MANATEE -- The full-time faculty at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, overwhelmingly voted no confidence Tuesday night in their Board of Trustees.
Of the 120 faculty members who voted, 118 voted no confidence, one voted confidence and one voted undecided. The vote comes in the wake of changes by the board, including elimination of tenure.
"We felt it was time that we as a faculty speak as a unit. ... so that the community knows where we stand on this issue and how important it is to us as a faculty, to our entire college and to our students," said Robyn Bell, faculty Senate president at SCFMS.
Bell said after the meeting she and other faculty members were grateful for the outpouring of community and organizational support on the faculty's behalf.
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SCFMS President Carol Probstfeld's issued the following statement: "The resolution of no confidence issued by the faculty of SCF represents the faculty's collective viewpoint. We all agree that our students deserve the best possible faculty to provide an impactful and competitive education. We remain committed to hiring and retaining the best possible faculty at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota."
Faculty members say the recent reforms do the exact opposite by making it more difficult to attract and retain quality instructors and students. Bell described the mood at recent board meetings as a "funny dynamic."
"Because we have a board of trustees trying to do away with something very important to us and yet they keep coming back to this idea of: 'How can we make the faculty happy?'" she said. "The policy that they've enacted since has not been in the best interest of our college."
Dr. Craig Trigueiro , board of trustees chairman, said he wasn't surprised by the no confidence vote.
"I would have expected it to be unanimous because the board has taken away continuing contracts for future (faculty members)," he said. "It takes five to seven years to be eligible for it."
Trigueiro stressed there will be no continuing contracts for those hired after July 1.
"Those people who start that process before still have a continuing contract available to them," he said.
Trigueiro added there is a lot of misconception surrounding this issue and the elimination of tenure.
"The other thing is academic freedom -- that's another issue. They're concerned that without continuing contracts, they will lose academic freedom," he said. "The board of trustees has no intention of decreasing academic freedom. We support academic freedom. A college or a university without academic freedom, in my opinion, is not a college or university."
Calls to Beruff and trustee Eric Robinson were not immediately returned.
Bell issued the following statement immediately after the meeting: "The SCF faculty has remained hopeful that the Board of Trustees would reconsider the elimination of our continuing contract policy as proposed by trustee Carlos Beruff, founder of Medallion Home; however, the vote Dec. 1 to accept a policy that eliminates continuing contract for full-time faculty is viewed as the final straw in a long list of deeds and actions that have proven more harmful than helpful to our College. Such ideologically/politically driven decisions have been made without research or merit and attempt to govern a public institution of education as a private, corporate business."
The resolution of no confidence by SCF faculty outlines grievances and cites six specific concerns regarding the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota Board of Trustees. Concerns include:
1. The State College of Florida Board of Trustees is not acting in accordance with the definition of a trustee. Decisions made by this board isolate SCF from the rest of the Florida College System. These decisions should come from the State Board of Education and be implemented at all of the state colleges at the same time to prevent unfairly handicapping SCF's ability to compete and to perform optimally.
2. The State College of Florida Board of Trustees makes decisions and enacts policies that cause public outcry and attract negative local, state, and national media attention on SCF. This causes faculty and staff to spend time and energy away from teaching and running normal college business. The negative media also hurts SCF's recruiting of students, faculty, staff, fundraising efforts by our Foundation and damages our reputation in the public eye.
3. Little to no board discussion is on record regarding several policy issues, raising the question as to whether trustees have been told not to ask questions or that the items have potentially been discussed "out of the sunshine" and in violation of Florida law. Examples include the proposal to eliminate the continuing contract policy, reducing staff leave time and the proposed faculty bidding process. These proposals have been put forth without clear statements regarding expected benefits to the college and without bringing forth evidence to support the idea that these policies would benefit our college or community.
4. The conduct of the board has not been consistent with its fiduciary duty, such as repeated contracts costing in excess of $50,000 to conduct multiple salary and benefit surveys within a short period of time without clearly using the data to the benefit of the college.
5. Some members of the Board have indicated an inclination to run this college as a private business rather than the nonprofit, public educational institution it is.
6. The Board of Trustees has not done its due diligence in reviewing valid research on policies that foster student success. On the national and state level, colleges are being challenged to graduate or transfer more students more quickly. As trustees, the Board should be facilitating and fostering policies and best practices to help faculty achieve these goals.
Conversely, the Board of Trustees has ignored research that reveals there are lower graduation rates at institutions relying on largely non-tenured-track faculty. In addition, poor faculty working conditions and adversarial policies have been shown to negatively shape student outcomes. (Kezar & Sam, 2010; Ehrneberg & Zhang,2005; and The Delphi Project).
"This vote in no way reflects the faculty's confidence in President Carol Probtsfeld or her administration, for which the faculty holds much admiration and respect," according to Bell's press release. "The faculty at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, are deeply grateful and appreciative of the overwhelming community support, including both oral and written statements by Dr. Sarah Pappas, Gregory Porges, Dr. Patricia Hunsader and the USF-Sarasota/Manatee Faculty Senate, Dr. Jennifer Proffitt and the United Faculty of Florida, the League of Women Voters, Christine Hervig, James Sellers, Michael Grandalski, Tom Durante, Walter Gannott, Marlene Woodson-Howard, and a host of others, in our ongoing battle over continuing contract with our governor-appointed Board of Trustees."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.