A Relentless Crusade to Destroy Higher Education in Florida

AAUP president Irene Mulvey issued the following statement.

Continuing a relentless crusade to destroy higher education in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis staged a performative and disingenuous press conference on April 19 at which he signed into law Senate Bill 7044, further attacking professors and eroding academic freedom in the state.

The premise underlying the legislation is that higher education faculty are the enemy and must be subjugated. The bill takes aim at tenure, the principal safeguard for academic freedom in higher education, by initiating a five-year review for tenured faculty despite the fact that faculty in Florida are already subject to regular, extensive performance reviews.

The purpose of tenure is to protect the academic freedom indispensable for the quality of teaching and research in higher education. In order to ensure that dismissals are not based on considerations that violate academic freedom, most colleges and universities require administrations to demonstrate adequate cause before a faculty hearing body prior to dismissing a tenured faculty member. SB 7044 is a transparent attempt to erase that protection for teaching and research.

This should alarm all Florida faculty and students, as well as anyone considering working or studying in the state. Without the protections of academic tenure, teachers and researchers in higher education are subject to pressure and interference from donors, board members, corporations, and, of course, politicians, as we have seen recently at the University of Florida.

SB 7044 follows a script we’ve seen in other states: assert nonexistent problems in higher education that need to be “fixed” through legislation and promote the agenda by lobbing ridiculous, unsubstantiated accusations at faculty in order to win political points with the base. This is textbook partisan, political interference into public higher education, which the AAUP condemns in the strongest terms.

The notion that faculty in higher education in Florida are indoctrinating students is ludicrous. Ironically, DeSantis repeatedly acknowledges that Florida’s university system is highly ranked, yet he fails to make the connection that it is precisely because of the value faculty place on free inquiry, expression, and open dissent. SB 7044 is an attempt to curtail these principles.

DeSantis began his press conference by lamenting the fact that they no longer have winning football teams. If his vision of public higher education takes hold in Florida, in a few years we’ll be hearing similar laments about quality in academics.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, April 20, 2022