Florida's college faculty from Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Florida Atlantic University dominated the public comments segment of the state's Board of Governors meeting at FAMU Wednesday morning with concerns about post-tenure review.
At the same time, students protested outside of the meeting site on campus, FAMU's Grand Ballroom, to fight against House Bill 999 — which includes post-tenure review changes as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis' charge to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion programs from public colleges and universities across the state.
United Faculty of Florida President Andrew Gothard — an English faculty member at Florida Atlantic University — expressed concerns on behalf of the 25,000 higher education faculty and graduate assistants represented by the organization.
The comments came as the board got ready to vote on a new regulation to evaluate contracts of tenured faculty members every five years and to authorize state university boards of trustees to review tenure status.
Faculty members fear the change will undermine their tenure protections and diminish the state's higher education system.
“If you pass this regulation, Florida’s university system will go from the most competitive in the country to the least, and it will happen overnight,” Gothard told the board as he stood behind a podium, dressed in his academic regalia. “Every high-quality faculty member around the country who’s deciding where they want to go to build their career is not going to come to Florida.”
“Listen to the people, and listen to the experts,” Gothard added.
But after Gothard and others urged the board members to “vote no,” the board went on to approve the measure.
Following the comments, State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said the main purpose of the change is to standardize policies regarding post-tenure review, and that the decision for the proposal “was not made overnight.”
“This is a policy that has been well developed and will serve the system, and I believe it will ultimately serve our faculty and our students well,” Rodrigues said.
UFF’s FAMU Chapter President Roscoe Hightower was also among faculty members who spoke during the board meeting's public comments.
“The people that I represent from FAMU are becoming worried beyond anybody’s imagination about the type of impact that legislatures are having on us,” said Hightower, who is also Centennial Eminent Scholar professor and chair of Marketing and Facility Management at FAMU's School of Business and Industry.
UFF’s FSU Chapter President Matthew Lata, who is also a music professor, highlighted the difficulties that the post-tenure review change would cause.
“Potential colleagues are looking at what is proposed in the legislature this year, and when we contact them, we’re hearing ‘not Florida, not now,’” Lata said. “We implore the Board of Governors to protect tenure because that’s one of the top recruiting tools that we have.”
FSU English Professor Robin Goodman says that she does not believe the post-tenure review changes will help bring more quality to the state's institutions.
“This is about putting fear in faculty members’ heads so that they can’t actually do their jobs appropriately,” Goodman said. “This is about silencing expertise, and it’s not a good thing for higher education in Florida.”
Students chant ‘kill the bill’ outside of meeting
While faculty members spoke out inside, over 100 FAMU students were gathered outside Wednesday morning across from the H. Manning Efferson Student Union.
Tuesday night, a student rally flyer circulated on social media as students were encouraged by the FAMU Chapter of the NAACP to "Raise (their) voice for those too afraid to speak out."
The students wore FAMU's spirit colors, orange and green. Students stood together along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, shouting “Kill the bill,” “Who’s history? Our history” and “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.”
Other recent student protests: Florida college students plan statewide walkout against Gov. DeSantis: 'This is our fight for freedom'
Many students, including Paige Moore and Nyabi Stevens, helped lead the chants.
Stevens, an African American Studies major, says that she attended the protest to show her support because “the past, present and future generations are affected by African American history,” and that this history should be "embraced, not erased."
Students were encouraged by Student Government Association President Zachary Bell and FAMU National Alumni Association Government Relations Chair Isis Dukes to show their support again during FAMU Day at the Capitol on April 13.
The event at the Capitol is an opportunity for FAMU students and faculty to advocate, make legislative requests and address their concerns during this year's session.
“You’ve got to show up,” Bell said.
Democrat Writer Kyla Sanford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Tarah Jean at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @tarahjean_.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida faculty, students protest efforts targeting tenure, DEI