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United Faculty of Florida -- USF Chapter
28 February 2023
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Tenure ... Again

We are going into the sixth month of the Board of Governors attempt to ... reform ... tenure, and they wouldn't be putting the time and effort into it unless they were under a lot of pressure. Pressure that almost surely emanates from the Governor's office. On Wednesday, February 22, the Board of Governors (who oversee the entire Florida State University System) met online to reform tenure (and to confirm Richard Corcoran as imperial resident - er, president - of New College).

Here is the new Post-Tenure Faculty Review proposal.

Thanks substantially to the comment campaign UFF conducted (which generated nearly 1,400 comments) and a petition UFF launched (which got over three thousand signatures), the new proposal is less noxious than the previous ones. It no longer targets the most senior tenured faculty, it no longer specifically targets faculty who violate the Anti-Woke Act (i.e., Statute 1000.05(4)), and it no longer requires that non-tenured faculty at research institutions be reviewed every five years.

However, it still requires that each tenured faculty member be reviewed every five years for accomplishment, productivity, professional conduct, performance of academic responsibilities, substantiated student complaints, and ... "non-compliance with state law, Board of Governors’ regulations, and university regulations and policies" - which would include whatever ideological requirements the Legislature dreams up, not to mention "Other relevant measures of faculty conduct as appropriate" - which raises the question of what the Board means by "relevant."

At the Board of Governors meeting, six UFF members were permitted to make two-minute comments before the Board. Statements by Andrew Gothard of Florida Atlantic University, Eric Scarffe of Florida International University, Matthew Lata of Florida State University, Michael Buchler of Florida State University, Gregory McColm of the University of South Florida, and Meera Sitharam of the University of Florida are below.

The proposal is now posted for comments, which are due (at the moment) on March 9. Here is the link for making comments: scroll down to Chapter 10, BOG 10.003 on Post-Tenure-Faculty Review and click on download to get a copy of the proposal and click on Submit a comment to comment. Remember, after nearly 1,400 comments (and 3,500 more from UFF's petition), the Board adjusted the regulation. Let's get them to adjust it a little more.

Election Season!

Last Call for Nominations

By now, all UFF members should have received an email from the UFF USF chapter with a link to a Call for Nominations. All nominations are due TOMORROW, so act TODAY.

All UFF members - and only UFF members - may run and vote in this upcoming election. If you are a member, please participate; if not, please join us.

The Legislature is Coming!

American lawyer / newspaper editor / politician Gideon Tucker once wrote that, "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session." This year, the Florida Legislature convenes on March 7, bills are in the hopper, and the entire nation is reading about a proposal to convert the Florida State University System into an arm of the governor's publicity office. This is not the only grotesque in the hopper, and the union will be educating legislators about the consequences of eviscerating Florida's higher educational system.

If you would like to help educate Florida politicians about how the real world really works, contact the chair of the UFF USF Government Relations Committee. Again, they won't hear us if we don't speak up.

Comments to the Board of Governors

Six UFF members spoke at the 22 February 2023 Board of Governors meeting. Here is what we had to say (the imperfect mechanically produced transcript was edited for imperfections and clarity).

Andrew Gothard - UFF President, Florida Atlantic University.
I want to start off by saying, Thank you. The amendments that have been proposed to regulation 10.003 are a good step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done. UFF believes in the need for Post-Tenure Review, which is why it has already been successfully negotiated at all of our State universities.

The State University System contracts already contain Sustained Performance Evaluation (SPE) or Sustained Performance Review (SPR). But we need checks and balances, and we would encourage the Board of Governors to review those contracts and review the language of those post-tenure review policies to see what that looks like when we hold faculty to a very high standard beyond the tenure process, while at the same time respecting and preserving the checks and balances that are necessary to give tenure.

These are the areas that we still think need the most focus.

In this regulation, there is a lack of due process, and this is specifically focused on the provost's ability to ignore all other evaluations that a faculty member has received.

We think there is still a lack of progressive discipline. The fact that your proposed review process can still end in immediate termination is a problem that we need more work on. We need more progressive discipline in in this document.

There is a lack of right to appeal. The fact that the arbitrator cannot substitute their opinion for that of the institution means that even if a faculty member moves through this process, the final decision will still go back to the provost, and that that means that there is still a lack of appeal.

Our hope is that UFF can sit down with the Board of Governors in the coming weeks or month, and actually have a conversation. We would like to be a part of helping build this post-tenure review process into something that works the best for everyone. We're deeply concerned about the number of positions we are hearing about going unfilled across the State, and the words that we are hearing from our colleagues across the country that they are not going to come to Florida, they are not going to send their grad students to Florida, and that we are going to lose our high ranking as one of the best institution institutional systems in the world. We would prefer not to sort some of these issues out in court, though we are prepared to do so if it comes to that. Our hope is that we can work productively and have conversations together.

Finally, I have submitted to the board a petition of over 3,500 signatures from community members, faculty members and students from across the State and across the United States, who are very concerned about this regulation, and how it will gut tenure for the State university system, if we are not able to get it into a fashion that will benefit all.

Thank you so much for hearing my comments today, and I have a number of colleagues here who are ready to speak to more specifics based on their experiences at their institutions.

Eric Scarffe - Florida International University.
I want to echo a lot of Andrew's comments and thank the Board for amending the document to move in a direction that we think is a positive one. But I agree that there's more work to be done here. I'm a tenure-earning assistant professor currently in the process of my third year review. In the past year I've published 2 articles, 2 pieces of public public-facing work, and currently have 4 pieces under review at leading journals in my field. This isn't a complaint about the amount of work I've done, and I am not intending to brag about the amount of work I've done, but is intended to illustrate that the above description does not indicate anything about my performance.

That's because mere quantity of work does not reflect quality. And when I think we set out to rightly evaluate quality, that emphasizes the importance that other experts in my field evaluate me: whether that's evaluating the journals who are publishing my work, what the work in fact says, and my contribution to the university to my students and to the community. However, this also emphasizes the importance of local authority, and autonomy on making these evaluations and decisions. The criteria for how my performance should be evaluated needs to be focused at the level of my department but also other experts in my field. Further, we know that institutions across the State universities system are not all the same, and what this process is might look like at the University of Florida may very well look different than the process at my institution here at Florida International University. In closing, I emphasize that we need to focus on quality, not quantity when thinking about evaluation. And that means we need to bring control back into the local authority.

And that means we need to bring control back into the local authority.

Matthew Lata - Florida State University.
Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.

I'm a professor at Florida State University, and I want to say first of all, that none of us fear evaluation. Tenure is hard to get, and I welcome keeping my feet to the fire to make sure that I'm still performing a level I was performing when I was awarded tenure. We are all evaluated at every year, and we can be fired for misbehavior or non-performance. Continued evaluation is important, but that evaluation should be on those factors that go into achieving tenure, that is, professional performance and success and service institution, and that evaluation should be provided by people who are experts are often exceedingly complex fields.

We very much appreciate that the Board has made changes in the first draft of this regulation. However, in reality, that charge may still be based on compliance with state law in the regulation now, laws that can and will change, based on whomever is in charge of the government.

Evaluation should be not be based on formulas, or again, not whether teaching aligns with the politics of moment.

  • This proposed regulation imposes structures for the evaluation process and mandates consequences for underperformance.
  • It allows for dismissal without appeal. This section is also redundant, and conflicts with legally binding collective bargaining agreements across the State University system.
  • It will require significant expense as the various boards of trustee struggle to align these different sets of requirements.
Again, none of us object to being evaluated. We owe it to our students, their parents, and the taxpayers. Our one ranked university system should be a source of pride for Floridians, as it certainly is for every member of this Board. The existing tenure system is part of it makes this possible. Respectfully, we ask the Board members not to approve this proposal in its current form, but continue to work and refine it, and that will insulate it against politics.

Observe due process, and allow us to continue to attract the best and bright faculty, maintain our rankings and undermine work of so many years, with so many people.

I appreciate your time.

Michael Buchler - Florida State University.
I'm Michael Buchler and this is my 21st year as a professor at Florida State University. Years ago, I published a controversial article that challenged one of my field's dominant methodologies. I'm a music theorist and my article pointed out flaws in the research of one of my field's most respected and beloved scholars—someone who had a long and distinguished career at Yale and later Harvard. What I saw was that his technique, which used a mathematical measure, created a situation where conflicting statements could be identically supported. Apply math, and people believe that you’re looking at something objective, something true. I saw that simply being true didn’t mean that it was significant.

I don't expect that you particularly care about the ins and outs of music theory. But the ability to challenge dominant research — perhaps even the research of your own chair or dean — is a critical component of tenure. Do we want timid researchers in Immunology, history, criminology, economics, engineering, political science ... any field? You cannot move forward — develop better phone batteries, health care, fire fighting equipment, buildings that don’t collapse in earthquakes — if your faculty are afraid to step on the toes of those who wield the power to fire them.

Challenging what I saw as a flaw in my own field was a risky career move. But since then, that article has been my most cited work and two years ago, I was elected President of my national society — a position I currently hold.

At a Society board meeting last week, two colleagues asked me if I was looking to leave Florida now that tenure protections are at risk and teaching certain ideologies are being banned. You can tell yourselves that this so-called post-tenure review policy isn’t the destruction of tenure, but I believe it is. More importantly, my colleagues across North America believe it is. The freedom to study, to publish, and to teach what we want is not only sacrosanct in academia, it’s essential to research universities. Kill it and our best researchers and teachers will leave—some of my colleagues see the writing on the wall and already are applying for jobs elsewhere — and it will be difficult, if not impossible to attract the best future faculty.

Greg McColm - University of South Florida.
My name is Greg McColm, and I am an associate professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of South Florida, and I would like to thank you for letting me speak today about the Post Tenure Faculty Review proposal.

I know that you have modified the proposal, and I thank you for your efforts, but I think that this proposal will create serious recruitment and retention problems. I work with faculty in STEM fields, so I am expressing a STEM research point of view.

Tenure is part of the expected package for research faculty, and I know from past experience that institutions unable to offer tenure are at a competitive disadvantage. And while I understand that this proposal is intended as a reform - even intended to reward high performing faculty - it does not look like reward systems elsewhere. And the constrictive and punitive aspects of it make it look more like a degradation of tenure. That is how it is regarded in the higher education press and, more recently, by professional organizations, academic publications, and many academics themselves.

And there is the red tape problem. Every five years, each tenured faculty member has to take time off from teaching, research, and service to send through a high-stakes packet - and be tempted to copy that packet and use it to apply for a job elsewhere. Additionally, all these packets have to be processed, which means that the universities will have to divert instructional and research resources towards hiring more administrators to administer all these reviews.

If this proposal is instituted in Florida, it will encourage out-of-state institutions to intensify their headhunting efforts here. It will also complicate - and the publicity itself has apparently already complicated - our recruitment efforts. The ultimate effect will be to reduce the ability of the universities to support high tech development in this state.

Meera Sitharam - University of Florida.
What’s new in this regulation draft that doesn’t already exist at a Research 1 university like UF?

Here’s what already exists. Faculty operate in a highly competitive global landscape of peers and peer institutions. We can already be investigated and dismissed for just cause at any time.
To get tenure and then promotion after gaps of 6-7 years, each of us submitted packets amounting to hundreds of pages of publications and evaluatory letters that went through meticulous scrutiny. Tenure track faculty put ourselves through this global peer evaluation process so that it is absolutely clear to everyone including the public that we have attained a level of scholarly maturity that qualifies us to teach competently at graduate and upper division levels. Annual evaluations and more rigorous inspections by department continue after awarding of tenure every 7 years. Raises and promotions are based largely on meritorious performance in relation to departmental and/or global peers.

What is new ?
What’s new appears to be a total removal of checks and balances. 5 of the 6 criteria in Item 3(a) of this draft have nothing to do with performance – they are so vague as to provide carte blanche to an administrator or trustee to fire a faculty member upon any whim that is far from just cause. Even the decision on the one performance related criterion seems to be left to a couple of administrators and trustees that are far removed from the faculty member’s expertise.

What will be the effect of this?
Leaving evaluations to a few people without expertise and without checks and balances permits easy control by all kinds of external political and corporate forces.

This is not what constitutional autonomy of public university looks like that the public of Florida enshrined in the 2002 amendment.

Faculty will try to leave and take their grants with them (look what happened in Wisconsin which had to spend a lot of money to try to stem the bleeding after 2015). [See this article.]

If they stay, they will be under the thumb of corporate and/or political influence. They will no longer engage in research or profess positions they consider to be on the side of truth. [See this article.]

Take my case – I am a professor of computer science and affiliate professor of mathematics at UF which has invested in becoming the AI university for which it has received large corporate and other donations. I however research and teach that while being informed by data is important, the current stage of the gartner hype cycle forgets that AI/ML is nothing more than glorified curve fitting. No matter that the big tech lobby which influences research funding has thrown its entire weight behind it.

Of course, some faculty’s exercise of their academic freedom may align strongly with the university’s currently fashionable strategic initiatives. But others may instead choose to pursue their own paths while supporting the myriad other less fashionable, but essential university functions.

We know of no better way to evaluate expertise than by expert peer review. The public understands this is best done by peers who fiercely debate each other are well versed in the theory of knowledge and have been trained rigorously in the difference between truth, proof, evidence, argument etc.

The draft regulation threatens all this.

What does the public expect of the BoG?
That the BoG is engaged in drawing up this regulation entirely of its own accord, fully exercising its constitutional autonomy from the legislature and the governor as the public has demanded since 2002. By which I mean the constitutional amendment that resulted in the division of powers and duties between the legislature, BoG and Universities as follows. The legislature and the governor have the power to appropriate funds for public education. The BoG has the authority to monitor SUS performance thresholds concerning human capital development, namely degrees awarded and graduates employed. But it is the University leaders and trustees, with faculty shared governance, who decide the what, how and who of knowledge creation and transmission.

Thank you.

And with that, the Board thanked us for our comments.


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