Corcoran asks seven faculty to withdraw tenure applications: What faculty protections are in place?
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Interim President Richard Corcoran speak during a news conference in Fort Lauderdale. Taken by Joe Raedle (Getty Images).

Corcoran asks seven faculty to withdraw tenure applications: What faculty protections are in place?

Just hours before the tenure application deadline, Interim President Richard Corcoran spoke to seven New College professors on Mar. 15, asking them to withdraw their applications. According to Faculty Union President Steven Shipman, Corcoran’s explanation for this was that he didn’t have enough time to review the applicants’ files and approve them himself—despite the professors already having been approved on Feb. 24 by Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Bradley Theissen when filling in for the role of Interim President during the month of February. Approval from the Board of Trustees (BOT) is now the last step in the tenure process for these professors. 

Corcoran’s request came just a few weeks ahead of the Apr. 26 BOT meeting. Given the circumstances of quick policy changes made at previous meetings, it raises the question whether the board can change the way the process of tenure currently works to give Corcoran the opportunity to approve or disapprove the seven faculty members. 

“The board can say that they want to push it back to give Corcoran the ability to review and approve, but that is not what our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) says,” Shipman explained. “If they wish to change the process, we will happily sit down and discuss it in our normal bargaining meetings, but they haven’t done that.”

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, which is necessary for all who teach and conduct research in higher education. When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech, publications or research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge. Tenure provides the conditions for faculty to pursue research and innovation and draw evidence-based conclusions free from corporate or political pressure.

At a press conference in February, Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed that “the most significant deadweight cost at universities is typically unproductive tenured faculty,” and also commented on how taxpayers shouldn’t have to be “saddled” with that cost. House Bill 999, which has yet to pass, would allow universities’ BOT to review tenured professors’ performance at any time—although there must be reasons for the review, such as negligence, insubordination or violation of the law.

Tenure at New College is a rigorous process, Shipman said. Faculty have the right to stand for tenure in their sixth year—although many come up for tenure in their fifth—and they are required to stand if they’re on a tenure track. Every year, faculty members receive a letter from the chair of their department. In a professor’s second year, a campus-wide committee reviews all the second year faculty and they are then given an evaluation of “what looks good and what could use improvement.” In a professor’s third year, if they are not voted on in approval, they must leave their position at the school. At the four year mark, there is another campus-wide review, and in the fifth or sixth year, they are reviewed for tenure. 

“The candidates that are going forward this year got positive external letters from researchers at New College and outside, positive reviews from their division, positive chair letters, positive votes from the provost and were approved by Interim President Brad Thiessen,” Shipman said. “The process was already complete without Corcoran’s intervention.” 

On his blog, Eddie’s Substack, Trustee Jason “Eddie” Speir wrote on January 29 that he wanted the board to “seek a legal opinion regarding our ability to declare a financial emergency and employ a zero-based budgeting policy of terminating all contracts for faculty, staff and administration and immediately rehiring those faculty, staff and administration who fit in the new financial and business model.” 

“In a scenario of a declaration of financial emergency, we would ask why that’s the case with all the money they say is coming in,” Shipman said. “Usually schools in financial emergencies are having trouble paying their employees, so that scenario is wildly unrealistic. In normal times we have a union and a collective bargaining agreement that has a lot of weight to it. The process to remove someone with tenure has a lot of steps.” 

 Shipman further explained that tenure is a continuing contract with due process, and faculty must be shown there are reasons for being fired—it’s not something that can happen spontaneously.

Post tenure, professors are continually evaluated each year. At the end of each semester, faculty members fill out Faculty Annual Activity Reports (FAAR) that typically consist of 30 questions regarding teaching, research and other similar topics. Students also write their own narrative evaluations for their professors at the end of each semester, which are also included in this evaluation process.

“This is then sent to the chair of a professor’s department and it is reviewed again,” Shipman said. 

The faculty currently standing for tenure were meant to be approved or denied at the Apr. 17 Academic, Student and External Affairs Standing Committee meeting. However the item was deferred. The faculty being considered for tenure presumably must be approved by the trustees during their next meeting on Apr. 26.   

Corcoran added a memo on Apr. 14 to each of the files of the tenure candidates ahead of the Apr. 17 meeting and then forwarded the modified files to the BOT, according to Shipman. This led The New College United Faculty of Florida (NCUFF) to file a grievance the morning of Apr. 17. NCUFF believes that adding this second unnecessary review of each of the candidates was a last minute, unilateral modification of the tenure process that has been used for decades and is written out in detail in the CBA. The candidates were also not given the required five-day period to respond before the improperly modified files were sent to the BOT.

 “Given the above, we were forced to respond quickly to protect faculty,” Shipman wrote in a statement on behalf of the NCUFF Grievance Committee. “By filing the grievance, we are reminding the college administration that they need to follow our legally-binding contract. For tenure in particular, faculty prepare for this several years in advance, and it is profoundly unfair to attempt to change the process in the final minutes.”

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