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An Experiment in Florida (spring 1999)
Instead of Tenure
ALLIGATORS STILL BASK occasionally on the sunny campus of Florida Gulf Coast University, just as they did when National CrossTalk first reported on the new school in its spring 1999 issue. But just about everything else has changed.
Enrollment has soared, from fewer than 3,000 students in spring 1999 to more than 9,300 in fall 2007. The faculty has grown from 161 to 370. Class size has increased, and the only two lecture halls on campus “are booked for every hour,” a dean said. Half a dozen new academic programs have been added each year, along with 20 new faculty positions, according to Interim Provost Peg Gray-Vickrey.
The original emphasis on interdisciplinary studies has given way to a traditional structure of separate departments, each offering its own major.
“We’re still creative, we still have many innovative faculty, but rapid growth tends to dull the edges” of non-traditional approaches, said Jack Crocker, who was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences when the campus opened in 1997 and has since retired.
Growth slowed somewhat in 2007-08, when a state budget deficit forced legislators to trim higher education spending by four percent. Florida Gulf Coast lost $1.8 million in state support. As a consequence, the campus was ordered to hold fall 2008 freshman enrollment at the same level as the year before.
In addition, the campus imposed a hiring freeze, restricted faculty and staff travel, and delayed the start of master’s degree programs in engineering, environmental studies and mathematics.
One innovation that has survived is a no-tenure policy for faculty. Instead of tenure, faculty members sign “rolling contracts” for three to six years. Each instructor is reviewed each year, and if he or she is judged to have performed satisfactorily, another year is added to the contract.
Florida Gulf Coast “has not faced any particular challenges in hiring, without a tenure system,” Gray-Vickrey said, although she acknowledged that occasionally a prospective faculty member turns down an offer in favor of a campus with a tenure system.
The rolling contracts approach “really does make us feel pretty secure, but it creates recruiting problems,” said Maria Roca, dean of the Department of Philosophy and Communications. “If a candidate has a choice between our policy and tenure, most often they’ll choose tenure.”
Although rolling contracts have been around for some years, Florida Gulf Coast is one of the few colleges or universities to adopt this approach. Others include Hampshire College, in Massachusetts, and Georgia Gwinnett College, the newest campus in the Georgia State University system. The Evergreen State College, in the state of Washington, began with fixed eight-year contracts but shifted to “continuing contracts for life,” which Provost Don Bantz called “pretty much the same as tenure.”