UNF faculty members push back against proposal they worry could jeopardize tenure protections, academic freedom

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The University of North Florida (UNF) administration and the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) union at UNF are facing an impasse as the organizations aren’t able to agree on proposed changes to tenure after the passage of a new state law requiring post-tenure review.

A professor who “has tenure” can continue stay in their position except in cases of misconduct or layoffs.

But soon, tenured professors like Tobias Huning, who is also the president of UFF at UNF, may be required to undergo post-tenure reviews every five years.

“We don’t think it is something necessary. We don’t think that it is an appropriate tool to evaluate us,” Huning said.

He said tenured professors already undergo annual evaluations.

Professors at UNF told News4JAX they’re worried that the proposed changes to tenure could compromise academic freedom.

There have been more than a dozen bargaining meetings with the university administration about post-tenure review. Under the proposal, a professor who “does not meet expectations” are defined as those who fall below the “normal range” of their department, and they can be fired if they don’t improve after a year. A professor who receives an “unsatisfactory” rating will be fired, according to the proposal.

In the letter to faculty, the university president said they don’t have the authority to change the performance rating criteria.

“It leaves way too much room for administrative overreach, where a faculty member could consistently exceed expectations year after year, and then they find themselves not meeting expectations with some kind of punitive repercussions from that,” said Mark Halley, who is an associate professor of American Sign Language at UNF. He’s also vice president of UFF at UNF.

He said changes to tenure happening in Florida make it an unattractive place for academics to work.

“If I’m being looked at too harshly every single year in terms of you making this milestone here, this milestone here, then we’re losing academic freedom to do the research that is most hard hitting and most important for our communities,” Halley said.

The proposal would allow for faculty members to appeal the results of the post-tenure review. The university’s board of trustees is scheduled to vote on post-tenure standards at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

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