State College of Florida under fire for scrapping tenure
MATT M. JOHNSON
MANATEE -- A month after voting to eliminate tenure for faculty hired after next July 1, the board of trustees at the State College of Florida took fire Tuesday from the college president, a former president, faculty members and the head of a lobbying group representing more than 20,000 union college instructors.
Using the regular October meeting as their chance to speak out, critics accused board members of acting on an agenda they said will damage SCF's ability to attract and retain quality instructors.
Several speakers brought more generalized vitriol, targeting a raft of recently enacted and proposed policy items to pare down holiday breaks for staff and forcing future college job applicants to win positions through a low-bid process, respectively.
During a public hearing, the board approved taking away the spring break and winter break holidays from full-time staff hired after Nov. 1. Current staff will retain those days off. New staff members will get only Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off during the two-week winter break.
Christine Hervig, a SCF alumnus and parent of a freshman enrolled in classes at the college, even questioned board member qualifications for making the tenure decision. She noted all nine board members work in industries outside of academia.
"Why is this a decision for politicians/developers to make as to educators?" Hervig said.
The policy enacted in September was one of several introduced in August by longtime trustee Carlos Beruff, owner of Manatee County housing developer Medallion Home. Beruff did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
The practices are aimed at bringing college employment practices in line with private industry and for-profit colleges.
SCF is now the only one of 28 state colleges to stop offering continuing contracts to new faculty members.
Opponents of the change in the tenure system, which is based on continuing contracts offered to qualified faculty, urged the board to reconsider its decision.
Sarah Pappas, former SCF president, said if tenure is to changed or eliminated, it should only be done on a statewide basis. Otherwise, good teachers will choose to go elsewhere.
"Eliminating continuing contracts puts SCF at a competitive disadvantage," she said.
Jennifer Proffitt, president of United Faculty of Florida, encouraged the SCF board to reconsider its decision on tenure. She said eliminating continuing contracts will sap prestige and academic freedom from SCF's culture. That, in turn, will make the institution less attractive to new faculty and students, she said.
Robyn Bell, a music instructor at SCF and president of the college faculty Senate, said the college recently posted a faculty job in a trade magazine that errantly stated the job did not offer tenure. The ad drew fewer than five applicants.
When the ad was later corrected, Bell said, it drew more than 50 job candidates.
Others said the policy changes are getting in the way of the school's goals to expand student offerings and establish SCF as one of Florida's best-regarded state colleges.
Jennifer Bieselin, an assistant professor of language and literature at SCF, called the actions a "political fiasco" that is already damaging the education SCF students are receiving.
Even President Carol Probstfeld called the board actions at its previous two meetings "a distraction" that took the impact out of the recent unveiling of the new SCF strategic plan.
Board members listened to the commentary largely in silence. Once the last speaker was done, members moved forward with approvals of new employment measures.
Board member Dr. Craig Trigueiro was the only dissenter. He was, however, also the most vocal defender of the tenure decision.
"I understand why you're all upset," he said to more than 40 people attending the meeting at the Lakewood Ranch campus. "But outside academia and a few letters to the public from parents, in person I have not met one person who thinks what the board did on continuing contracts was wrong."
The board still has one employment item suggested by Beruff to consider, a proposal to have future job applicants bid for positions. Board members will hear a staff presentation on the concept at an upcoming meeting. The body next meets Dec. 1.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 9417457027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.