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Abolishing Tenure: Is the State College of Florida Our Future?

By Leo Welch

The current academic climate in the United States is all too evident with efforts to eliminate tenure, shared governance and collective bargaining rights. These efforts are ongoing in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri with an especially egregious example at State College of Florida. On January 26, 2016, the Board of Trustees at the State College of Florida voted to abolish tenure for all new faculty. All board of trustee members are appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Courtney Ruffner, faculty member and President of the AAUP Chapter at State College of Florida, thinks these board members follow the governor's political agenda. According to Ruffner, "the board is told what needs to happen by the governor."

Although State College of Florida is the only state college to eliminate tenure for new hires at this time, Ruffner believes that the precedent may encourage the Florida legislature to eliminate tenure at other state colleges as well.

The state colleges in Florida were formerly community colleges but are now allowed to offer four-year degrees. Unlike Florida, community colleges in Illinois have elected boards of trustees, except the City Colleges of Chicago with boards appointed by the mayor.

Tenure for full-time faculty in Illinois Community Colleges is protected by the 1980 Tenure Act. But like Florida, Illinois public universities have boards of trustees appointed by the governor, currently Republican Bruce Rauner. Tenure in Illinois private and public universities is based on institutional policy in some universities and on collective bargaining agreements in others. Governor Rauner has already declared "war on public sector unions," and no one would be surprised if he moved to abolish tenure.

As if eliminating tenure weren't enough, officials at State College of Florida are also proposing to implement salary bids by faculty. Elimination of tenure and continuous contracts for faculty could force faculty to submit a bid to the board of trustees for the salary they would be willing to accept. The low bidder for each position would be employed for the following year. The lowest salary bid would be the chief criteria for choosing faculty rather than academic achievement, reducing the quality of instruction available to students. Greg Scholtz, Director of Tenure, Academic Freedom and Governance for the AAUP, stated that he has never heard of faculty bidding for jobs.

State employees in Florida have a constitutional right to collectively bargain. In response to the actions of Board of Trustees of State College of Florida, the faculty has voted to form a union. Signed union organizing cards from two-thirds of the faculty were delivered to the Florida Public Employees Relations Committee calling for certification of a collective bargaining unit at the college. The faculty could vote to join the 26 other collective bargaining units of the United Faculty of Florida. The board of trustees at State College of Florida has yet to formally respond to the faculty's organizing effort.

Faculty will have to continue to generate serious opposition to these efforts to eliminate tenure, shared governance and collective bargaining rights, or the academy will deteriorate beyond recognition.