THE VILLAGES, Fla. — Florida's governor on Tuesday announced major reforms to the state's academic tenure system, which until now has essentially offered lifetime job security to college and university professors.
Speaking in The Villages, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7051 — officially called the Postsecondary Education bill — into law.
DeSantis said the legislation is designed to hold higher education accountable by requiring tenured educators to undergo a review every five years.
"We need to make sure the faculty are held accountable and that they don't just have tenure forever without having any type of ways to hold them accountable or evaluate what they're doing," DeSantis said.
Under the new law, which will go into effect on July 1, tenured faculty will be reviewed by a college or university's Board of Trustees on a five-year basis.
Calling this the "most significant tenure reform" in the country, DeSantis on Tuesday said the goal of the legislation is to ensure productivity among professors and prevent them from indoctrinating students with their own biases.
"Tenure was there to protect people so that they could do ideas that maybe would cause them to lose their job or whatever — academic freedom," DeSantis said. "Now you're gonna be in a situation where, OK, if the productivity is not there, if you're not adding anything, then you can go your separate ways."
Until now, tenured faculty could only be fired for justifiable causes or severe misconduct.
"If we're paying an institution to guide me and expand my mind, should we not be able to hold that institution accountable?" said Taylor Walker, a Florida State University student who spoke to Tuesday's news conference. "When so many in this world, especially in academia, will put their own biased agendas over excellence, it's refreshing to see a government that applies standards to mitigate injustice."
Outgoing Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran claimed professors often inject their personal opinions on two of his children in college.
"They'll tell me something that the professor said. And I'll say, that's just the most liberal, unfactual diatribe. Why didn't you say something? And they literally say, 'I want to get a good grade,'" Corcocan said. "That's a horrible institution. That's not free speech."
The United Faculty of Florida responded to the law signing, saying DeSantis is "playing political games with the futures of over a million of Florida’s students."
"Tenure protects the right of faculty to teach and research honestly and accurately without the threat of politicians who would fire them for doing their jobs, and it protects the rights of students to learn about whatever interests them without being told by big government how to live their lives," UFF President Dr. Andrew Gothard said in a written statement.
Gothard argued that all higher education faculty members — tenured or not — already undergo an extensive performance review process and "are already held accountable by their peers and employers."
"The only missing piece in that equation is that tenured faculty cannot be fired for political reasons, meaning the passing whims of the latest politician in power cannot be used to harm the future of Florida’s students and institutions," Gothard said. "Gov. DeSantis made it clear today that controlling the thoughts and actions of the higher education community is more important to him than the quality of education Florida's students receive."