Sep 8, 2023 - News

Citing issues with tenure, loss of DEI, Florida faculty members want out

Illustration of a cracked mortar board.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new survey of more than 4,250 college faculty members, including about 640 in Florida, sheds light on concerns that political interference in higher education has hurt morale among professors.

By the numbers: Nearly half of Florida respondents said they planned to find jobs in other states within the year. About a quarter said they'd interviewed for jobs in other states at some point since the beginning of 2021.

  • 85% said they wouldn't recommend teaching in the Sunshine State to a graduate student or colleague.
  • 95% described the political atmosphere around higher education as bad or very bad.

Why it matters: Faculty members and advocates have already said a brain drain has begun and the results signal it will continue without a change in the state's approach to higher education.

What they're saying: "What's so tragic about this situation is, none of this had to happen," said Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida and a senior instructor of English at Florida Atlantic University.

  • "We could be looking at a higher education system that could be better every year, but we've chosen this path of destruction," he told Axios.

The other side: Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has led charges to erode faculty tenure protections and defund campus diversity programs, has previously scoffed at the idea of a potential brain drain.

  • At an event in July, he said the state has "seen a flood of applications coming in" and that Florida is better off without professors who teach about certain topics.
  • His office did not respond Thursday to Axios' request for comment about the survey results.

Of note: The survey was conducted by faculty unions in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas and included respondents from all four states.

  • They pointed to salary and their state's political climate as the top concerns.

Zoom in: In Florida, faculty voiced concerns about issues with tenure, academic freedom, and policies affecting LGBTQ+ people and campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

  • "Two excellent professors turned us down when we offered them a position and they stated Florida politics as the reason why," one respondent said.
  • "Although the legislation is vague, it seems likely that much of what I teach will become illegal in the near future," said another. "I constantly feel like I am one denunciation away from a derailed life and career."

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