Chronicle: Florida May be Next Battleground Over Faculty Productivity

September 14, 2011. United Faculty of Florida readies “to fight the changes in how [professors and higher ed professionals will be] expected to do their jobs,” Frank Brogan continues to trumpet his support for plan

Source: Chronicle of Higher Ed (09/13/11)

By Audrey Williams June

In Florida, college professors, presidents and lawmakers are preparing for a vigorous debate about faculty performance, pay, and productivity.

That’s because Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has made it clear that he’s looking toward Texas for ideas on how to revamp higher education in his state. In Texas, a controversial plan—backed by Gov. Rick Perry, another Republican, and his allies—proposes to do more to measure faculty productivity, emphasizes teaching over research, and advocates paying faculty members based on their effectiveness.

Governor Scott, who has spoken publicly in recent weeks about his interest in the Texas proposal, hasn’t yet talked specifics about which pieces of that plan he would push lawmakers to adopt. But he’s actively soliciting feedback on Texas’s “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” which was written by the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a research institute. Just a few of the solutions have been adopted, most of them at Texas A&M University.

Governor Scott has shared the plan with enough people, including the chancellor of the state university system, the appointees he has made to college governing boards, and the presidents of Florida’s 11 public colleges, to jump-start what is sure to be a lengthy conversation about what kinds of changes should be made.

The governor’s spokesman, Lane Wright, said that there is no plan in place to make changes in higher education in Florida and that Governor Scott has simply been “talking about his ideas” as a way to generate discussion on the matter. The governor has had no formal talks at this point with legislators about ways to overhaul the system, Mr. Wright said.

It isn’t yet clear how much traction the governor’s higher-education ideas will get in Florida, but people are taking the push to revamp higher education in the state seriously. The union that represents about 20,000 public university professors and professionals in Florida is gearing up to fight the changes in how they’re expected to do their jobs, which, they say, would ultimately drive talented faculty away from Florida colleges. The Texas-style higher-education proposals are also expected to be discussed during the next legislative session, which begins in January.

A Counterproposal
In a move to counter what he saw as major shortcomings of the Texas solutions, a Florida university president has created a detailed alternative, which he calls “Florida Can Do Better Than Texas.”

Eric J. Barron, president of Florida State University, said he came up with the alternative plan after reading a copy of the Texas plan sent to him by Governor Scott. “My immediate thought was that we can do better,” Mr. Barron said. “I took each of the proposed Texas solutions and did an analysis and then I thought about how they could be stronger.”

The governor has asked for a copy of the plan, said Mr. Barron, who shared his ideas with his trustees last week.

Mr. Barron said his plan (which offers eight solutions, instead of seven) ensures that colleges are held responsible for their students’ success, while allowing colleges in the state to “still be on the cutting edge.”

For instance, the Texas solutions focus on measuring the productivity and effectiveness of faculty by how many students they teach, how highly they are rated on student evaluations, and how many A’s and B’s they award to students. Critics say the Texas model wants colleges to operate like businesses that offer degrees as their main product. But such metrics, Mr. Barron said, could have unintended consequences, among them larger classes that could limit learning and faculty’s pandering to students to positively influence student evaluations.

A better way to measure efficiency, according to Mr. Barron’s plan, is to look at freshman retention and graduation rates, survey students about their university experience after graduation, test them for how much they know about a subject before and after a course, and calculate cost per student per credit hour. Among other elements of Mr. Barron’s plan are an emphasis on performance-based pay and less weight on student evaluations as a litmus test for awarding tenure.

Mr. Barron, who is scheduled to discuss his plan at the Faculty Senate meeting this month at Florida State, said he hopes his ideas “start a discussion about what we could do differently in Florida.”

“My belief is that this plan will get improved as it goes along,” he said, “and hopefully what will emerge is an even stronger document that we can talk about.”

No Room for Debate?
But some professors are concerned that the window to discuss the pros and cons of the Texas plan is a narrow one, if it exists at all. The governor’s consistent promotion of the Texas ideas as a possible template doesn’t bode well, they said.

“He’s already finished the conversation all by himself,” said Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida and a professor of philosophy at the University of Florida. Mr. Auxter wrote a letter to union members last week that outlined several challenges the union expects to face when the legislative session begins anew, including the likely reintroduction of bills that would make it harder for public employees to keep their union going. Yet, Mr. Auxter wrote: “The most ominous threat to higher education comes from the governor.”

“Faculty are talking about this across the state,” Mr. Auxter said in an interview of the governor’s push to consider the Texas ideas in Florida. They’re not against a plan that tries to increase efficiency since it’s clear that “we don’t have enough money to go around,” he said. But at the root of critics’ worry, just as in Texas, is how that efficiency will be achieved.

“The ideas are often general ideas that people may or may not agree with,” Mr. Auxter said of the Texas plan. “But when you look at the implementation, all the duplicity is in the details.”

Mr. Auxter and others say that a key component of the Texas solution, its merit-pay plan, would push professors away from Florida colleges. Under the Texas plan, faculty who are top-notch teachers would be given a bonus, but that amount, Mr. Auxter says, would not be added to the base pay that professors get. So the salaries of high-performing faculty wouldn’t increase over the long run.

Faculty will say, “‘I’m going to have this salary for the rest of my life,'” Mr. Auxter said. “You need people who are on the cutting edge in their research and can teach well. They’re saying you don’t have to invest in talent.”

Mr. Auxter added that “I think we’re going to have to fight this all year long.”

Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, has met with Governor Scott to discuss the changes the governor has in mind for higher education. Mr. Brogan was not available for comment, according to his spokeswoman. However, he told the News Service of Florida last month that he supports “accountability-based funding,” and thinks that scrutinizing the quality of programs is key. He also acknowledged how fast-moving—and divisive—discussions about overhauling higher education were in Texas and he hopes talks about the issue will take a different tone in Florida, the news service reported.

The Board of Governors, which oversees public colleges in the state, meets Thursday, and Mr. Brogan is on the agenda. Kelly Layman, a spokeswoman, said Mr. Brogan will give a report, during which he will weigh in on the talk surrounding potential changes in Florida’s higher education system, and will also lead a discussion on national trends in higher education.

“The Florida Board of Governors is excited that this dialogue is occurring in the context of work it has dedicated itself to the past 18 months on updating our strategic plan through 2025,” Ms. Layman said in an e-mail. “We will build whatever additional performance metrics to our existing annual report the board feels are necessary.”


Changes modestly improve Senate Pension bill

February 24, 2011. Legislation remains a tax on teachers, public employees, Forces new hires into 401(K) style plan

(February 23, 2011)                                 Contact: Mark Pudlow, 850.201.3223 or 850.508.9756

TALLAHASSEE – Changes made in a Senate committee Tuesday to a proposal that would introduce sweeping changes into pension plans for public employees throughout Florida represent a slightly positive change, the Florida Education Association said today. But teachers, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, other school employees, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other state workers still face a tax on their earnings under the proposal.

Further, the proposed legislation still forces all new employees into the defined contribution plan – a 401(k)-style plan. Closing the current defined benefit pan and forcing employees toward the investment plan will cost the system significant sums of money. This is an additional hidden cost of these proposals.

Florida is already contemplating slashing the education budget, which will lead to decreased salaries and benefits. Piling on this pension reduction hits school employees yet again.

None of these proposed changes have been voted on by the committee and are scheduled to be discussed Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

“These so-called pension reforms, even with the proposed improvement, remains a tax on every teacher in Florida as well as thousands of other public employees around the state,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “While these hardworking Floridians are struggling to educate our children and protect our communities, the absolute last thing Tallahassee politicians need to be doing is balancing the budget by imposing a new tax on educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters and nurses.”

Ford also noted that requiring public employees to contribute any of their pay to their retirement fund while Florida cuts education budgets and salaries would mean that money would come right out of local communities throughout Florida at a time when the economy is still struggling to recover from a long downturn.

The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational support professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.

Florida Politics: Long Running Media Attack on Public Workers

February 7, 2011. Florida newspapers align themselves with reactionary voices to join fight against teachers, police, firefighters; Editors “want Florida’s public employees to be paid on a par with those in our ‘low-wage, boom-bust, service economy’.”

View original post at

(Sun Feb 06, 2011)

The attack on public employees by the Chamber/AIF/League of Cities aligned editorial boards of Florida’s newspaper companies – including the so-called “liberal newspapers – has continued for years.   A version of the following , concededly crude post appeared  here three years ago.

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The Orlando Sentinel editors believe Florida state and local governments’ financial problems can be traced to the “fatter paychecks of government workers”. These charming experts in public finance, in a delightfully titled editorial – Fattening Up: Local and state governments are overly generous to employees – complain that public employees are compensated too well. The editors make three (3) points, which we address in detail below.

As their first argument, the editors hit us with their best punch:

the wages of city and county workers in Florida grew by more than 20 percent between 2001 and 2006, and the average salaries of all local government workers is now higher than those who work for businesses.

The editors find it outrageous that

the average pay for city and county workers in Florida in 2006 was nearly $41,000 compared to about $38,000 for businesses. … Wow. So much for the struggling public employee[*].

Of course, the figures used by the editors for “comparison” include the minimum wages and miserly benefits received by “service workers” who dominate Florida’s private sector economy, as well as the wages (and in most cases the complete absence of benefits) of part-time and temporary workers.

Ironically, these lower private sector wages also include the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs formerly performed by government workers, which have in recent years been subcontracted out to private companies paying even lower wages and providing fewer (if any) benefits than the public sector.

Overpaid SWAT Team member, whose salary exceeds the average of “those who work for businesses”, prepares to rescue taxpayer held hostage

That leaves Florida governments employing for the most part workers performing core government functions, like state troopers, nursing home inspectors, corrections officers, paramedics, lift station mechanics, firefighters (including Bomb and Arson squads, Hazmat teams, forest firefighters, and High Angle Rescue Teams), building inspectors, fish and wildlife officers, environmental protection inspectors, and, municipal police officers/deputies (including Hostage Rescue, Tactical and SWAT teams), FDLE special agents, and … oh yeah, those wildly overpaid teachers. Do the Sentinel editors really want the wages and benefits of these critical employees compared to, and reduced to the level of, the wages and benefits received by workers struggling in Florida’s largely service sector economy? Apparently they do. Indeed, a Sentinel columnist recently (and correctly) characterized Florida’s economy as a “low-wage, boom-bust, service economy that has plagued us since the first bungalow went up in St. Augustine.” Plainly, the Sentinel editors want Florida’s public employees to be paid on a par with those in our “low-wage, boom-bust, service economy”. Nice.

The editorial board’s second argument is that many public employees have the unmitigated temerity to enjoy real pensions, to wit: defined benefit plans, as opposed to defined contribution plans. In this connection, the Sentinel editors praise the fact that the private sector has “replaced expensive [defined benefit] pensions with [cheap defined contribution] 401(k) plans,” and complain that “few governments have done the same.”

Selfish Tactical team officers, with “platinum benefit packages”, prepare to assault meth lab operation in taxpayers’ neighborhood

Of course, the slum lord**, union bashing***, and scab supplying**** hypocrites*****, like the owners and operators of the Orlando Sentinel hate defined benefit retirement plans. Toeing the Chamber line, the editors support replacing defined benefit (DB) plans – which are part of what the editors refer to as “platinum benefit packages” – with defined contribution (DC) plans. The editors urge the elimination of DB plans because: (1) DB plans are cheap, and, depending how they are structured, the employer is actually never required by law to pay anything (e.g., matching contributions) into the plan; (2) the employee bears all the risk in a defined contribution plan; (3) even if the employer contributes something, it can unilaterally cease their contributions (no matter how meager) at any time (that is, if the employees are not unionized); and (4) defined contribution plans do not guarantee that an employee will receive any particular retirement benefit (have you looked at your 401(k) plan’s performance lately?) Oh yeah, did we mention that DC plans are real cheap.

Forest firefighter “fattening up” on “overly generous” benefits as she prepares to enter inferno in state forest enjoyed by taxpayers

The editors third “argument” is that public employers have not gutted health insurance benefits: they write that “while businesses cut back on health-insurance benefits … few governments have done the same.” You read that right, the editors actually argue that health-insurance benefits should be “cut back”. The reason that, because the private sector – in the absence of a strong union movement – has been able to shift most if not all health care costs to employees (after all, there is no law requiring employers to provide health insurance at all), government should do the same. Taking this “argument” to its logical conclusion, why not eliminate public employee employee health insurance in its entirety – after all, wouldn’t that be cheaper for the taxpayer, at least in the (very) short run. The bottom line is that the Sentinel editors believe that the public sector – which, unlike most of the private sector, actually treats its employees with a modicum of decency – is a drag on the private sector’s ability (including the Sentinel in its capacity of an employer) to unrestrainedly exploit employees for the sake of making a buck.

We know and accept that corporate America is an amoral machine that cares nothing about anything else but profit, but one would hope that our society – acting through its elective representatives – would care about something greater than joining Florida’s private sector in its race to the bottom. The Sentinel editorial board does not share that hope.

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* Could these be the same faux “struggling public employees” the Sentinel acknowledged a couple of weeks ago could not afford to buy a home in Orange County? “A study by the county’s 2006 task force showed that most homes were far out of the price range of 75 percent of all Orange County residents. … The market leaves … police, firefighters and other workers with few options.”[No longer available online].

** The Tribune Company’s new owner is a “real estate mogul [sic]”, with a wide wingnut streak: “the mention of Hillary Clinton’s name prompted him to use a four-letter obscenity to describe her.” More here: “The Orlando Sentinel editors are at it again“.

*** The Sentinel’s anti-union glee is no secret: see e.g., “Ignorance“, “Sentinel At It Again” and “Oh … The Horror“.

**** During a strike involving a Tribune Company newspaper [the Baltimore Sun] a few years back, “guess where Tribune’s finding its [reporter and editor] scabs? ‘Florida is supplying them with a lot,’ says one Sentinel source”.

Indeed, “potential scabs are offered Sun pay on top of their normal salary — more than double their pay, for scabs coming from regional papers like the Sentinel — plus per-diem expenses and even security to deal with the hecklers.” “Send in the scabs“.

By the way, we all can agree on what a scab is, can’t we? No less a figure than Jack London, described as “the most successful writer in America in the early 20th Century” – and presumably someone for whom the Sentinel writers have some respect – is attributed with putting it this way (as quoted by the U.S. Supreme Court):

The Scab “After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab.” “A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.” “When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and Angels weep in Heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.” “No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his Master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.” “Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British Army.

The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.” “Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country; a SCAB is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.”

See also this Jack London paper in “the Atlantic’s series of papers on the Ethics of Business.”

***** The Orlando Sentinel has editorialized long and hard against newspapers being subject to lawsuits for so-called “false light” torts, while at the very same time the Sentinel’s lawyers were threatening another newspaper with, you guessed it, a “false light” lawsuit. “Oh … The Hypocrisy“.

Some Simple Truths About the Florida Retirement System

January 14, 2011. Florida legislators are attacking “among the five most financially sound state pensions in the nation.”

A Message from Florida Education Association

Teachers and education employees earn their modest pensions through years of public service.

* Regardless of what you might hear from politicians in Tallahassee, pensions for teachers and education staff are modest.

* In general, public pensioners receive benefits either on par or below those in the private sector.

* Teacher pensions average about $325 per week. This has to cover rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation expenses, groceries, medicine, healthcare costs and other day-to-day expenses.

* Pensions for other school employees are much lower – about $195 per week on average.

Florida’s pension plan is in sound financial condition.

* The Florida Retirement System (FRS) is fully funded and able to meet its obligations.

* FRS is NOT one of these struggling pension systems you hear about. There are some pensions out there, private and public, that are struggling in the current economic downturn. In some cases these pensions don’t have the funds to pay their retirees the pensions that were promised.

* FRS is among the five most financially sound state pensions in the nation, according to the Pew Center on the States.

Some politicians in Tallahassee want to make radical, risky changes to FRS.

* If experience in other states is a guide, the changes being considered (like individual 401(k) accounts) may cost taxpayers more than the current system.

* These accounts funnel public dollars through the accounts of retirees and directly in to the coffers of Wall Street firms (in the form of fees and other charges).

* FRS is working. This is no time for risky experiments with our retirement security.

Small tax dollar contributions in public pensions bring big benefits to the local community.

* In Florida, tax dollar contributions for local and state public pensions are very low and in general represent a small fraction of operating budgets.

* Pensions dollars are investments in communities and actually strengthen local economies by providing retirees with stable income and increased purchasing power.

Attacks on pensions hurt our schools.

* Mandating employee contributions to FRS from teachers and education staff amounts to a pay-cut for these employees.

* Attacking their pensions hurts our schools – being able to offer a decent pension to employees (who otherwise receive below average compensation) helps our schools retain experienced and talented teachers and staff.