TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a higher education reform bill into law while in The Villages on Tuesday. The legislation, Senate Bill 7044, makes changes to how faculty tenures are handled in state colleges and universities.
At the beginning of the event, DeSantis commented on the recent overturning of the federal mask mandate for travelers, and announced that this week’s special legislative session would also be targeting special improvement districts, such as Walt Disney World’s special status.
Turning to the legislation itself, and the main reason for his event, DeSantis talked about changes coming to Florida’s universities and colleges.
“What we’re doing today is really making sure that yes, higher education is important, but it needs to be accountable,” DeSantis said. “We need to have good curriculum, we need to make sure that faculty are held accountable, that they don’t just have tenure forever without having any type of ways to hold them accountable or evaluate what they’re doing. So this is what I think the bill does.”
DeSantis said SB 7044 was to make the state’s institutions more in line with state priorities and the priorities of parents for higher education.
“What the bill today is going to do is going to end this accreditation monopoly,” DeSantis said. “The role that these accreditation agencies play, I don’t even know where they come from, they’re basically are just effectively self-anointed. They have an inordinate amount of power to shape what is going on at these universities. What this bill does here is requires diversity with the accreditations, you can’t just keep going to the same accreditor. I think that’s going to be very significant.”
DeSantis also said the bill reforms tenure policies in the state.
Under the newly-signed law, tenured faculty will now be reviewed every five years, where the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida will consider the accomplishments and productivity, assigned duties in research, teaching and service, performance metrics, evaluations and ratings of professors, and recognition and compensation considerations, as well as improvement plans and potential consequences for what they state may deem as underperformance.
The governor said the bill allows a university or college’s Board of Trustees the freedom to separate from a tenured professor, and said that tenure’s purpose has changed.
“I think the thing is that tenure was there to protect people so they could do ideas that maybe would cause them to lose their job, or whatever and academic freedom,” DeSantis said. “I don’t know that that’s the role it plays anymore. I think what tenure does is it, if anything, creates more of an intellectual orthodoxy, where people who have dissenting views, it’s harder for them to become tenured in the first place. Then once you’re tenured, your productivity really declines, particularly in certain disciplines.”
He said if the productivity wasn’t there, if professors weren’t adding anything, it would allow colleges to go their separate ways from those professors. DeSantis called it “probably the most significant tenure anywhere in the country.”
The bill also “ensure transparency with how the curriculum is developed,” according to DeSantis. He targeted what he called the politicization of subjects and some “esoteric” focuses, as well as courses that “don’t prepare people for the real world.”