Florida Faculty Concerned Over Gov. Scott’s Higher Ed Plans

Florida faculty members are bracing for a debate after Gov. Rick Scott expressed interest in a Texas plan that links students' grades to faculty bonuses and cuts research budgets at state universities, writes Kristine Gill at Naples News.

Scott and officials with the State University System of Florida say they just want to start a conversation.

"The Texas plan is fine for Texas," Frank Brogan, chancellor for the university system, said.

"But I think what the governor has said to us is he just likes the Texas plan as a conversation starter. He wants a plan with ideas for Florida."

The Texas Public Policy Foundation's Seven Breakthrough Solutions are billed as pillars to improve teaching and cut costs in Texas. The proposals include creating a new accreditation system that grades institutions on how effectively they deliver on promises to students, as well as splitting university budgets for teaching and research.

However the proposal frequently refers to students as "customers," and encourage faculty members to teach as many students and classes as possible to earn performance bonuses. Faculty members with major research budgets are referred to as "high-cost", writes Gill. The business rhetoric of the plan has worried some Florida faculty members.

Catherine Wilkins, an Edison State College professor, drafted an official response to the plan for the Faculty Senate, calling it "shortsighted," and warning it would be a "grave mistake" to create the same system in Florida.

"We're basically rejecting the idea that instructor salaries should be based solely on the number of students we serve and their satisfaction," Wilkins said. "That leads to a watering down of curriculum and grade inflation."

Edison is governed by the Florida College System run by Chancellor Willis Holcombe. The system includes 28 colleges, which wrote to Scott this summer with their response to the plan. The State University System of Florida governs the 11 state universities, writes Gill.

"Any time you talk about changing the system, the concern is whether faculty will lose job security," Holcombe said.

The seven solutions separate research and teaching budgets and also create student scholarships from existing state funding. But those solutions rousing Florida faculty most are ones that deal with evaluations and tenure.

"This is part of a fervor for accountability we see going into place in the public sector," Wilkins said. "There's nothing wrong with the idea that an instructor should be held accountable for what goes on in the classroom. It's problematic when it links grades to accountability."

Scott addressed a crowd of 500 at an education summit in Bonita Springs on Oct. 5 with remarks on the need for education reform, especially when it comes to making sure students can get jobs upon graduation.

"I went to college to get a job," he said. "People said, ‘No, no, no, you're supposed to go to school to learn things.' I said, ‘No, I want a job.'"

While preparing students for jobs is important, faculty at liberal arts institutions feel the seven Texas solutions impose a rigid business model on the nuanced world of learning.

"Education is not something people make decisions about the same we think about buying a computer or a car or a frappuccino," Harrison said. "The outcomes we're seeking involve learning experiences and social and intellectual developments for students, which are necessarily complex and not easily measurable."

Faculty in Southwest Florida welcomes the opportunity for improvement but remains wary.

"Making it part of a political process is risky," Harrison said. "Especially when I really think what we need in Florida is tweaking, not using these borrowed ideas from Texas. I would encourage politicians to proceed cautiously."

The university system created a work group to consider possible changes in Florida and will report to the Board of Governors at its November meeting.

The influence of conservativism on Texas higher education means a greater focus on business and the some faculty seemed to push back against regents who have embraced what some call a heavy-handed ideological agenda, writes Jack Stripling at the Chronicle.

In a speech to the University of Texas Board of Regents, Francisco G. Cigarroa, the system's chancellor, told board members to take a step back and let campus presidents work without interference.

"Universities simply cannot be micromanaged," said Dr. Cigarroa, a surgeon whose speech was streamed on a Webcast. "I trust my presidents. I need your support, and I need your confidence, and I need your authority to accomplish the important work ahead."

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