On the night State College of Florida faculty voiced near-unanimous disapproval of the school’s board of trustees, those same board members seemed to give a bit of ground on the very issue that cast them from good grace.
Convening in a special meeting Tuesday, the board chewed over a draft of a rule that is expected to end continuing contracts for faculty hired after July 1, 2016. Stemming from a proposal from board member Carlos Beruff in August, the rule is intended to award only one-year contracts to new full-time faculty.
Dissatisfied with the draft written at its request by college legal counsel Steve Prouty, the board directed him to re-write it to clearly state that the college will eliminate continuing contracts, also known as tenure. The draft Prouty brought to the board stated that the college would “focus on hiring faculty in non-continuing contract positions.”
Board members also told him to write a provision that will guarantee that any contract faculty member will have access to an appeal process in the event a contract is not renewed. Currently, faculty on one-year contracts may not appeal a non-renewal after leaving the college’s employ.
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Board member Eric Robinson said that if the “due process” protection is not included in policy, dismissed faculty members might never have the opportunity to defend their jobs because the school could simply allow their contracts to lapse rather than fire them for cause.
“It was never my intention to wait them out to fire them,” Robinson said.
Commonly known as tenure, continuing contracts were awarded to faculty members at SCF after three years of qualified service through 2013. Two years ago, the board changed the standard requiring five years of service before a continuing contract could be awarded. Under the latest proposal, faculty that have acheived tenure will retain it. Tenure-track faculty currently working at SCF will still be able to qualify for it.
Faculty members oppose the policy change because they believe it will interfere with academic freedom and that it will make the college less attractive to faculty job applicants. Robyn Bell, a music instructor at SCF and president of the school’s faculty senate, said the trustees are dismantling an employment system that is used by every one of Florida’s 28 state colleges.
Board members have not explained why they want to eliminate continuing contracts, she said, aside from saying they wish to align the college’s employment practi
“We still can’t get them to tell us why they want to get rid of what we have,” Bell said Wednesday.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Bell handed out copies of a resolution of “no confidence in the board” voted on by full-time faculty. Out of 120 votes, collected between Nov. 20 and Tuesday, 118 faculty members stated that they have no confidence “that the State College of Florida Board of Trustees is acting in the interest of the college.”
In addition to targeting continuing contracts, recent board actions eliminated winter break days for newly hired, non-faculty staff and may set up a hiring system that would hire faculty through a low-bid process.
The continuing contract policy had been scheduled to receive final approval at the board’s Jan. 26 meeting. A new draft of the policy is expected to be presented at that time.
Tuesday’s meeting had initially been taken off the trustees’ meeting schedule. In early November, the board cancelled its regular Dec. 1 meeting. The special meeting was later called by board chairman Edward Bailey.
Bailey did not respond to a request Tuesday to comment on why he reinstated the December meeeting after it had been cancelled.
Beruff, the chief proponent of the tenure policy, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.