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19
ByWilliamTrombley
Senior Editor
FortMyers, Florida
A
pril 30 will be an important date in the brief history
of Florida Gulf Coast University, where 85 percent of the
faculty has been hired on multi-year contracts instead of
tenure-track positions.
By then, about 50 professors with three-year contracts
will know if these agreements have been renewed or if they
should plan to look for jobs elsewhere. Although most
expect to be renewed, an air of anxiety hangs over this small
campus, built on swamplands at the edge of the Everglades.
“I’m a little nervous about it, to tell the truth,” said Eric
Strahorn, a young history professor who has taught at
Florida Gulf Coast since the campus opened in August 1997.
“Everybody says most of us will be renewed, but until I have
it in my hand, I’m going to be nervous.”
Maria Roca, an associate professor of communications
who has a five-year contract and thus is not being evaluated
for renewal this year, put it this way: “If we renew as many
contracts as people think we will, this will allay a lot of the
fears about multi-year contracts. It will show that this campus
isn’t going to be a revolving door.”
The no-tenure policy is not the only unusual feature of
this, the newest of Florida’s ten state universities.
The very existence of the campus, in an area more
hospitable to alligators than to humans, is surprising. It took
more than 500,000 tons
of landfill to provide
a foundation for the
first group of campus
buildings. “We had
to build the land up
four and a half feet to
get the campus above
flood level,” President
Roy E. McTarnaghan
explained.
On all sides
there are tall, skinny
Melaleuca trees, which
were imported from
Australia several
decades ago to soak
up swamp water but
which also have consumed much of the natural vegetation.
To end one of the many environmental skirmishes
that were fought before the campus site was approved, the
university promised the Army Corps of Engineers that it
would eradicate the Melaleucas, a task one faculty member
likened to “eradicating dirt.” Periodically, groups of state
Spring 1999
An Experiment in Florida
Gulf Coast University tries faculty contracts, no tenure
prisoners are bused onto campus to hack away at the trees,
but progress is slow.
Signs warn students and others not to feed the alligators
that live in several man-made lakes (the result of another
environmental agreement) and that periodically can be seen
sunning themselves on campus. There are also wild pigs and
turkeys, fire ants with nasty dispositions, and a variety of
snakes.
But there have been no sightings of the Florida Panther,
an endangered species believed to roam the area. The Army
Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service
required the university to buy $2 million worth of land for
panther habitat, but so far none have dropped by for a snack.
Officials cheerily point out that all of this flora and
fauna provide excellent material for a “collegium” called “A
Sustainable Future,” an interdisciplinary course, required of
all undergraduates, that is intended to provide students with
“an ecological perspective,” to quote the campus catalogue.
Students at Florida Gulf Coast University are warned not to feed the many
alligators who live on or near the swampy campus.
Although most
professors expect
their contracts to be
renewed, an air of
anxiety hangs over
this small campus,
built on swamplands
at the edge of the
Everglades.
Photos by Cindy Karr, Black Star, for CrossTalk