Florida public universities and colleges will have to try to find new accreditors, course materials must be posted online and remain available for five years, and tenured professors will have to undergo periodic reviews. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the provisions into law on Tuesday during a ceremony in the conservative stronghold of The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida.
“Higher education is important, but it needs to be accountable,” DeSantis said.
“We have to have a good program. We have to make sure that the professors are held accountable and that they are not permanent forever without having any way of holding them accountable or evaluating what they are doing.”
Critics of the tenure provision in SB 7044 say it largely duplicates what is already in place.
United Florida Faculty President Andrew Gothard said faculty members already undergo annual evaluations and tenured professors have what’s called a post-tenure exam. The rules are set out in collective agreements between faculty members and their respective institutions.
“Let’s be honest,” Gothard said, “our public higher education system is one of the best in the country, if not the world. And you don’t get there by having professors who aren’t held accountable for quality.” of the work they ‘produce.
Schools are required by law to post textbooks and learning materials online and retain them for five years. The plan comes after a number of clashes between the credentialing body and the state over issues including presidential searches and whether professors should be allowed to testify as expert witnesses.
The bill was initially an effort to force schools to change accreditors, following high-profile disputes between the state’s current accreditor – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – and the boards of Administration of Florida State University and the State University System. This fight saw SACS weigh in on FSU’s presidential search and its consideration of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for the role. SACS noted that the consideration could be considered political interference prohibited by agency rules.
SACS also chastised the University of Florida for its handling of three professors who wanted to testify as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the state over voting rights. UF initially said no to the teachers. SACS argued that this violated the agency’s academic freedom rules and threatened UF’s accreditation.
Lawmakers have relaxed language to require schools to make a “good faith” effort to find a new agency after several schools pointed out that accreditation is a multi-year and complex process.
Governor DeSantis has made it a priority to push back against what he sees as liberal bias on college and university campuses. The state recently sent a survey to students, faculty, and staff at public colleges and universities across the state to gauge whether the schools have a liberal bent. This investigation is the subject of a trial.