By Victor Skinner
LAKELAND, Fla. – The transformation of the University of South Florida Polytechnic to Florida Polytechnic University comes with some interesting changes that are irking organized labor leaders.
FPU’s “re-envisioning” includes doing away with tenure for professors in favor of “fixed term, multi-year contracts that will be renewed based on performance,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
School officials told the news site the new system will award one, three, or five-year contracts, based on teaching ability and research.
Ghazi Darkazalli, the school’s vice president of academic affairs, said the goal is to focus faculty on what’s most important, instead of “trivial publication and research” typically pursued by those on the tenure track.
“We want to be a leading university, and we wanted to attract faculty who think out of the box, and who are ambitious and creative,” Darkazalli told Inside Higher Ed. “We don’t want them to be worrying within the first five or six years whether they’re going to be tenured or not.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation last year that separated the University of South Florida from its satellite campuses, including University of South Florida Polytechnic. The new school is now working toward full accreditation as it wraps up construction on new facilities and prepares to enroll its first class of students in 2014, the news site reports.
Of course, the state’s teachers union and other critics in the education establishment aren’t very keen on the performance-based model. They argue it undermines the “academic freedom” tenure provides, even though the academic freedom is addressed in Florida Polytechnic’s bylaws.
“Nobody wants to be a part of an institution where you’re just hiring and rehiring people at the lowest price you can get away with,” Thomas Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida, told Inside Higher Ed.
We think Auxter is off the deep end.
Florida Polytechnic is a very specialized school that will require faculty members who’ve made an impact in the real world. Its professors will have a background in cloud visualization and big data analytics, cyber gaming, electrodynamics, semiconductors and multifunctional materials development, according to the university’s website.
Most likely, the professors at Florida Polytechnic will have spent years working for high-tech corporations that certainly don’t provide tenure. These people will be quite familiar with performance-based evaluations. In fact, their success to date is probably the result of high expectations in their former workplaces.
We suspect the union’s real concern is that Florida Polytechnic will be the state’s first public university without a unionized teaching staff. The school will have an opportunity to demonstrate how much more efficiently and effectively the state can educate students when instructors are free to accomplish great things without restrictive union rules.
And that scares the heck out of people like Auxter.
We have no doubt Auxter and his ilk will try to recruit the university’s staff into their way of doing business at the earliest opportunity.