As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP state lawmakers look to shake things up in university classrooms, their legislative goals are causing the United Faculty of Florida union to take notice.
Targeting tenure, how professors across the state are hired, and “woke” college courses, DeSantis says he’s making higher education accountable and preventing universities from indoctrinating students with what he and other Republicans deem liberal bias.
“Higher education is important, but it needs to be accountable,” DeSantis told a crowd in The Villages in April. “We need to have good curriculum. We need to make sure the faculty are held accountable and they just don’t have tenure forever without ways to hold them accountable or evaluate what they’re doing.”
According to Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, a union that represents more than 25,000 Florida faculty members, the state’s current political climate is damaging the reputation of Florida’s universities and making it more difficult to recruit talented teachers.
“What we clearly see is a shift toward authoritarianism and we are seeing it manifesting in higher education — an assault on tenure and free speech,” Gothard told the Orlando Sentinel.
Concern has increased, Gothard said, since a draft bill was recently made public that would have removed hiring decisions from university presidents and given them to university boards of trustees, which include the governor’s political appointees.
According to Seeking Rents, another provision of the bill would have required the board of governors, which oversees state universities, and the State Board of Education, which oversees community colleges, to conduct new reviews of existing degree programs.
The governor wields enormous control over the board of governors, where he appoints 14 of its 17 members, and over the State Board of Education, where he appoints all seven members, Seeking Rents reports.
The draft bill also banned general education “curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as critical race theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
The bill never gained traction, but Robert Cassanello, president of the United Faculty of Florida at the University of Central Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that it shows that state politicians want more control of what occurs on college campuses.
“It definitely says something about intention and shows there is intentionality among the governor and Republican Legislature to control who is being hired and fired at public universities,” he said.
Calling it the “most significant” tenure reform in the country, DeSantis signed a bill in April directing the board of governors to adopt a uniform standard for post-tenure reviews that would be done every five years.
Tenure is an indefinite academic appointment that can only be terminated for cause or under extraordinary circumstances. It was designed to protect academic freedom and shield professors from political power plays.
Universities are also required to change accreditors periodically and make information about tuition and fees and course materials public, as per the legislation.
Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature also recently passed HB 7, known as the “stop woke act,” which prohibits teaching that a person is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” solely because of their gender or race.
The new law could put state funding at risk if universities violate its provisions, according to Seeking Rents.
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