I have missed it since retiring.
But now I am relieved not to be a part of it.
Because higher education in my state is under attack.
Our governor, like all dictators, is hell-bent on controlling not only what is taught, but also how it is taught. If it doesn’t meet his standards, he will have no problem seeking retribution. No matter what or who is hurt. Including the state and the constituents he has sworn to protect. He is a nasty, small-minded autocrat who routinely seeks revenge against those who cross him.
His actions are observed with disbelief throughout the country. Many have been shocked by his stands, enforced by his lackey legislature, controlling K through 12 education.
But all is far from serene at the state college and university level.
An early indicator of the trouble brewing arose because of a law passed a year ago restricting voting methods, largely believed aimed at traditional Democratic voting blocks. Three professors from the state’s flagship university, the University of Florida (UF), agreed to testify against the state in the ensuing lawsuit. The university forbade it, saying that UF could not allow a professor to speak in opposition to the state’s position. The Board of Governors that oversees the state’s university system and the Board of Trustees which oversees UF soundly endorsed this policy. Fourteen members of the 17 making up the former are appointed by the governor. The latter has six members named by the governor and five by the Board of Governors. No wonder both groups favored the university’s dictum.
There couldn’t be a clearer attempt to squelch independent thought. Professors have for decades been called upon to bring their expertise to the courtroom.
The backlash was immediate and strong. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the accrediting organization for UF. It determines which degrees are valid. It issued an immediate concern, and even threatened to remove accreditation from the institution. The university’s president decided it was time for him to retire. The professors eventually were permitted to testify as long as they didn’t use any university resources.
In what to me is a parallel attack, the governor is demanding that tenured faculty be reevaluated every five years with the unstated implication they could be removed despite the safety that tenure provides. Evaluation procedures at a university are time consuming and drag faculty away from their primary jobs. This would significantly add to the process already existing that deals with the approval of tenure and promotion. A main purpose of tenure is to protect faculty from having to toe a particular political line. And it also has made up for the traditionally low salaries compared to those in the nonacademic world.
The justification for this move is that tenured faculty feel safe and therefore will get lazy and stop producing.
I can speak only from my own observations, but I can’t think of a single example where that has been the case. All of those with tenure I have known have continued lifetime efforts to better the teaching environment and produce original research. They are excited about their work and the opportunity to direct graduate students. They are expected to be their department’s leaders and they are.
I fear that the real goal is to have a method to weed out faculty who don’t “think right.”
Another new law requests faculty, staff, and students on state college and university campuses to fill out a survey to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.” Can you imagine what the state would use that information for? Now, to be fair, one is not required to return the form—yet. In fact, faculty organizations have advised against doing so. I would not return mine if I were still teaching. But I worry that approach might backfire. I suspect those who do send the form back will mirror the governor’s views and provide justification for the state taking action to make sure teaching is “proper.”
Remember the accrediting board that expressed concern about professors being denied the right to testify in court? How dare they? So a new rule says every ten years a new board must be chosen. Eliminating a continuity in approach that has been hard won and potentially placing many academic programs in jeopardy. Possibly programs the state disapproves of. After all, it is going to supply a list of acceptable oversight organizations.
I fear for the future of higher education in Florida. It might take a while, but I believe our history of constantly improving higher education will begin to erode. I suspect the most qualified faculty seeking an academic position will take jobs outside the state. Others already entrenched here will move. Program content will be diluted. Control will be placed on research topics. Those who don’t think “correctly” will be removed.
Think about what other countries might already employ such methods of control.
Then worry about our future.