Professors' tenure review could be tied to Florida's new race instruction law

The proposal lays out criteria that would be included in evaluations and makes clear that compliance with the race-related law would be considered.

The outside of FSU's University Center.

The outside of FSU's University Center. Image by Ernie A. Stephens from Pixabay

A controversial law designed to restrict the way certain race-related topics can be taught in Florida classrooms could factor into a new tenure-review process for university professors, under a proposal that higher-education officials will consider next week.

The proposed regulation links two laws that the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved this year.

One of the laws allowed the state university system’s Board of Governors to adopt a regulation that would require tenured professors to undergo a “comprehensive post-tenure” review every five years.

The board on Nov. 10 is slated to consider a draft of the regulation. The proposal lays out criteria that would be included in professors’ reviews and makes clear that compliance with the race-related instruction law would be considered.

The race-related instruction law (HB 7), which DeSantis dubbed the “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act,” or “Stop WOKE Act” — was one of the most-contentious issues of the 2022 legislative session and has drawn federal-court challenges. The law enumerates several concepts that would constitute discrimination if they were included in instruction.

For example, the law targets instruction that “compels” students to believe that they bear “personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past” by members of the same race or sex.

The proposed tenure-review regulation would make “any violation” of the Stop WOKE law one of seven criteria that would be considered. If faculty members’ performance is deemed unsatisfactory, they could face termination.

Faculty members would receive a “performance rating” under the process. Deans would recommend ratings, which could be accepted, rejected or modified by university chief academic officers.

“For each faculty member who receives a final performance rating of ‘does not meet expectations,’ the appropriate college dean, in consultation with the faculty member’s department chair, shall propose a performance improvement plan to the chief academic officer,” the proposal said.

Professors who are directed to follow improvement plans would be given up to a year to meet requirements laid out in the plans.

“Each faculty member who receives a final performance rating of ‘unsatisfactory’ shall receive a notice of termination from the chief academic officer,” the proposal also said.

The United Faculty of Florida has strongly opposed the race-related instruction law. The union in July published an article on its website titled, “HB 7: What UFF Members Need To Know About The “Stop WOKE Act,” calling the law “horrendous” and advising faculty members about its potential impacts.

“Please know that if you, as a UFF member, experience any discipline, harm, or other adverse action from your supervisor or institution in response to your attempts to navigate the prohibitions in HB 7, you should immediately contact your local union leaders for support,” an introductory part of the post said.

Democrats who opposed the measure during the legislative session argued, in part, that it was being pushed by DeSantis for political reasons, as the governor has made his fight against critical race theory and “indoctrination” in schools a linchpin of his education agenda.

The tenure-review law (SB 7044) was sponsored by former Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, and Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. Diaz later left the Legislature to become state education commissioner, while Rodrigues next week will become chancellor of the university system.

Part of the proposed regulation suggests that tenured university employees’ political views would not be a factor in the performance reviews.

“The review shall not consider or otherwise discriminate based on the faculty members’ political or ideological viewpoints,” the proposal said.

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