Florida passes bill pushing accreditor changes, post-tenure review

Dive Brief: 

  • The Florida Legislature passed a bill this week that would force the state’s public colleges to change accreditors every accreditation cycle and allow the state universities’ governing board to require post-tenure reviews every five years. 
  • The bill has drawn criticism, including that frequently changing accreditors will place onerous requirements on colleges that could drive up tuition prices for students. Some lawmakers are also concerned the post-tenure review changes could harm academic freedom, Florida Politics reported
  • The Legislature also passed a sweeping bill Thursday limiting the ways instructors can teach about race and identity. The bill applies to the state’s K-20 education system and prompted lawmakers to debate how it would affect colleges.

Dive Insight: 

Together, the bills reflect the legislative priorities of GOP lawmakers nationwide. Republican legislators in several conservative states have been attempting to assert their political will on colleges and universities, influencing decisions usually left to college officials, such as personnel decisions. They also have been attacking the treasured concept of tenure and attempting to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory, a decades-old academic concept. 

Colleges must be recognized by an approved accrediting agency to access federal financial aid. But policy experts say Florida lawmakers’ changes to accreditation requirements would be difficult to carry out because accrediting agencies come in limited numbers and applying to new ones can take multiple years. 

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a group that recognizes accreditors, wrote to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, this week to voice several concerns about the bill. 

Periodically changing accreditors would place a large burden on colleges, as well as on students and taxpayers, wrote CHEA President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond. That’s because institutions would have to hire additional staff and take more time to meet the accreditation requirements of one agency while simultaneously applying for candidacy at another. 

This cost “would be borne by students in the form of higher tuition and by taxpayers in the form of needed funds to carry out these accreditation-related activities,” Jackson-Hammond wrote. “This would be a duplication of efforts and financial resources.”

Jackson-Hammond also argued that a critical feature of accreditation is a requirement for institutions to continuously improve. “Changing accrediting organizations every accreditation cycle means that an accrediting organization’s historical understanding of the institutions it accredits would be lost, and the focus on continuous improvement would be diminished,” she wrote. 

The bill would also allow the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities, to create uniform standards for required post-tenure reviews. But these types of proposals can be controversial. 

The University System of Georgia, for instance, adopted new tenure rules last fall that officials said would strengthen post-tenure reviews. However, some faculty voiced concerns that the changes would undermine academic freedom and give the system greater power to fire tenured instructors. 

The American Association of University Professors recently censured the system over the changes. The censure aims to signal to the public that the institution may not be creating an environment conducive to academic freedom.

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