Until recently department chairs in Florida had the right to deny tenure to adjunct instructors based on the complaints filed by students without revealing their names. However, on July the 20th a Florida state appellate court came to the decision that such information cannot be considered confidential and belongs to public records which are not protected by any privacy laws.
A judge panel decided that an instructor is from now on entitled to know the name of a student who submits a complaint against him; it is supposed to give the instructor a chance to defend himself openly. Before that many public college instructors who faced this problem ended up not having their tenure renewed.
The question came up when a former adjunct mathematics professor Darnell Rhea at Santa Fe College in Florida was denied to have his semester-to-semester contract renewed due to an e-mail sent by one of his students. The e-mail said that professor’s teaching methods were “unorthodox” and that he often made “humiliating remarks” about students. Although Pr. Rhea denied these allegations he still had no chance to prove they were unsubstantial without knowing the student’s name. As the result the department chair dismissed him. Although they still refused to admit that their decision not to re-hire Mr. Rhea stemmed from that complaint or had anything to do with it.
It took the 70-year old retired public school teacher more than three years to prove he had the right to get this information. The 3-judge panel ruled that such complaint had no direct relation to students’ private information for it was about the teacher and not the student himself and thus could be considered public records.
The reaction of Santa Fe College officials was equivocal. They say they respect the court decision; however they are considering asking the court for rehearing. According to general counsel for Santa Fe Patti Locascio, the college in this situation is mainly concerned about protecting students’ privacy.
Darnell Rhea does not want his job restored, neither is he seeking for any damages at large, however if he wins the case it will set a precedent for other teachers who face the same problem but are powerless to do anything.