Manatee County now owns the dubious distinction of being home to the only Flordia state college where tenure will no longer be given to professors. That academic protection became void for future instructors at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota with last week's Board of Trustees vote to abolish the practice.
The remarkable justification is this: The time-honored tenure system was deemed unbusinesslike -- by the Board of Trustees. They are not educators, but mostly appointees selected by a governor whose purpose it to pursure an agenda with more to do with politics than education.
Since when is a college or university a business? When did education become a business? Schools are most decidely not profit centers. Along with tuition, tax dollars fund those public operations -- to keep them solvent. Those public institutions are owned by taxpayers, not investors.
The standards for employment between centers of public education and private employment are different -- because we are a nation that values freedom of speech and freedom of expression for professors and we demand our educators are well versed in their discipline. We should not allow that loss of those freedoms for our teachers, nor should we devalue their their academic status as mostly people with post-graduate degrees.
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Students should hear all viewpoints, not just the voice of the majority of the politically dominant at that moment in time.
Now, as of July 1, newly hired SCF faculty members will work on annual contracts, the only public college in Florida operating on a system that will undoubtedbly handipcap recruiting the best and brightest instructors. Would educators apply to a college where their employment lacks safeguards in dismissals and disciplinary actions? Where academic freedon ranks second to political whims?
Education will suffer. Students, too, with substandard instructors.
Just as bad if not worse, the trustees voted unanimously in August -- in concept -- to place the college's in-house attorney under its supervision, further politicizing SCF. That imperils the college's accreditation. SCF President Carol Probstfeld voiced the concern that the Southwern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges could revoke SCF's new 10-year certificate.
That would be due to a violation of the separation of the administration, Probstfeld's province, and policymaking, the trustees' mission. Her supervision of counsel is essential to the operation of the college. The board of trustees has no business meddling in day-to-day management of the school. Placing the college's attorney would do just that. Why?
Would trustees also intimidate college administrators into firing a professor who expressed opinions they oppose, as is the somewhat outcome of the tenure ban?
Probstfeld did qualify her fear about accreditation by noting the board'a action, up for a final vote in October, may not trigger the loss accreditation but would put SCF on notice that the commission could take that issue up. But that potential accreditation loss should be a earning warning shot to a board of trustees hostile to a college independent of outside control and only working in the best interests of students and education.
A college is not a business. It's a school. Our children get educated here. They expand their minds, and not necessarily their resumes. Public schools will always and forever be one of our cherished instituions.
This country allows students and instructors to be free to express ideas, to talk openly about what capitivates their mind, to explore their thinking. If we handicuff any part of that educational experience, what does that say about us as a people?
The Board of Trustees of State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota just sent a message. It's this: We're in business, not in education. That tells students and instructors you're secondary to politics.