By James, Joni
Black Issues in Higher Education , Vol. 14, No. 17
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The narrow band of habitable land between the Gulf of Mexico and Florida's Everglades is where a band of 150 pioneers have staked their claims.
But on this academic frontier in southwest Florida, one of the basic foundations of American academia is out of favor. At Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) - the nation's youngest university - tenure is out and multiyear contracts are in.
On opening day in late August, the only faculty with tenure or on a tenure-track were the thirty who had transferred to FGCU after the University of South Florida (USF) closed its Fort Myers branch to make way for the new university.
It's the other 120 faculty - those who moved to Fort Myers, often from tenured jobs at established schools - who have taken the biggest risk. They are accepting three- to five-year renewable contracts, and they know that the United Faculty of Florida - the union that represents them - isn't ecstatic about their arrival.
Under pressure from the state Board of Regents to help reform tenure at the state's nine other universities, the union agreed to allow FGCU to have multiyear contracts. But it doesn't necessarily endorse the idea, saying multiyear contracts may make it hard for the university to attract and keep top faculty members because tenure remains popular throughout academia.
"We decided an experiment [at FGCU] would be appropriate," said University of North Florida Professor Tom Mongar, the union's president. "But we're going to go back and look at the results."
Indeed, the world is watching FGCU. But so far, there isn't much to see.
For all the hoopla, the tenureless hiring did not appear to affect the university's applicant pool - some positions netted 200 applicants - or its enrollment of 2,700 students, which is 200 more than anticipated. The numbers for both the applicants' pool and enrollment probably benefitted from the slow academic job market and Florida's growing wave of high school graduates. …