Lars Hafner ruffled feathers from the moment he became president of the region’s largest college four years ago.
On a mission to expand the community college’s reach, he angered civic leaders when he changed the name from Manatee Community College to the more ambitious-sounding State College of Florida (SCF). He upset University of South Florida administrators when he added four-year bachelor’s programs. Hafner hit another rough patch in 2010 over the college’s sloppy handling of $3.1 million in federal aid for students.
But nothing could have prepared him for the tension that surfaced last summer after Gov. Rick Scott appointed six new members of SCF’s nine-member board of trustees. Since September, the trustees have publicly scrutinized Hafner’s contract and salary, put some of his big projects on hold or tighter watch and infuriated faculty by claiming tenure creates mediocrity.
The mood at the college is tense.
“I can say without hesitation that morale is at an all-time low,” says Dennielle True, an English professor and president of the SCF faculty senate.
The tensions at SCF are playing out against the background of Gov. Scott’s efforts to get the legislature to shift funding to college degree programs with the best job prospects, get rid of ineffective teachers and restructure tenure. These tenets, Scott has said, are central to his appointments of college trustees.
While SCF is the first institution to test-drive Scott’s vision, since it had the most board positions to fill out of all 28 state and community colleges, administrators, faculty and boards at other state educational institutions are paying attention. State board appointments are often political plums given to supporters, but once the new board members are in place, they’re left alone to do their work. That hasn’t been the case at SCF. Venice businessman C. J. Fishman, one of Scott’s SCF board appointees who often questioned the new thinking, was not reappointed to the board by the governor in April with no explanation. The idea that appointees will not be allowed to deviate from or question Scott’s reform agenda has education administrators all over the state worried.
And there are other issues. Some education experts charge that Scott’s attack on the tenure system could keep top professors away from Florida colleges and universities. And his emphasis on increasing efficiency and productivity—meaning graduating more students more quickly—could push admissions offices in community and state colleges to accept only students with good grades and test scores, ending a decades-long mission to make higher education accessible to people of all socioeconomic levels.
Meanwhile, led by Manatee County homebuilder and Scott fund raiser Carlos Beruff, chairman of the board of trustees (who Scott also appointed to sit on the Southwest Florida Water Management District board and Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority board), and Bradenton physician Craig Trigueiro, SCF trustees have frozen construction of a $40 million library on the Bradenton campus, withheld endorsement for the opening of a second charter school on the Venice campus and asked for quarterly reviews of enrollment in four-year programs.
Trustees also drilled down into the depreciation of a $450 piece of exercise equipment the school had given Hafner and suggested checking the driving records of family members who may use Hafner’s job-provided car. They’ve also publicly pressed administrators and SCF’s lawyer to tell them how a termination of Hafner’s rolling five-year contract would impact the budget.
If you ask Beruff, the scrutiny is a response to the state’s budget crisis and part of an effort to use business techniques for improved efficiency. The board has a duty to examine every program and expenditure, he says, and he points out that Hafner’s enrollment projections for the new four-year degree programs are falling short. “Hafner is a smart guy, and with this board that is more fiscally disciplined, we can work things out,” Beruff adds. He also says he objects to raising tuition “every time the legislature allows it.”
Throughout this slow-motion humiliation, Hafner has kept a low profile, but many SCF administrators and faculty are voicing their exasperation.
“Some of our [four-year] programs have met and exceeded projections, while others are still building their incoming pipelines,” responds Michael Mears, vice president of SCF baccalaureate programs. “This is to be expected when new programs come onboard.” He adds that all baccalaureate programs were created in response to specific community requests, particularly from businesspeople.
Reforming tenure—called “continuing contracts” at the state’s 28 community colleges—has created the biggest outcry among faculty. Under a continuing contract, which provides less job security than the tenure that professors at the state’s other colleges and universities receive, SCF full-time faculty become eligible after three to five years to be promoted from annually renewable contract to continuing contract, which automatically renews if annual performance evaluations warrant it. At a meeting this spring, Beruff and Trigueiro argued that long-term job security has outlived its usefulness to protect academic freedom. (Even so, in late April, 11 faculty members received continuing contracts.)
Says True, the faculty leader: “We feel like there is an underlying assumption that we are not hard-working, highly capable professionals, and that, because the academic world is different from the business one, we are somehow inferior and inefficient.” Although some are philosophically opposed to it, SCF teachers are considering unionizing, “as a nuclear option,” says another faculty member who declined to go on the record.
Even without having to face a union, the new board has run into concerted institutional resistance.
As one SCF teacher describes it, faculty and administrators put previous conflicts to rest and “circled the wagons” last summer. For instance, in an effort to avoid increasing the trustees’ outrage over benefits, teachers informally conceded to not request any paid sabbatical leaves this school year.
The Scott-appointed trustees’ lines of questioning match almost exactly the main points of a cost-reduction plan for higher education produced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (see “The Perry Plan,” below) that critics see as an ideologically motivated push to undermine public education. And because the Florida governor has held up the Perry Plan as a model, suspicions abound about a similar agenda by the new trustees.
“There’s no sinister plan,” says chairman Beruff, emphasizing that his is a straightforward effort to get more “bang for the taxpayer buck” by raising efficiency. Beruff explains that, in order to be able to afford “programs for the 10 percent” of students who have special needs, there has to be accountability and therefore lean budgeting for the remaining 90 percent.
The share of students with special needs at community colleges, however, is much larger than 10 percent. At open-admissions institutions, typically 70 percent of students enter junior college with below-college level math, reading or English skills, says True.
Given this situation, there will be unfortunate consequences if the measure of teaching efficiency is graduation rates and speed of graduation—both typically low at community colleges—warns a leading education expert.
“Florida may be behind other states in their search for efficiency,” says Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “But the outcome will be the same: You cut off services to lower-income, nontraditional students. The way to fix immediate budget shortfalls, from a college administrator’s standpoint, is to only teach the better students. You see this happening in California, where there are fewer and fewer low-income kids in the system.”
By many measures, SCF is a well-run educational institution successful in its core mission of funneling low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students into the university system and the job market. SCF has produced a fast-rising number of graduates in the past four years, growing from 1,219 in 2006-07 to 1,560 in 2009-10. With 11,000-plus students, SCF is one of the largest transfer institutions in Florida, and among the top 100 in the nation.
The job placement rate of SCF’s two-year graduates recently has been 100 percent, compared to the Florida average of 90 percent.
Seventy percent of SCF students (average age 28) are the first generation in their families to go to college; nearly 57 percent are part-time enrolled, which means that many are also trying to make a living. Hispanic student enrollment rose from 4.1 percent in 2001 to 11 percent in 2010; African-American student enrollment rose from 7.3 percent in 2001 to 9.4 percent in 2010. SCF’s College Reach-Out Program (CROP) to high schools, which includes a “multicultural specialist” and SCF instructors who teach classes at a satellite office in Newtown, the Sarasota neighborhood where unemployment runs above 20 percent, may have played a role in that. Also, 400 military veterans are currently enrolled at the college, putting SCF in the top 20 percent of U.S. colleges; SCF is also developing a veterans’ center.
According to administrators, those SCF graduates who make it to university outperform their peers from other community colleges.
“That is a point of pride that speaks volumes about teaching effectiveness,” says faculty leader True. “It’s a testament that we are doing something right.”
Nor has the college stood still. SCF—like all two-year colleges in Florida—was allowed to branch out to four-year workforce degrees. SCF now offers bachelor’s of science degrees in nursing, energy technology management, health services administration, Homeland Security, public safety administration and early childhood education. It plans to begin offering B.S. programs in international business and technology management this fall, and it is pondering nine more bachelor’s programs. The college has also added two-year workforce degrees in areas such as dental hygiene and biotechnology.
What’s more, some trustees found a fiscally conservative approach and a meticulous, participatory budgeting process in place. Because of reluctance to full-time hiring, administrators have resorted to what critics call “overreliance” on low-paid, no-benefits adjunct teachers.
During an enrollment boom that started in 2007-08, more courses were taught by adjuncts, some of whom still teach more than a full-time course load at the college.
“It’s important to budget conservatively and not get too excited about enrollment booms,” Hafner says, referring to the spike that reverted last year. “Different from the private sector, a major goal is to retain our employee base. That’ll serve us well when we come out of this recession.”
“I am very impressed with the efficiency of the business,” Fishman said at the March 30 workshop on continuing contracts before he was removed by Scott. “There’s always room for improvement. But the emphasis should be first and foremost with helping our students become productive in the workforce, and to keep them here.
“If something isn’t broken, I am not trying to fix it,” he added.
Nevertheless, Beruff and Trigueiro continue to press on compensation. Beruff charges that SCF’s compensation is “20 percent higher” than private-sector wages, if benefits are taken into consideration. He takes issue, for instance, with what he says are nine-week vacations for administrators.
And while full-time teachers are on nine-month contracts, he points out that medical and pension payments continue during the three summer months. Besides, he says, “A lot of the teachers have secondary jobs or professions.”
Teachers disagree with his statements. According to national union surveys, faculty members work on average 52 hours a week. And most teachers spend their holidays and part of summer preparing for classes, says True, the faculty senate president.
“I don’t know of any faculty member [at SCF] who has a secondary job or profession,” says True. “I know of faculty members who teach overloads, and each and every one of them will tell you that they are doing so either because they need the money to provide for their families, or because they are stepping up to meet a teaching need at the college.”
What lies ahead?
In the course of the March 30 meeting, Beruff and Trigueiro seemed to back off a bit, recognizing how “uncomfortable” their questioning was for everyone and clarifying to staffers and faculty that, “We are not your enemy.”
Even so, in line with the Perry Plan, Trigueiro insists that long-term job security is inherently flawed. “Classical tenure leads to complacency and mediocrity,” he says. “It’s a well-known fact that individuals have little incentive of staying on the cutting edge if they enjoy complete security.”
And the issue is certainly not going away at the state level. Before the workshop, SCF joined Palm Beach State College in requesting that the state Board of Education put a discussion of continuing contracts on its agenda. The state board, which oversees K-12 education and state colleges, moved the item to its May meeting.
With the savings generated by cost-cutting, Beruff would like to set up a capital fund that could allow the college to go ahead with projects without having to ask for money in Tallahassee.
“With our $46 million budget, it should be possible to get $1.2 million a year into the fund,” he says. “We have to come up with a policy to set up a capital fund. We can then pinpoint a project and say, ‘Hey, look, we want to build and have $3 million.’ We can then ask the [SCF] Foundation for matching funds.”
Hafner says cutting back on salaries and benefits could affect SCF’s ability to hire, “if we’re the only college singled out.” Despite all the tension, Hafner says the ship is on a steady course.
“The goals don’t change. It’s about listening to the community,” he says. Focusing on the core mission of funneling students to universities, on two- and four-year workforce programs, on the collegiate charter schools, on bringing the college up to speed with technology such as online teaching (thus controlling costs), and on partnerships with other colleges and universities continue to be at the top of his agenda.
Meanwhile, expert Carnevale urges Floridians to keep their eyes on the goal of bringing underprivileged people to college.
“There’s a powerful tension at community colleges between increasing productivity and increasing equity. If you raise productivity, there’s a trade-off in upward mobility,” he says.
The Perry Plan
In 2011, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, drew up a plan for public higher education that would establish systems of accountability for teaching, with the intent of saving costs.
The plan’s seven “breakthrough solutions” are these:
• Measuring teaching efficiency
• Recognizing and rewarding extraordinary teachers
• Splitting research and teaching budgets, to promote teaching excellence
• Requiring teaching skills for tenure
• Using student contracts to measure quality
• Putting state funding directly in the hands of students
• Creating results-based college accrediting alternatives
Gov. Rick Perry has embraced the plan, but its focus on students as consumers and on teachers as service providers has been controversial, and its implementation has been slow at best. Of all Texas public universities, only Texas A&M committed to implementing the plan during a two-year period.
A comparison of Annual faculty Salaries
(2010-11 salaries; percent change from 2009-10)
Professor Assoc. Asst. Lecturer Avg. Percent Avg.
Prof. Prof. salary change Benefits
State College of Florida $66,900 $56,800 $47,400 $44,000 $52,600 2.3 $15,800
College of Central Florida 57,900 49,500 41,700 36,600 47,400 -16.9 12,600
Edison State College -- -- -- 55,300 55,300 5.2 18,100
Hillsborough Comm. College 67,700 53,500 58,300 49,100 52,000 0.1 15,700
South Florida Comm. College -- -- -- 50,800 50,800 2.2 16,200
St. Petersburg College -- -- -- 62,000 62,000 3.4 19,700
New College of Florida 82,900 66,800 55,100 42,000 68,100 -0.8 22,400
USF Sarasota-Manatee 95,400 90,200 73,400 62,700 75,500 4.8 20,300