April 11, 2012. Chorus grows stronger over MJ Saunders’ high-handed style and forced austerity
Responding to deep cuts in the summer course schedule at Florida Atlantic University, faculty and students are planning protests against what they call unfair and arbitrary reductions which will hurt students, faculty, and academic programs.
In response they are planning protest rallies on the west steps of the administration building on the Boca Raton campus. The first, organized by students, will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 12.
The second, organized by the UFF-FAU and supported by students, will be held on Wednesday, April 18 at 12 noon. In addition, everyone is invited to make protest signs in the lobby of the Culture and Society Building at 5 on Monday, April 16.
Administrators have cut almost a thousand courses from 2011, about a third of the total.
FAU was hit by the Florida Legislature last month with an unprecedented $30 million in budget cuts for the coming year. In all, the eleven public universities have lost $730 million in state funding since 2008, and will lose another $300 million this year, half from appropriations and half from their own reserves.
This last legislative move prompted Moody’s Investors Service to take the unusual step of publicly criticizing the Legislature for damaging the universities’ credit. Meanwhile, the Legislature and Governor gave corporations another $80 million in tax breaks in addition to the billions they’ve received in recent years, while cutting hospitals and nursing homes in addition to universities. State colleges have endured similar cutbacks.
“It’s bad enough that the Legislature and Governor are undermining our state’s future by slashing higher education. But the university is compounding the problem by using a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to summer cuts,” said Chris Robe, president of the faculty union, the United Faculty of Florida – FAU.
Robe points out that cuts have been imposed unilaterally from the provost’s office with virtually no regard for students’ needs or faculty advice in particular programs. The cuts are also insensitive to the needs of FAU students, many of whom are non-traditional students who have jobs and families, and cannot afford to delay graduation for a semester or a year because a required course is not offered in the summer, and who are thus more likely to drop out.
In her message to students and parents on the front page of FAU’s web site, President Mary Jane Saunders says that “the most important thing you need to know is that nothing has changed for you at FAU. Students are still our first priority, and we remain committed to helping you progress steadily toward your degree. As in the past, we will continue to offer all courses needed for graduation.” http://www.fau.edu/explore/homepage-stories/2012_03budgetcut.php.
However, a March 21 memorandum from Provost Brenda Claiborne instructs deans and chairs to cut all courses from the summer 2012 schedule which during summer 2011 did not enroll at least 24 students in undergraduate courses or 11 students in graduate courses. While the provost leaves room open for exceptions, some programs have been hurt very badly, others not at all.
According to faculty and students in various departments, this edict ignores the need for small classes in lab and studio courses with prerequisites, many of which have simply been cancelled because they did not enroll 24 students last summer. While some programs have accreditation requirements which protect their course sequences from arbitrary disruptions, some of these programs were cut anyway, while others were not.
Students in Education, Business, Science, the Visual Arts and elsewhere have had their progress toward graduation interrupted and their lives put on hold. In other departments, students and faculty have had their class sizes arbitrarily increased, with little regard for academic quality, to accommodate the smaller course offerings, and the problems promise to compound themselves in the fall and spring terms because of delays to student graduation.
In a follow-up memorandum dated April 10, the provost appears finally to begin to listen to faculty and students and add some courses, but much unnecessary damage has already been done. Many students have already opted to enroll elsewhere this summer, and faculty summer plans have been disrupted. Faculty and student leaders remain determined to keep the pressure on until their voices are heard.
Monique Paramore, a graduate student in Education who is organizing the protest to be held April 12, also created a petition to FAU administrators at http://www.signon.org/sign/students-in-opposition/. In addition to attracting over 700 signers so far, the petition contains comments from students in numerous programs describing the negative consequences of cancelled courses. Ms. Paramore describes her protest in these terms: “I and several other students are concerned with the university’s decision to cut certain courses necessary to our graduation. On Tuesday the 27th, I created a petition concerning this matter. I currently have 723 signatures and comments. I/we understand the need for certain cuts but I feel that when this decision was made the university failed to take into consideration the differences among departments, the different class schedules, and the specific needs of each program.
I received my undergraduate degree from FAU and have continued to be a dedicated Owl. I am hurt and upset at the way the university has handled this matter. I created this petition to bring attention and awareness to this situation. Even after the petition gained several hundred signatures, the administration refused to answer our questions, listen to our suggestions or simply apologize. So I decided to continue my protest by leading my fellow students in a rally against the course cuts. All I/we want is the opportunity to get some questions answered and to figure out our options as it pertains to future class offerings and graduation. We simply want the chance to suggest other options and to have our voices as well as those of our department leaders heard!”