Public Statement provided by Michael Brawer, CEO, Association of Florida Colleges, November 29, 2012 at the Florida Department of Education Workshop on the revision to SBR 6A-14.0411
Good afternoon. I am here today as the Chief Executive Officer of The Association of Florida Colleges. The AFC is “the professional association of Florida’s 28 public community and state colleges, the Division of Florida Colleges, their Boards, employees, retirees, and associates.” With over 8,000 members, the mission of the association is “to actively promote, represent, and support, members and institutions as they provide their students and the citizens of Florida with a world-class college system.” My ideal goal here today is to request that this effort be halted, and that you would agree, and then we all go have a cold beer together. However, the AFC recognizes that with regard to this matter, change is imminent, and it is not our intent to try and block the train at this point. We would like to offer support in the form of constructive input toward the Department of Education’s effort to revise State Board Rule 6A-14.0411. However, in offering this support, it is necessary to oppose specific elements of the proposed revisions and provide alternatives to accomplish a revised rule that is fair, practical, implementable, and limits any risk exposure to our colleges and boards. Certainly you recognize that in the domain of high stakes performance appraisal, it is vital that this be done right, the first time. After two weeks of reviewing the current rule draft we have identified several areas of concern that I will now address. On November 27, the AFC conducted a statewide teleconference with members to discuss the implications of the proposed revised rule. Representatives from 23 Florida colleges participated in the call. Constituent groups representing the AFC Faculty Commission, HR Council, college administrators, and faculty senates provided valuable insight and generated analysis of the proposed rule revision. Each of these constituent groups is aware of my purpose here today and has indicated their support for this presentation. As stated at the workshop held in June regarding this same issue, our overarching concern is that the revised rule contains elements that lead to fair and reasonable performance appraisal of faculty, continued local control of appraisal policy by District Boards of Trustees, maintains the empowerment of our college presidents in administering said appraisals and resulting personnel actions, and assures appraisal measures remain reliable and valid. In any high stakes appraisal process, I am sure you will agree these are important and necessary concerns to address. This is not only to assure that the employee is properly and fairly evaluated, but to also assure that the employer is protected if any high stakes decisions are rendered from the appraisal results.
First, referring to the rule draft, many AFC members have expressed concerns with paren 2, regarding the eligibility period for tenure. Three years has been the minimum benchmark for this for decades. Without documented issues regarding why this is now problematic, we are requesting that the minimum remain at three years, with each District Board given the authority to increase it as they see a need. We already know that some colleges, like Lake Sumter, have a four year requirement. This was a local decision and one that benefits the needs of that institution. Moreover, by extending the eligibility period for tenure, an unintended consequence could be that bad instructors are retained on annual contract longer than they perhaps should be, if they are not performing at a level needed to obtain tenured status. We request that language be written that establishes a range of years for eligibility subject to policy by each Board.
Secondly, with reference to the criteria listed under paren 3, eligibility criteria before a continuing contract can be awarded, and paren 6, post award performance criteria, I call your attention to a few areas that we object to. The first is criterion 1 in both sections, quantifiable measurable effectiveness in the particular area of practice. I have discussed this particular criterion with numerous people, and none can really figure out what it means. The term “practice” does not typically apply to the education or instructional personnel domain. Such vague and undefinable criterion should be removed. Additionally, regarding criterion 4, “student and faculty feedback, and feedback from employers of students”, again, what exactly does this mean? By what acceptable processes would objective student feedback be obtained, at what cost and on what timetable? This is an unfunded mandate that puts enormous workload and expense on our colleges. Same is true for obtaining employer feedback? How will students be tracked longitudinally into the workplace and at what expense? What if a student is employed in a field other than what they received a credential for? How will employers be compelled to provide such information? And what assurances must Boards make regarding student privacy and record confidentially in order to obtain this input? Furthermore in paren 3, subsection b, criterion 4, “such other criteria as shall be established by the Board”, what training will be provided to assure arbitrary, punitive or capricious criterion are not developed by a Board? We request that all of these criteria be removed and reverted back to the original rule language. If that is not possible we request that criteria 1 and 4 be removed, and the aforementioned open-ended criterion paren 3, subsection b, criterion 4, be removed.
Third, under paren 7, language is removed that empowers the president to recommend termination of a continuing contract. Is it possible this an error? The sentence immediately following that deletion retains the president’s role on notifying the employee of the “recommendation”. If however, if it is intentionally deleted language, it could be problematic on two levels. One, it possibly grays the line between administration and policy where the underlined, new language states, “Each district Board of Trustees may terminate”. This portends to shift an administrative function up to the policy body. Two, what CEO would want to lose the empowerment to recommend personnel actions for his/her employees? Even if this empowerment could be addressed in policy at each institution, why should something so vital to leadership at an institution be potentially compromised? This section may also be in conflict with Florida Statute 1001.65. We urge this section be reverted back to the original rule language.
Fourth, in Paren 7, subsection (b), the addition of the language, “insufficient teaching load” may open the door to arbitrary and capricious scheduling and utilization of instructional personnel. We request that this section be reverted back to the original language.
Fifth, Paren 8 portends to shift the burden of student success outcomes onto each individual instructor and course. With thousands of part-time and transient students in our colleges, it is more likely that a student does not take a direct path through a degree or other credential program. It would be difficult to hold individual instructors to specific student outcomes unless such outcomes are similar and measurable across the entire program curriculum and all courses therein. The elements listed in this section are more appropriate and already addressed in program level evaluation. College curriculum is organized around programs of study, not sequential course delivery like the K-12 system. Students are guided to take certain required courses as part of their general education core and as the basic components of a particular workforce degree program, but students may also exercise a good bit of freedom regarding how those requirements are met. For that reason, it must be recognized that Student Learning Outcomes as an assessment measure must be based on competency attainment across the core curriculum and a wide range of courses, and not just an individual course. College-level instructors thus rely on a complex web of collaboration in order to deliver an effective college curriculum. As a result, assessment of an individual instructor based on course-level Student Learning Outcomes may not be effective in a college curriculum. We request that the language in this section be removed.
Furthermore, through our regional accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges, every college in the system must already have in place a robust system of Student Learning Outcomes assessment in order to remain accredited. This SLO movement has been in place now for over a decade, and the Florida College System has distinguished itself in the region for the excellence of its assessments within Associate in Arts programs. SACS Comprehensive Standard 3.5.1 states, “The institution identifies college-level competencies within the general education core and provides evidence that students have attained those competencies.” A similar standard governs oversight of all Associate in Science workforce programs.
Finally, thank you for including the new language we requested under paren 11 which grandfathers in faculty already on a tenure pathway, and who are scheduled to receive a continuing contract between now and 2015. We request that in addition it be stated that said faculty are not bound by the performance appraisal tenets of this new rule until after they receive a continuing contracts status. In closing, I respectfully request that the AFC remain an active sounding board and participant at the table as additional and final revisions to this rule are promulgated. Transparency, openness, and inclusiveness, even though not necessarily required by the DOE process, go a long way in sustaining our partnership. We may not always agree, but our ability to work together to a positive end on these matters is vital to the Florida college system. Chancellor Hanna, I wish to state publically that you are to be commended for your steadfast effort to move this issue forward in the face of numerous obstacles and multiple constituent interests. Thank you for opportunity to speak today and the Association of Florida Colleges hopes to remain an engaged and involved resource.