A last-minute amendment adopted on Hialeah Republican Sen. Manny Diaz’s post-secondary education bill drew waves of criticism Friday night, leading to over an hour of debate as the Session approaches its last week.
The bill (SPB 7044) would restrict state colleges and universities from being accredited by the same agency for consecutive accreditation cycles. It would also require additional information about textbooks and instructional materials from state universities and colleges, mandating such information be posted at least 45 days before the start of class and kept public for five years.
The goal of the bill, according to Diaz, is to increase transparency and make materials more accessible for students. As for the new accreditation guidelines, Diaz has said that the change would embrace a recent federal measure that expanded accreditation in the country.
But the bill wasn’t what had lawmakers in a flurry Friday evening. It was an amendment filed by Diaz Thursday, which was adopted into the bill in a 23-15 vote.
The amendment would allow for the Florida Board of Governors to adopt a uniform standard for post-tenure reviews to be conducted every five 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 amendment reads.
Diaz fumbled through questions on the late-filed amendment, struggling to cite substantive information on the issue as well as input from stakeholders — details critics were quick to lay into.
Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo inquired about the current state of post-tenure review processes, to which Diaz said, “I imagine it varies.” Pizzo later cited guidelines of post-tenure reviews already performed by state universities.
“They all have them, they all seem to do the same thing,” Pizzo said.
Other lawmakers questioned Diaz on the impact of these reviews, citing a line in the amendment of “consequences for underperformance.”
“If faculty were to teach a subject or come out with an article that went against the Governor’s wishes, is there a concern, is it possible that their status can be terminated?” Pizzo asked.
“This is not a condition of employment. It’s a review to improve and review performance,” Diaz responded. “There’s no employment consequence … You would want that professor to continue doing those things for which they were tenured, and so it’s a review of that and feedback as to what is going.”
Others become more pointed with the questions, such as Pinellas County Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who quipped, “So what prevents us from becoming the Spanish Inquisition?”
“I have no idea what you’re referring to,” Diaz replied. “Just like the process of when they receive tenure, this would be no different. It would be a five-year review of that tenure … These are tenured professors already and in their contract they have the process by who they answer to and who evaluates them.”
The amendment was also criticized in debate for being brought in the last minute, with a week left in Session and lacking a committee review and public testimony.
“I’m just kind of shocked by the things we don’t know right now,” Brandes said. “We haven’t heard from any faculty members, and we have no additional information. We have not had public comment, no additional thoughts.”
“There’s broad words that are broadly undefined, like ‘consequences for underperformance.’ We don’t know anything about what this amendment actually does for us,” he continued. “We have no clue what the results or consequences of this action could be. I don’t know how you can support something like that. I certainly can’t.”
The United Faculty of Florida were not consulted about the amendment, Diaz said, which also led to scrutiny.
“I will tell you the timing on an issue this significant — involving our tenured faculty, I think it’s nearly 8,000 I was told — is scary, and I think kind of really irresponsible of us to take this up without knowing those issues,” Pizzo said.
The broad language led some opponents to point to the recent complication at the University of Florida, in which university officials barred three professors from testifying in a lawsuit on a new state statute dealing with voting rights.
“Let’s be honest, and we know what’s gone on this past year with University of Florida, among other schools, with political issues. And that is exactly why we are concerned here,” said Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky. “There’s a sneakiness to this. There’s a political component. There are political appointees who are going to be involved in these decisions and our schools have had a serious problem with politicization for their faculty and their students.”
Diaz, however, maintained that the point of the amendment, was to provide feedback to professors and their work, just as a normal job review. Diaz also added that such reviews can encourage employees to improve job performance.
“All in all jobs in all walks of life, we have performance reviews,” Diaz said. “And just because the professor is tenured and making a large salary, they should have the opportunity to have a review and feedback on the work they’re doing.”
Another amendment brought forth by Pizzo was also adopted Friday night. That amendment would require the BOG or State Board of Education to identify and maintain a database of eligible accrediting agencies a school could go to.
The Senate will likely meet for a vote of the full bill as amended next week.