Governor, Florida's Faculty are Doing Their Jobs. Let Them ContinueRoundup
tags: Florida, higher education, academic freedom, Ron DeSantis
Elizabeth Strom is an associate professor at the University of South Florida, and the co-leader of the Florida chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.
I’m a professor at the University of South Florida, and the fire hose of proposed legislation targeting hiring practices, curriculum and even student health at our public universities has been dispiriting for those of us who want to focus on our roles as educators and researchers.
Efforts to disrupt the state’s higher education system are troubling but also puzzling because by most measures, our universities serve our state extremely well.
Perhaps the opening salvo came when the University of Florida tried to keep three faculty members from offering expert testimony in an area of their expertise, an infringement that brought a reprimand from the regional accreditation agency. The state reacted by instructing the university system to find a different accreditor.
Then there is last year’s HB 7, currently stayed by the courts, which, with vague wording, banned the teaching of “critical race theory.” There is a new policy requiring five-year post-tenure faculty reviews in which reviewers consider “student complaints” alongside teaching and research accomplishments. Tenure that can be withdrawn every five years is, in fact, no longer tenure.
This year, the governor turned his attention to New College of Florida, putting ideologues on the Board of Trustees, firing the president and seeking to change the mission of this prestigious small liberal arts college. Next, the Florida Department of Education demanded that all universities identify and eliminate any programs aimed at “diversity, equity and inclusion” and have now required data on all health services provided to trans students, no doubt with an eye to eliminating those services.
A recently filed bill, HB 999, goes even farther. If this bill passes, tenured faculty could be reviewed at any time by their Board of Trustees. Those boards, which are dominated by businesspeople and campaign donors, not scholars or educators, would have full control over faculty retention and hiring.
The reform efforts are based on claims that Florida’s universities need a top-down overhaul. In the eyes of those proposing these bills, our campuses are hotbeds of leftist indoctrination too busy pushing intersectionality to teach workforce-ready skills. The evidence for such claims, however, is hard to find.
One might look at Florida’s leadership: There are 93 Republican state House and Senate members who list postsecondary education details, and 50 of them have attended a Florida public college or university. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff and donor lists are filled with our state university graduates. If our schools really are trying to mold students into progressive cadres, we’re doing a terrible job.
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