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By a 7-1 vote Tuesday night, college trustees ended a longtime continuing contract system for SCF teachers. As of July 1, new faculty members at the Manatee County-based school will work on annual contracts at the only state school in Florida that does not offer tenure to qualified employees.
The new policy was enacted a month after it was introduced by longtime trustee Carlos Beruff. It is one of several policies he proposed in August aimed at bringing some of the Manatee County-based college board employment practices in line with private industry and other state organizations.
The vote came after Gary Russell, vice president of academic affairs, gave a presentation during the trustee meeting at the Lakewood Ranch campus. He told board members doing away with continuing contracts will short-circuit faculty access to due process in disciplinary and dismissal situations. It also will lower the quality of applicants for faculty positions and place SCF at a competitive disadvantage versus other colleges when it comes to hiring, he said.
He also addressed trustee concerns continuing contracts can protect non-productive faculty members. All faculty members are evaluated annually he said. For those on continuing contracts, those contracts must actually be broken to dismiss a faculty member. Faculty at the school on annual contracts who do not measure up at evaluation time are simply not offered new contracts. In the event of a firing over academic freedom, a broken contract gives faculty members legal recourse against the school, Russell said. Without that protection, he said he would have taken a job with another school rather than coming to SCF as an English teacher 33 years ago.
“Why would I have applied here?” he asked the board.
Robyn Bell, faculty senate president and SCF music instructor, elaborated on Russell’s remarks.
“If not for tenure, professors would be attacked every time there is a change in the wind,” Bell said. “Part of our jobs as professors is to challenge the norm, the standard and to get our students to think outside of the box. A continuing contract means I can do that without losing my job.”
Board members were not moved. Referencing an incident at the college in which an instructor was found to be “ranting” to a class, Lori Moran said there are times the school needs to be able to fire an instructor for classroom misbehavior.
“The protection part is just nuts,” Moran said. “You’re talking about people who are going to say anything. Who’s watching?”
Board member Dr. Craig Trigueiro backed her point.
“I support academic freedom, but academic freedom is not academic immunity,” he said.
After Beruff made a motion to eliminate continuing contracts, SCF President Carol Probstfeld voiced the last of the opposition.
“I do think that this policy would put us at a competitive disadvantage to bring and retain the excellent faculty that we need,” she said.
Prior to voting, Beruff suggested any hiring disadvantage the school might encounter could be remedied by offering merit pay or bonuses to high-performing employees. He noted other schools, including private Ringling College of Art and Design and for-profit Full Sail University in Orlando maintain high quality standards without a tenure system.
The best way to inspire school faculty to excel, he said, is by rewarding them for it.
“This country is based on the freedom of work,” he said.
The board delayed the start of the new policy until July as opposed to Sept. 1, as Beruff originally proposed. According to staff, most school faculty hiring is done in August. For this school year, the school filled about a dozen faculty positions.
The only dissenting vote came from Marlen Hager. Board member Charlene Neal did not attend the meeting.