal is a deal," Beruff said current staff will retain a full two weeks' leave every winter and a week's leave for spring break. New staff members will get one week of leave at the winter break and no spring break.
School administration is expected to apply the new bid-style hiring process to open positions at SCF. It would work similarly to a request-for-proposals process used by private companies and government agencies to bid construction and services contracts.
Job applicants presenting their qualifications for an advertised job at SCF would also submit a dollar-value bid for what they would accept as a wage or salary.
The policy would give priority to the low-bidding candidate in a hiring process.
Beruff said the policies he proposed and that the board adopts could be changed in the future if they prove to be unsuccessful.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.