Conservative efforts to reshape higher education have gained a foothold in Florida. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature approved a bill Wednesday that would require public universities to find new accrediting bodies and allow boards to conduct post-term reviews every five years.

The legislation follows another bill passed Tuesday that would allow public universities to hide the names of presidential candidates until finalists are selected. Both bills will now go to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign into law.

The Florida bill deals with what some see as academic details, rather than high-profile measures aimed at outright banning the teaching of controversial topics on campuses, which are now being considered in other states. Proponents of the Florida legislature describe the measures as common-sense reforms aimed at boosting student achievement, providing more accountability for tenured faculty and encouraging high-quality applicants to take on leadership positions.

State Rep. Amber Mariano, a Republican, said the state’s public colleges should be able to find the accrediting agency that best fits their needs — as long as it’s not their current accrediting agency, which is Southern schools and the College Association Committee.

But state higher education experts and faculty in Florida say the legislation is part of an attack on fundamental principles that uphold academic autonomy for faculty and institutions.

Post-tenure review “undermines tenure and academic freedom because it can lead to faculty being fired without the normal due process that accompanies tenure,” said Gregory Scholz, director of academic freedom, tenure, and governance at the American Association of Universities. “. professor.

Kevin Carey, vice president of education policy and knowledge management for the New America, said the narrow issues of accreditation and tenure in the bill dovetail with larger issues of state lawmakers trying to undermine the core value of academic freedom.

Carey said in the past, lawmakers from both parties have understood that college faculty may talk about things that elected officials personally disagree with. That understanding is unraveling, he said, and attitudes are emerging: “I don’t like what these institutions have to say; I want to control them.”

policy conflict

The legislation comes after several contentious clashes between public universities and state officials. In the fall, news reports revealed that the University of Florida had barred several faculty members from serving as expert witnesses in a voting rights lawsuit against the state, telling the staff that such testimony would be “not in the interests of UF.”

The attitude that’s emerging is this one: “I don’t like what these institutions say; I want to control them.”

college fast overturned the decisionbut later became a federal judge slammed the agency’s new policy In expert testimony, it was written that it contained “numerous constitutional flaws” and was nothing more than a “polished version” of a previous policy.

Kelly Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the American Association of University Professors, said allowing universities to enforce stricter post-tenure reviews — which could lead to disciplinary action or dismissal — is part of a broader effort to curb faculty speaking in the classroom.

“After the University of Florida scandal, it’s no coincidence,” he said.

In recent years, several other states, including Iowa, where lawmakers have been considering bills to repeal policies at three of the state’s public universities, have also begun to focus on tenure.

Instead of canceling terms, the Georgia board, whose members are all appointed by the state’s Republican governor, approved changes to the board’s post-term review policy. Teacher critics say the changes weaken protections for tenure. Previously, tenured faculty members who went through post-tenure review and did not show progress could be fired. But the process for firing the aforementioned professor is very similar to the AAUP’s recommendation.

Those faculty members can now terminate “in accordance with guidelines provided by the principal or principal’s designee and the institution’s post-tenure review policy,” the new policy says. Teacher critics say it opens the door for teachers to be fired without due process.

In Florida, lawmakers’ renewed interest in tenure could prompt a proposal from administrators at the state’s public universities.

USF Provost Ralph C. Wilcox to the Chair of the Faculty Committee on Oct. 3.

A draft document “was developed by colleagues at the University of Florida,” Wilcox wrote in the email. It will require tenured faculty to undergo a comprehensive periodic review every five years.

Faculty members have criticized the policy for being in writing, saying it hinders tenure protections and cedes too much power to administrators. They said staff had been fully vetted in accordance with current procedures.

The proposal appears to be part of an “overarching attempt to control academics from outside the campus,” Eric Chicken, FSU’s chair of the Senate, told CNN. chronicle then.

During debate on the bill, six Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure, warning that the changes could politicize the tenure review process and scare off top researchers at the state’s universities. “This is a terrible response to the political turmoil we just experienced at the University of Florida,” said Rep. Ben Diamond, a Pinellas County Democrat.

Certification body asks questions

Higher education advocates also see the requirement for the state’s public universities to seek new accreditation as a response to issues of academic freedom at the University of Florida and the Florida State University presidential campaign.

In November, the accrediting agency for Florida’s public universities sent a letter to the University of Florida asking it to respond to reports that it had blocked several faculty members from serving as expert witnesses in voting rights trials — a possible violation of accrediting agency standards. Academic freedom.

New America’s Carey said “presumably the accreditation language came about only because accreditors questioned the prohibition of teacher participation” on the controversial issue.

In May, the accrediting agency requested information about finding a new chancellor at Florida State University. At the time, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran was a candidate for the position but was also on the board, potentially violating the accrediting agency’s conflict of interest rules.

Accreditation experts noted that other accrediting agencies available at the state’s 12 public universities and 28 state universities have similar standards and procedures and could lead to similar investigations.

New rules approved by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos make it easier for some colleges to seek new accreditation bodies, but the task presents practical challenges, said Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, chair of the Higher Education Accreditation Council.mechanism

“We’re concerned that Florida lawmakers may not realize that finding a new accrediting agency will take a lot of time and resources,” she said. “The cost can be high, especially for smaller agencies.”

Florida legislative analysts concluded that the costs “may include an application fee of $5,000 to $12,500; candidate fees, between $5,000 and $6,000 for at least two regional accrediting agencies; and costs associated with site visits conducted by the accrediting agency. Costs, averaging $2,500, plus fees per evaluator. Candidate institutions pay all reasonable and necessary expenses for each site visit, including travel, lodging, food, and possible gratuity.”

Rep. Mariano, the only Republican to speak at the live debate, said criticism of the legislation was based on fear and argued that other accrediting agencies are better because they oversee the nation’s top universities, such as the Ivy League. members of the Union School. In fact, accreditation bodies such as the Southern Association grow regionally and are basically formed around the bodies they oversee. In addition, she said, a provision added to the bill would allow universities to return to the Southern Association if they cannot find another accrediting agency.

Edward Meadows, president of Pensacola State College, said the state should not be responsible for deciding which accrediting agency a university chooses. “Any desire to change institutional accreditation should be made by the council at the local level,” he told chronicle.

“All presidents want to know why anyone thought it was a good idea,” Meadows said. “For any problem that lawmakers think the bill can address, there may be better solutions.”