DeSantis signed the bill

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill at a media event at Barnstorm Theater in The Villages. Photo: Governor’s Press Office.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran scrutinized university professors, made claims about profs indoctrinating students and criticized the long-standing tenet of Florida’s traditional tenure system during an April 19 news conference.

The officials gathered for a bill signing – not at a state university or anywhere related to higher education – but at The Villages in Sumter County, where a majority of residents are senior citizens and where DeSantis has visited many times.

At the event, the dialogue also centered around tenured professors “indoctrinating” students on campuses.

(Senate President Wilton Simpson also attended the new conference, but kept a majority of his remarks on K-12 education initiatives.)

The bill signing of SB 7044 included a number of higher education measures, but the tenure issue was a main focus.

The bill, now a law, states that “The Board of Governors may adopt a regulation requiring each tenured state university faculty member to undergo a comprehensive post tenure review every 5 years. The board may include other considerations in the regulation, but the regulation must address: accomplishments and productivity; assigned duties in research, teaching, and service; performance metrics, evaluations, and ratings; and recognition and compensation considerations, as well as improvement plans and consequences for underperformance.”

The United Faculty of Florida, a statewide university faculty union, responded in a written statement, saying, “If Gov. DeSantis and Florida’s legislative leaders demonstrated anything during today’s press conference, it is that they fundamentally do not understand how Florida’s higher education system works.”

It continued, “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. The statements made today are playing political games with the futures of over a million of Florida’s students.”

The statement said that DeSantis “enjoys touting the top-ranked quality of our state’s higher education system, while simultaneously failing to recognize that Florida’s higher education faculty are the reason for that ranking.”

The statement also noted the process which professors get tenure: “Tenure was awarded to them (professors) by the approval of their peers both internal and external to their institution, their administrators and the members of their boards of trustees, who have been appointed by the governor.” 

Sprowls, a Republican representing part of Pinellas County, implied that some tenured professors could hold a student’s grade over their head for not believing in certain ideals.

“Are they (students) going to walk into a university system that’s more about indoctrination than it is about getting a job some day and learning the skills necessary and the subject matter necessary to get a job?” Sprowls said. “Or is it about some sort of radical political agenda that a particular professor, who’s been told they get a lifetime job, is going to tell them that they have to believe to get an ‘A’ in their class?”

He added, “We want to make sure that when they walk into that classroom, and there’s that professor who didn’t really come to teach – And I want to say this, there are lots of professors who come to teach. There’s lots of teachers who come to teach. … But there are some who come to indoctrinate and they shouldn’t have a lifetime job. They shouldn’t get a lifetime job here in the state of Florida.”

Sprowls also spoke on changes to syllabus and textbook transparency in the legislation, which requires that students be notified of course textbooks at least 45 days before the first day of class and course syllabi provide “sufficient” information on course curriculum, goals of the course and how student performance will be measured.

“How many of us went to a – you know, whether it’s a high school class or a college class and you get the syllabus like two weeks into the semester. Right?” he said at the press conference. “And they start to tell you, ‘well, we thought this was a class about, you know, western democracy, but really it’s, you know, it’s a class on socialism and communism.’”

DeSantis bragged about Florida’s top ranking state university system, moments before saying that Florida’s professors need to be “held accountable.”

“Our state university systems rank No. 1 in the nation five years in a row by U.S. News and World Report,” he said, adding, “University of Florida is ranked No. 5 amongst top public universities in the entire country and many of our other universities have improved dramatically, so we’re proud of that and I can promise we can keep that going.” 

The rankings also show University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and University of California, Santa Barbara, ranked 5.

DeSantis later added, “So, now with tenure, you have a five-year review. Every five years you go in front of the board of trustees – ”

Applause and cheering from the audience interrupted DeSantis mid-sentence.

He continued, “You go in front of the board of trustees, and they have the ability to part ways with you. And I think the thing is that tenure was there to protect people so that they could do ideas that maybe would cause them to lose their jobs, or whatever, and academic freedom. I don’t know that it’s really the role that it plays quite frankly, any more. I think what it does, if anything, is created more of an intellectual orthodoxy, where people who have dissenting views, it’s harder for them to even become tenured in the first place. And then once you’re tenured your productivity really declines, particularly in certain disciplines.”

This story was written by Danielle J. Brown for Florida Phoenix. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing and media. 

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