Florida College Faculty Take Tenure-Rules Fight To Tallahassee Appeals Court

Sep 16, 2014

Hillsborough Community College's Plant City campus
Credit Hillsborough Community College

A Florida appeals court is weighing the constitutionality of rules making it harder for state college professors to get what amounts to tenure. A faculty union argued today before Tallahassee’s First District Court of Appeal that the State Board of Education lacks authority to change tenure rules so drastically.  

College professors are fighting what United Faculty of Florida Executive Director Ed Mitchell calls "Draconian" changes to the requirements for earning continuing contracts; those are the state college version of tenure.

Before the rules went into effect for Florida’s 28 state colleges last year, individual college boards of trustees had been allowed for decades prior to set their own tenure guidelines. The new requirements include quantifiable student performance, which Mitchell says at least one college has interpreted as class grades.

Mitchell says, "If I’m a faculty member and I give out mostly Bs, and my colleagues give out mostly As, I will be considered less effective. That will lead to what we call grade inflation. If I’m an annual-contract teacher, well, I’ll just give out easier grades."

He says the rules could also make it harder for professors to stay in one place.

"And it’s completely destabilizing to the work that a college performs," he says. "I mean, it takes years of experience in a college to understand what it takes to develop curriculum.”

But State Board of Education lawyer David Jordan told the court the Legislature has granted the board authority to make all changes related to tenure.

When Judge Kent Wetherell asked Jordan whether there's a limit to that power—in other words, can it set a 20-year qualifying period if it wants?—Jordan replied there is no official limit, but he acknowledged the board might run into challenges for saying "you have to be dead before you get tenure."

An administrative judge previously agreed the board can regulate tenure.