Education

State College of Florida officially scraps tenure in testy meeting

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Mirroring incremental votes it took over the past six months to dismantle faculty tenure at State College of Florida, the college board of trustees unanimously approved a policy Tuesday night that wipes the contracting process off the books for all future faculty hires.

SCF is now the only of Florida's 28 state colleges that will not offer tenure to new instructors.

The policy also potentially sets up the Florida Legislature to end teacher tenure at other state colleges, according to board member Dr. Craig Trigueiro.

The 8-0 vote came after 11 faculty members, community members and representatives of local and state faculty organizations argued against the measure, which eliminates continuing faculty contracts, commonly termed tenure.

Among the most outspoken was Courtney Ruffner, a SCF faculty member and president of the American Association of University Professors SCF chapter. She accused the trustees of pursuing a political agenda set by Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints all board members.

"The board is told what needs to happen by the governor," Ruffner said.

Proposed by SCF trustee Carlos Beruff in August, the new policy has been portrayed by board members as a measure to bring the college more in line with the private sector.

In comments made after adjournment, trustee Rick Hager said eliminating tenure addresses the public perception college professors are guaranteed jobs for life, even when they perform poorly. He also said doing away with continuing contracts will help SCF better compete with low-cost, for-profit colleges.

"It's being pushed," Hager said.

Hager was the only board member to previously vote against eliminating continuing contracts as the measure worked its way through revisions in previous public hearings.

Final policy language leaves some room for the board to establish faculty contracts of varying lengths. While only contracts between 9 months and a year are addressed in the policy, it also calls for "other lengths of service as may be deemed appropriate or necessary."

The board will schedule a workshop to discuss longer contracts, which board members say could have terms as long as three years.

Continuing contracts, which will still be extended to qualified SCF faculty hired prior to 2016, differ from one-year and multiyear contracts because they automatically renew an instructor's contract with the college annually. Those faculty members are still subject to annual evaluations.

Faculty members have stated the loss of those contracts endangers their freedom to teach without interference from administration and trustees. They, as well as college President Carol Probstfeld, have also asserted colleges that still offer tenure will attract more qualified instructors than SCF.

Trigueiro said he believes the playing field could soon be level again among state colleges if the Legislature does away with continuing contracts statewide.

"I've heard over and over we're going to damage the college if we're the only college," he said. "It can't be done legislatively this year, but perhaps it could be an agenda item for next year."

By the end of the meeting, faculty and trustees noted a wedge had been driven between the two sides of the issue. Robyn Bell, president of the SCF faculty Senate, called the elimination of tenure "an assault on our profession."

"It has opened a barn-sized door for a united faculty to walk through and completely change the working relationship landscape that we have had for 59 years," she said.

At least one board member seemed unnerved by vitriol faculty members directed at the board during the meeting. Trustee Robert Wyatt said he wants faculty to show more respect for the trustees in the future.

"Now that we've voted in this rule, I would like to hope that Carol would really make it a point to bring the faculty back together and show respect for the board," he said.

The remark drew quiet hisses from a number of faculty members.

The policy decision is one of several proposed in August by Beruff. In addition to targeting continuing contracts, recent board actions eliminated winter break days for newly hired nonfaculty staff and may set up a hiring system using a low-bid process.

No public hearing for the low-bid hiring process has been scheduled.

Present at a trustee meeting for the first time since September, Beruff voted for the policy he proposed. He declined to comment during the meeting.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.

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